Myerson in 1957
July 16, 1924 |
The Bronx, New York
|Alma mater||Hunter College
|Occupation||Model, city commissioner, TV show celebrity, city official, philanthropist|
|Known for||First Jewish American Miss America|
|Title||Miss America 1945|
|Spouse(s)||Allan Wayne (1946-) (divorced)
Arnold M. Grant
Bess Myerson (born July 16, 1924) became the first Jewish American and the first Miss New York (1945) to be crowned Miss America in the 1945 pageant. She appeared on various television shows in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was involved in New York City politics.
Myerson was born in The Bronx, New York. She lived with her parents (Russian-Jewish immigrants Louis and Bella Myerson) in the Shalom Aleichem Co-operative with 250 other Jewish families. Myerson studied piano and flute at the The High School of Music & Art. She wanted to buy a black Steinway grand piano which she could not afford. Myerson decided to participate in the Miss America pageant after someone joked that it would be a way to buy the piano.
While competing in the Miss America pageant, Myerson refused, despite entreaties, to use a pseudonym that "sounded less Jewish." She faced anti-semitism after winning the Miss America title, " including the withdrawal of three of the annual beauty pageant’s five sponsors from the arrangement by which the queen would represent the company during her year-long reign." She later campaigned for civil rights, in particular, working with the Anti-Defamation League.
She graduated from Hunter College in 1945 with a degree in music. She used the scholarship money won as Miss America to pay for graduate studies at the Juilliard School and Columbia University.
In 1954, Myerson was a panelist on The Name's the Same, a television game show. From 1958 through 1967, she was a panelist on I've Got a Secret. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Myerson enjoyed a successful television career as a TV personality, actress and commercial pitchwoman for myriad popular products.
In 1980, Myerson ran for the Democratic nomination for New York's U.S. Senate seat against Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, Queens District Attorney John J. Santucci, and former New York City mayor John Lindsay. Myerson lost to Holtzman by a slim margin.
In the 1980s, Myerson's life was darkened by a legal controversy (colloquially known as "the Bess Mess"). Her lover, sewer contractor Carl Andrew Capasso, who had been convicted of tax fraud, was accused of bribing Judge Hortense Gabel by arranging for a job for Gabel's daughter in Myerson's department. Myerson was also indicted and resigned her positions with the City of New York. She was ultimately acquitted.
On May 27, 1988, Myerson was arrested for shoplifting in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, after she left the Hills Department Store with several items for which she had not paid. On July 15, 1988, she pleaded guilty to retail theft and was fined. The arrest occurred while she was believed to be visiting Capasso at the Allenwood Detention Camp.
Myerson is currently living in Santa Monica, California, and is suffering from dementia.
- Dworkin, Susan, 1987. Miss America, 1945: Bess Myerson's Own Story. ISBN 1-55704-000-1
- Shana Alexander, 1991. When She Was Bad. Dell.
- Green, David (2014-07-16). "This day in Jewish history / A Jewish Miss America who scandalized the press is born". Haaretz.
- Bess Myerson Is One Tough Customer
- "Jewish Women's Archive: Bess Myerson". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
- People & Events: Breaking the Color Line at the Pageant
- "Milestones, Oct. 28, 1946". Time. October 28, 1946. Retrieved September 4, 2011.
- "Carl "Andy" Capasso". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
- "Miss America Wins Again". Time Magazine. January 2, 1989. Retrieved November 26, 2010.
- "Bess Myerson Is Accused Of Shoplifting". New York Times. May 28, 1988. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- "Myerson Pleads Guilty to Shoplifting Charge in Pennsylvania". New York Times. July 16, 1988. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
- "Ed Koch's pal, former Miss America Bess Myerson, was a constant at his side". Daily News (New York). February 2, 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2014.