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January 6, 2015 12:00 pm

Only Jewish Miss America, Bess Myerson Dies at 90

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Bess Myerson in 1957. Myerson became the first, and so far only, Jewish Miss America. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. The only Jewish Miss America, Bess Myerson, has died at the age of 90.

Myerson was born in July 1924 to Russian immigrant parents. She won the Miss America title in 1945, which catapulted her to national celebrity status. During the competition, organizers asked Myerson to change her name to Betty Merrick, but she refused. Later on in life, Myerson campaigned against anti-Semitism for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and was named ADL’s woman of the year in 1965.

Myerson’s achievements were not limited to her beauty pageant win and her public stance against anti-Semitism. She was also heavily active in politics, getting appointed to various committees by U.S. presidents Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. She also helped Ed Koch win New York’s 1977 mayoral race.

But a scandal in the 1980s exposed Myerson’s relationship with a much younger boyfriend, Carl “Andy” Capasso, who reportedly had mob ties, forcing Myerson into obscurity. Her image was also hurt by several shoplifting convictions. Myerson died Dec. 14 at her home in Santa Monica, Calif., but her death was not reported until Monday. She is survived by one daughter from her first marriage.

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