Bess Myerson, first Jewish Miss America, dead at age 90

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Jewish Miss America Bess Myerson Dies At 90

(Reuters) -- 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.

The Bronx-born 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.

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

Bess Myerson
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Bess Myerson, first Jewish Miss America, dead at age 90
These young women, who will seek the title of “Miss America, 1945,” at Atlantic City, N.J. on September 8, grace the boardwalk, Sept. 4, 1945. From left to right are Lee M. Wieland, Chicago, Ill., Miss Chicago; Barbara Lee Smith, Detroit, Mich., Miss Detroit; Bess Myerson, New York, Miss New York City; Phyllis Mathis, La Jolla, Calif., Miss San Diego; Gloria Naomi Bair, Philadelphia, Pa., Miss Philadelphia; Claire Thibadeau, Boston, Mass., Miss Boston; Rae Evelyn Crist, Miami Beach, Florida, Miss Florida and Frances Born, Birmingham, Ala., Miss Birmingham. (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano)
Bess Myerson, center, of New York City, crowned Miss America in 1945, stands with 1946 contestants Eileen Henry, Miss New York City, left, and Violet Mellar, Miss New York State, right, in Atlantic City, N.J., Sept. 3, 1946. (AP Photo)
Bess Myerson, Miss America of 1945, center, stands with Jeanne Carlson, Miss Washington, D.C., left, and Betty Cannon, Miss Virginia, in Atlantic City, N.J., Sept. 4, 1946, where the annual beauty parade is being held. Miss Carlson and Miss Cannon are vying with one another for the coveted title of “Miss America” for 1946. (AP Photo)
Bess Myerson, right, of New York, Miss America of 1945, goes to the White House, Washington, Nov. 8, 1945 on her Victory Loan drive tour, selling a bond to first lady Bess Truman, left. (AP Photo)
From her large collection of large earrings, Bess Myerson tries on an oversized, dangling one, Sept. 6, 1954. Her collection runs into hundreds of pairs, in various styles from all over the world. (AP Photo/Ed Ford)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Bess Myerson with her oil painting 'Still Life' at Downtown Gallery 32 East 51 Street. (Photo by William Quinn/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 22: Bess Myerson at courthouse, where jury acquitted her and co-defendants in conspiracy trial. (Photo by Dan Cronin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Bess Myerson, television actress and Miss America for 1945-46, her daughter, Barbara Wayne, 9, and Allan Wayne, Miss Myerson’s estranged husband, after their custody case over Barbara, leave New York Supreme Court in New York City, Sept. 8, 1956. Wayne conceded to Justice Matthew M. Levy that their child should be in the care of Miss Myerson. The concession was made on condition that the father has rights of visitation. (AP Photo)
Miss New York State, June Jenkins, Elmont, N.Y., and Miss New York City, Bess Myerson, smile as they pose with Pfc. Ernest Sardo, center, of Elmira, N.Y., wounded in Europe. The bathing beauties visit the Thomas England General Hospital at Atlantic City, New Jersey on Sept. 7, 1945, where Sardo is a patient. (AP Photo/Sam Myers)
Off to a formal party, Bess Myerson says goodnight to daughter Barbara Wayne, in their New York apartment, April 2, 1959. Ball gown by Ceil Chapman, girl’s dress by Tiny Town Togs. (AP Photo/Dan Grossi)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 22: Bess Myerson at courthouse, where jury acquitted her and co-defendants in conspiracy trial. (Photo by Dan Cronin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Jan. 30, 1975, file photo, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, center left, and Bess Myerson, center right, walk with architect Philip Johnson, left, and Rep. Ed Koch, right, as they leave New York's Grand Central after holding a news conference for the "Committee to Save Grand Central Station." Koch, the combative politician who rescued the city from near-financial ruin during three City Hall terms, has died at age 88. Spokesman George Arzt says Koch died Friday morning Feb. 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure. (AP Photo/Harry Harris, File)
Jacqueline Onassis, left, and former Miss America Bess Myerson, right, are pictured during a news conference in New York's Grand Central Station, Jan. 30, 1975. Both women are members of the committee trying to block construction of an office tower above the station. Others are unidentified. (AP Photo/Harry Harris)
Bess Myerson, right, who is Miss America, crowns Annie Low Brock, a Navy Department employee, as Victory Bond Queen during a ceremony at the Treasury Department Building in Washington, D.C., Nov. 5, 1945, in connection with the Victory Bond campaign. (AP Photo)
Bess Myerson, a former Miss America, and her daughter, Barbara Wayne, 6, get together on a concoction for lunch at their home in New York, Sept. 6, 1954. Busy with television work, Bess finds time to take care of her home and daughter. (AP Photo/Ed Ford)
Mr. and Mrs.Harry James Goodman, receive part of their prizes from Randy Merriman, left, and Bess Myerson, right, of a televison quiz program after March 13, 1953 show in New York City. Goodman is a structural steel worker and his wife is a telephone company employee. They won two round-trip tickets to anywhere in Europe--they chose Paris for the vacation as well as a wardrobe for Mrs. Goodman, including mink coat she wears. (AP Photo)
Rep. Edward Koch, cheered by campaign workers, including former Miss America Bess Myerson, left, celebrates his victory on Monday, Sept. 19, 1977 in New York?s democratic mayor primary runoff. Koch won handily over Mario Cuomo, who had received strong support from New York Governor Hugh Carey. The win virtually assures Koch?s election as the city?s 105th mayor. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine )
New York Mayorial candidate Rep. Edward Koch, D-N.Y., shares a laugh along with Vice President Walter Mondale and others during a reception held to honor Koch at night, Tuesday, Sept, 27, 1977 in Washington. From left are: Mondale, Bess Myerson, a Koch aide, Koch; and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill of Massachusetts. (AP Photo)
Rep. Edward Koch kisses his campaign chairperson, former Miss America Bess Myerson, after he won a democratic primary runoff handily at night, Monday, Sept. 19, 1977 in New York. The victory over secretary of state Mario Cuomo, Gov. Hugh Carey's handpicked candidate, virtually assured the tall bachelor his election in November as the city's 105th Mayor. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21: Bess Myerson at party honoring women. (Photo by Gene Kappock/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Ed Koch with Bess Myerson at his victory speach. (Photo By: Charles Ruppmann/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 20: Bess Myerson pours wine for Ed Koch during victory party for campaign staff. (Photo by Corkery Richard/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 04: Daily News consumer columnist Bess Myerson. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 09: Consumer Affairs Commissioner Bess Myerson, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Paget and consumer advocate Bruce Ratner at City Hall. (Photo by Jerry Kinstler/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 21: Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Bess Myerson at 80 Lafayette Street. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 28: Director of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Bess Myerson, flanked by deputies Henry Stern (left) and Bernard Sack as she talks about epidemic of short-weight groceries. (Photo by Nick Sorrentino/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Former Miss America and now NYC Commissioner Of Consumer Affairs, Bess Myerson. (Photo by Bob Peterson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
1966: Vonda Kay Van Dyke (left), Miss America 1965, wearing a tiara, and Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945, pose side by side in a promotional portrait for the CBS telecast of the 'Miss America Pageant,' 1966. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
circa 1964: Studio headshot portrait of TV host and former Miss America Bess Myerson wearing pearls and a black dress. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 16: Miss America Bess Myerson. (Photo by Gordon Rynders/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
ATLANTIC CITY, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Miss America winner Bess Myerson. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

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 U.S. Senate seat in 1980 but lost the Democratic nomination to U.S. 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.

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