TUCSON, Ariz., Sept. 4, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — On September 8, 1945, just months after the liberation of Nazi death camps and the end of the Holocaust, an unexpected winner was crowned Miss America in Atlantic City, NJ. It was Bess Myerson, tall, talented, beautiful – and Jewish. In spite of antisemitism and threatening calls to pageant judges warning them against selecting a Jew, Bess took the title home to her family’s one-bedroom apartment in the Shalom Aleichem housing project in the Bronx. It was a victory not just for Bess, the middle daughter of struggling immigrants from Russia, but also an all-American validation for Jewish-Americans and immigrants all over the country.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this equal opportunity milestone, award-winning filmmaker David Arond produced “The One and Only Jewish Miss America,” a 51-minute documentary that premieres Tuesday, September 8, at New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. The film traces Bess’s journey from childhood, when she thought she was ugly and gangly, through her reluctant entrance in the Miss New York City pageant, arranged without her knowledge by her sister, and her surprising Miss America victory. A concert pianist and the pageant’s only college graduate, Bess Myerson represented a new kind of post-war poise, intelligence, and feminism.
The film also covers Bess Myerson’s heartbreak when three of the five pageant sponsors withdrew their support rather than endorse a Jew. She did not receive the promised new Ford car nor the $5,000 scholarship. However, the documentary ends on an inspiring note. After antisemitism and race-restricted hotels and venues made her drop out of her Miss America 1945 “victory lap” tour mid-year, she started a new educational tour. With the support of the Anti-Defamation League, she visited schools in 15 cities to promote respect for all people, regardless of race or religion. The experience led to her passion for social justice and her career in politics.
“The One and Only Jewish Miss America” recreates the era with 1940s music, vintage photographs and film clips. Director David Arond (PBS: “Mother of the Year,” “Houseboat Philosopher,” “On the Internet” series, etc.) interviews Barra Grant, Bess Myerson’s daughter and an accomplished screenwriter, and Abraham Foxman, a friend of Bess’s and director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League. Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and criminal justice professor, California State University, San Bernardino, shares perspectives on antisemitism then and now.
Tuesday, September 8, is not only the 75th anniversary of the crowning of the only Jewish Miss America; it is also the 99th anniversary date of the first Miss America pageant, which started as a bathing beauty contest in 1921, shortly after the end of the 1918 pandemic and World War I. “The One and Only Jewish Miss America” has won more than two dozen best documentary feature awards and will be screened at film festivals around the world. To watch the trailer and learn more, click on www.jewishmissamerica.com.
For more information, a link to the movie, and interviews with David Arond, Barra Grant, Abraham Foxman, or Brian Levin, contact Cindy Graff Cohen,
SOURCE David Arond