Bess Myerson, the first and only Jewish Miss America, and the first head of consumer affairs in New York City, has died. She was 90.
The New York Times first reported Monday news of her Dec. 14 death at her home in Santa Monica, California.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Myerson won the Miss America crown in Atlantic City on Sept. 8, 1945 -- a hugely symbolic victory for Jewish communities just after World War II. But she soon encountered anti-Semitic backlash on her national tour, the Times said, as some hotels and country clubs kept her out, and not many sponsors wanted her name attached to their products.
So instead, Myerson took up an anti-prejudice lecture circuit for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, delivering a speech called "You Can't Be Beautiful and Hate."
"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 Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, CBS News reported.
Known for both her "beauty and her quick wit," according to the Miss America pageant, Myerson landed on a series of television shows starting in the early 1950s, including "The Big Payola," "I've Got a Secret," and "Candid Camera."
At the behest of New York City Mayor John Lindsay, Myerson served as the city's first commissioner of consumer affairs. Her advocacy and legislative efforts won her the title "A Consumer's Best Friend" on the cover of Life magazine in 1971.
She served as an adviser to three presidents (Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter). In 1980 she ran unsuccessfully in New York's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Three years later, New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed her as the city's commissioner of cultural affairs.
But she eventually had to resign that post during a scandal that became known as the "Bess Mess." She'd had an affair with a married city contractor, Carl Capasso, and in 1987 a federal grand jury indicted her on bribery law violations involving a judge in Capasso's divorce case. Myerson was later acquitted.
The Times said Myerson lived the last decades of her life away from the public eye and focused on charitable work, including making a $1.1 million donation to help build the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.