Bess Myerson

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Bess Myerson
Bess Myerson 1957.jpg
Myerson in 1957
Born (1924-07-16) July 16, 1924 (age 89)
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
Religion Judaism
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 win Miss America pageant in 1945. She appeared on various television shows in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was involved in New York City politics.

Miss America[edit]

Myerson was born in the Bronx, New York. She studied piano at the High School of Music and Art, and 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.[1]

While competing in the Miss America pageant, Myerson refused, despite entreaties, to use a pseudonym that "sounded less Jewish."[2][3] She faced prejudice even after winning the Miss America title, with many sponsors and events long associated with the pageant refusing to deal with her.[2][3] She later campaigned for civil rights, in particular, working with the Anti-Defamation League.[2]


She graduated from Hunter College with a degree in music.[2] 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.

Myerson was New York City's second Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, succeeding the department's first commissioner Gerard M. Weisberg, (under Mayor John Lindsay), later serving as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs under Mayor Ed Koch. Throughout the late 1970s and the beginning of his mayoral ambitions, Myerson was a frequent public companion of Ed Koch.

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.


She married Allan Wayne, a doll company executive, in October 1946.[4] They had one daughter, Barbara, before divorcing.[5] Her second marriage was to Arnold Grant.[5]

Later years[edit]

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,[6] 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.[7] Myerson was also indicted and resigned her positions with the City of New York. She was ultimately acquitted.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bess Myerson Is One Tough Customer
  2. ^ a b c d Bess Myerson at Jewish Women A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia
  3. ^ a b People & Events: Breaking the Color Line at the Pageant
  4. ^ "Milestones, Oct. 28, 1946". Time. October 28, 1946. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Personal Information for Bess Myerson". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved September 4, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Carl "Andy" Capasso". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 26, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b "Miss America Wins Again". Time Magazine. January 2, 1989. Retrieved November 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Bess Myerson Is Accused Of Shoplifting". New York Times. May 28, 1988. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Myerson Pleads Guilty to Shoplifting Charge in Pennsylvania". New York Times. July 16, 1988. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Venus Ramey
Miss America
Succeeded by
Marilyn Buferd