NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Bess Myerson, the former Miss America, television personality and longtime friend of former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, has died.
She was 90 years old.
Myerson died at her Santa Monica, Calif., home on Dec. 14.
Myerson was born in the Bronx on July 16, 1924 and won the Miss America pageant in 1945. She was the first and only Jewish Miss America, according to MissAmerica.org.
The Anti-Defamation League called her a “tireless fighter against the forces of anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry.”
“Bess Myerson was a symbol not only of physical beauty, but also of respect, tolerance and diversity. She was a relentless and outspoken fighter against bigotry who gave unstintingly of her energy and resources so that the ugly anti-Semitism and discrimination she encountered in 1945 would be unacceptable and find no haven in America,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “She was fiercely and proudly Jewish, and wore it on her sleeve unapologetically. Throughout her life, Bess showed America that beauty is more than skin deep.”
The Hunter College graduate quickly became a TV star, pitching products and getting laughs on the long running game show “I’ve Got A Secret,” CBS2’s Dana Tyler reported.
Due to her popularity after winning the pageant, Myerson was named as New York City’s first commissioner of consumer affairs by Mayor John Lindsay, focusing on passage of consumer protection laws.
Myerson even worked as a reporter on consumer issues for CBS2 in 1982 and early 1983.
In 1977, she campaigned for Ed Koch in his bid for mayor and was often seen in his posters and walking hand-in-hand with the bachelor — amid speculation he was gay.
1983, she was chosen by then-Mayor Koch to be commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.
In 1980, Myerson was embroiled in what was dubbed by the tabloids as “The Bess mess,” during her run for Senate.
Myerson met Carl A. Capasso, a married, wealthy sewer contractor 21 years her junior who helped her raise funds and whom she eventually had an affair with.
Capasso’s wife took her husband to court and made the affair public.
The news coverage of the affair and divorce proceedings tarnished Myerson’s reputation.
In 1987, Myerson was accused in a federal indictment of hiring a judge’s daughter in exchange for the judge reducing her boyfriend’s alimony charges, Tyler reported.
“I’m innocent of all charges. I have not committed any illegal act,” Myerson said of the allegations.
The indictment and conflict of interest cost her job and Koch’s support, Tyler reported.
The following year Myerson pleaded guilty to shoplifting jewelry and cosmetics in a Pennsylvania store.
Myerson spent the last two decades living quietly, far from the very public life she led in New York City.
The New York Times first reported her death Monday.
Myerson spoke of her fight to be taken seriously as an intelligent, educated woman and bristled at being stamped indelibly as “a former Miss America,” according to the Times.
In 1995, she stayed away from the pageant’s 75th anniversary celebration in Atlantic City.
“People asked me, ‘Are you going to the pageant?’ ” Ms. Myerson told The Times. “And I said: ‘Are you kidding?’ It’s totally irrelevant,” according to the Times.
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