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Bess Myerson


Bess Myerson died in obscurity on December 16, 2014, at age 90. For a woman whose movements were widely reported from the late 1940s through the mid-1980s, one would think that her death would have been reported immediately.

But it wasn't, and maybe there were reasons.

Myerson was 1945's Miss America, at a time when people really did know who the current Miss America was. When her reign ended, she used her scholarship money to attend Juilliard and Columbia University. She toured as a pianist and spoke at political events, including the Anti-Defamation League. In the 1950s, she was a Big Television Star. If she wasn't modeling a fur coat on one show, she was a contestant on another. Then a panelist. Eventually, she became a semi-permanent replacement for Dave Garroway on The Today Show.

Through the years, she advanced into consumer protection law, and sat on various commissions on equality, violence, and hunger. Later, she became the public companion of New York Mayor Ed Koch. She ran for the Senate from New York in 1980, but was defeated. Shortly after, she had a slight stroke.

Then it all started to slide. Was it hubris or what?

The Bess Mess: While holding a position in the Koch administration, she started an affair with a public contractor. The judge in his divorce case "pulled an Ito" by becoming enamored with the publicity and celebrity. Soon, Myerson had hired the judge's daughter (most politely described as "inept") to work in her office. Boy, did Rudy Giuliani like those big fish caught in this mess! Federal corruption charges were brought, and Myerson resigned in 1987.

Then it all got even more embarrassing in 1988, before the trial even began.

You'd think that a famous woman wouldn't really need to shoplift cheap jewelry and nail polish in a small Pennsylvania town. But that's what the former Cultural Commissioner of New York City did. The flashlight batteries, shoes, nail polish, and earrings added up to a theft of $44.07. She had her picture taken, was fingerprinted, and paid a $150 fine.

Later, even Giuliani couldn't convict Bess and her two co-defendants. But the damage was done.

She is survived by her daughter Barra Grant, from her first marriage (to Allan Wayne). Barra was adopted by Myerson's second husband, Arnold Grant.

To hell with you, Bess. You were the TV queen I grew up with and you didn't even have the courtesy to die in the years you were on my list.


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