Tuesday, January 6, 2015

So long, Bess

Bess Myerson had a life far beyond Miss America, which we won in 1945, just days after Japan surrendered to end World War II.  It is indeed rare that we have such transcendent figures in pop culture.  Bess was active in so many ways from her career as a concert pianist to her role as New York's first consumer affairs commissioner, with stops at "The Big Payoff" and "I've Got a Secret" along the way.  She also served three presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.  Most beauty contestants talked about ending world hunger, Bess actually did something about it.

She ran for the Senate seat from New York in 1980, but lost in the Democratic primary to Elizabeth Holtzman, who would lose to Alfonse D'Amato in the general election.  Ed Koch brought her into his administration after she had actively campaigned for him, but scandal brought an end to her role as commissioner of cultural affairs -- the so-called "Bess Mess."  Sadly, it clouded an otherwise stellar career.

She even wrote a book, The I (Love) NY Diet, although it too came under attack for creating unrealistic expectations.

Many of us don't come to know these significant figures until their deaths.  She had been out of the public spotlight for decades, the subject more of trivia contests, being the first Jewish Miss America, than given credit for all the things she did. Bess was proud of her Jewish heritage, refusing to change her name for the Miss America contest.  She actively supported the Anti-Defamation League and raising money for the new state of Israel in the 1940s.  She was revered in Israel as much as she was New York.

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