Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America and a New York political force until a series of scandals dubbed the "Bess Mess" forced her into obscurity, has died. She was 90. Myerson died Dec. 14 at her home in Santa Monica, Calif, officials say. The Bronx-born Myerson was hailed as a Jewish, feminist Jackie Robinson—a groundbreaker for her religion and sex—after parlaying her stunning 1945 Miss America victory into national celebrity. The 5-foot-10 dark-haired beauty, unlike her predecessors, accentuated her intelligence. Myerson landed a series of television jobs, from game show hostess to on-air reporter, before her appointment as New York City's chief consumer watchdog in 1969. The popular Myerson then helped Ed Koch win the 1977 mayoral race, deflecting rumors that he was gay.
Koch later appointed her Cultural Affairs commissioner, but Myerson's carefully cultivated image crumbled in the mid-1980s when a city background check exposed her as an insanely jealous woman who harassed an ex-boyfriend and his new lover. She repeatedly invoked her right against self-incrimination in a 1986 corruption probe of a subsequent boyfriend, Carl Capasso, with purported mob ties. Myerson was later acquitted on charges of trying to fix Capasso's divorce case, but add a couple of shoplifting convictions, and the damage was done. Yet the Miss America Organization says Myerson will be remembered for her unwavering commitment to equality: "Bess used her Miss America title to fight anti-Semitism and racial bigotry as she traveled around the country," the organization says. (Read more Miss America stories.)