Bess Myerson, who parlayed her stint as the first post-war Miss America into a significant role in New York cultural and political affairs, including as a TV personality, died in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 90.
Myerson’s initial celebrity came from her selection as the first (and to this day only) Jewish Miss America just after the end of World War II in 1945. She would go on to head up two New York City agencies; have the ear of three presidents; be a champion of various social causes; and get involved in politics, backing others and seeking, unsuccessfully, a career in this arena for herself.
Myerson’s life story was so intriguing that it almost made it to the bigscreen, with Richard Condon set at one point in the late ’90s to direct a biopic about her that was to have been titled “Queen Bess.”
The beautiful brunette, the first post-war Miss America at a time when Americans were eager to turn their attention from the horrors of World War II to pop culture happenings such as beauty contests, made a natural transition into a role on television. Myerson’s verve and smarts secured her a regular spot on the popular, long-running game show “I’ve Got a Secret.”
Myerson had competed in the Miss America pageant as Miss New York City, so she was especially popular there — so much so that it did not seem strange when Mayor John V. Lindsay named her as the city’s first commissioner of consumer affairs, a post in which she accomplished much.
Later, when Ed Koch ran for mayor, the close support of Myerson was said to have been a key factor in his election.
Unfortunately, her public career ended in a complicated conflict-of-interest scandal that the New York Times said left Myerson “less likely to be admired than to be pitied.”
Myerson was born in the Bronx and graduated with honors with a degree in music at Hunter College in 1945.