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.

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