The Way They Were: Bess Meyerson, Miss America 1945

There are two times in a NYC woman’s life when everyone wants what you’ve got. One is when you’re young and fresh and beautiful. The other is when you’re no longer young and fresh  but your view is still  beautiful.

When all that stands between big loot  for your landlord (millions if it’s a coop/condo,) is you, things can get uncomfortable at best (repairs not made,etc), predatory (illegal evictions) at worst.

I have long advocated for the rights and dignity of senior NYC tenants and plan to add resources and news they and their families can use with a Landlordrocknyc Senior Center section on this blog.  My muse?  America’s first (and only) Jewish Miss America–Bess Meyerson, 1945.

Bess Meyerson, Miss America 1945

I mention her religion because of the Anti-Semitism NYC’s first Consumer Affiair’s Commissioner  and others of her generation faced and worked to overcome. This is from an online bio (sorry, lost my  exact source notes on this one):

“Bess encountered anti-Semitism during the Miss America Pageant, when an official tried to convince her to change her name to one that was less ethnic, suggesting Betty Merrick. Bess refused.

Bess Meyerson,1945

The dark haired statuesque (she was the tallest contestant at 5′ 10″) beauty was the first recipient of a scholarship, but none of the pageant’s sponsors, including Catalina Swimsuits — chose to use the Jewish beauty from the Bronx as a spokesperson.. During her year as Miss America, Ms. Myerson made many personal appearances. One of these was scheduled at an antebellum country club, but just before the event she was told that there had been a terrible mistake, the country club was restricted, and no Jewish person could possibly be welcomed there.

Bess Myerson, determined to fight racial bigotry, traveled around the country speaking in behalf of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, in cooperation with the NAACP and the Urban League.

Many Americans remember Ms. Myerson as Mistress of Ceremonies for “The Big Payof” (1951-9) and as a panelist on “I’ve Got A Secret” (1958-67). From 1969-73 as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs of New York City, Myerson was architect of the most far-reaching consumer protection legislation in the country at that time, and was featured on the cover of Life Magazine (July 16, 1971) as “A Consumer’s Best Friend … Bess Myerson on the prowl for stores that cheat us.”…

…From 1983-7 she served under Mayor Ed Koch as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, where Bess substantially broadened financial support for New York City’s art community.”

As for the messy stuff that came later (incarcerated boyfriend, inexplicable shoplifting of dime store cosmetics,etc) let’s remember maybe the best ending  line of any movie: VIDEO


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