In September 1945, Bess Myerson, Miss New York City, made history at the most famous beauty pageant in the world. In spite of anonymous phone calls to judges, threats from sponsors, and growing antisemitism, the daughter of struggling immigrants from Russia became the first Jewish Miss America. The judges could not change the point count: the beauty queen from the Bronx won the swimsuit competition, tied for first place in talent, and was top-ranked in interview and evening gown categories. But was the country ready for a Jewish Miss America?
The film “Bess Myerson: The One and Only Jewish Miss America” tells the surprising story of Bess, her parents and sisters, and the Sholom Aleichem housing project that shaped so many Jewish families starting out in the United States. This one-hour documentary follows Bess from her improbable entrance in her local pageant through her heartbreak when sponsors withdrew their support and restricted tour stops closed their doors on Jews.
Below, watch the discussion of the film with director David Arond, MJH Board of Trustees Vice Chairman and ADL National Director Emeritus Abraham Foxman (who is featured in the film), and Bess’ daughter, screenwriter and actress Barra Grant.