Bess Myerson, the only Jewish Miss America, dead at age 90

Myerson was born in the Bronx in 1924 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents.

By REUTERS
January 6, 2015 00:44
2 minute read.
Bess Myerson

Bess Myerson. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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LOS ANGELES - Bess Myerson, 90, the first Jewish Miss America and a frequent companion of the late New York Mayor Ed Koch who later fell from grace in a city scandal, has died after a long battle with dementia.

Myerson, who served as Koch's commissioner of cultural affairs and often appeared with him holding his hand, died on Dec. 14 at her Santa Monica, California, residence, Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter said on Monday.

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His office did not have information on the cause of death.

Myerson was born in the Bronx in 1924 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. She lived in the Shalom Aleichem Co-operative with a few hundred other Jewish families and attended the High School of Music & Art.

In 1945 Myerson became the first Miss New York to win the title of Miss America. She also was the first - and so far only - Jewish Miss America.

The following year she married Allan Wayne, a Navy captain, and gave birth to her only child, Barbara, before the marriage broke up a decade later.

Her varied career included such jobs as a panelist for the television game show "I've Got a Secret," commercial pitch woman and New York City's first consumer affairs commissioner, appointed by Mayor John Lindsay.



Her political career included advising three presidents. She served on Lyndon Johnson's White House conference on crime and violence, Gerald Ford's board focusing on workplace issues and Jimmy Carter's commissions on mental health and world hunger.

Myerson made an unsuccessful bid for a New York US Senate seat in 1980 but lost the Democratic nomination to US Representative Elizabeth Holtzman.

In the years afterward, Myerson became entangled in a scandal the tabloids called "The Bess Mess," in which she was indicted in a bribery scandal involving her boyfriend, sewer contractor Carl Andrew Capasso, who was accused of bribing a judge by offering the jurist's daughter a job in Myerson's city department. Myerson was ultimately acquitted after resigning her city posts.

Amid the scandal, she also faced charges of shoplifting $44.07 worth of merchandise in a small town in Pennsylvania in 1988.

Myerson was born in the Bronx in 1924 to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. She lived in the Shalom Aleichem Co-operative with a few hundred other Jewish families and attended the High School of Music & Art.

JTA contributed to this report.

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