Bess Myerson, First Jewish Miss America, Dead at 90

Pioneering beauty queen later found herself mired in scandal

Bess Myerson, who became the first and, to date, only Jewish Miss America in 1945 before becoming a television personality and entering politics, died Dec. 14 in Santa Monica, the New York Times reported Monday. Myerson was 90.

Born in 1924 in The Bronx, Myerson was crowned Miss America in 1945, the same year she graduated from Hunter College with a degree in music. Myerson used the scholarship money from her Miss America win to finance graduate studies at the Juilliard School and Columbia University.

After her tenure as Miss America, Myerson embarked on a career in television, serving as a panelist on the game show “The Name’s the Same” and enjoying a nine-year run as a panelist on “I’ve Got a Secret,” as well as serving as a pitchwoman for various products.

Myerson later entered public service and politics, serving as a consumer affairs commissioner in New York. She also chaired  Ed Koch’s mayoral campaign in New York. Myerson herself ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senate in 1980, losing out to congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.

The former beauty queen became mired in scandal while serving as Koch’s Department of Cultural Affairs in 1983. Myerson had become romantically linked to married sewer contractor Carl Andrew Capasso, and it was shortly discovered that Myerson had been socializing with the judge hearing Capasso’s divorce and had hired the judge’s daughter. Myerson was compelled to resign by the scandal, which came to be referred to as the “Bess Mess.”

Myerson was married twice. She wed first husband, U.S. Navy captain Allan Wayne — with whom she had a daughter Barbara — in 1946. The couple divorced in 1958, and she married Arnold Grant in 1962.