Friday, December 23, 2005

MEMOIR: When "Miss America" made my day

The society page of my local newspaper recently reported that Bess Myerson, who was named "Miss America" in September 1945, was the featured speaker at a fund-raising luncheon for a local charity. The report brought back to mind the memory of how her selection as "Miss America" that year affected my personal life.

While Bess was becoming a national celebrity in Atlantic City, N.J. as the first Jewish "Miss America," I was in the Army stationed in India. I shared a barracks with about 20 other soldiers. Virtually all of them came from small towns, and few of them had ever known a Jew before meeting me.

There was one other Jewish guy in our outfit, but I was the only one in my barracks. During our service together over the previous year and a half, I had been fully accepted socially. Although I felt comfortable as "one of the boys," however, I also felt that I was regarded as a somewhat exotic personality because I was unchurched and came from some place called the Bronx.

About all my barracks-mates seemed to know about the Bronx was that it was the home of both a famous zoo and the New York Yankees baseball team. Their knowledge was expanded when it was revealed to the world that the new "Miss America" also hailed from the Bronx. The news accounts played up the fact that Ms. Myerson was the daughter of an immigrant Jewish house painter and his wife.

Shortly after Bess Myerson's selection, my mother mailed me a photograph of the new "Miss America," clipped from PM, a now-defunct, daily New York City tabloid newspaper. The photo ran over two full pages in the paper and pictured the statuesque Ms. Myerson with a gorgeous smile on her face and a bathing suit on her magnificent figure.

I immediatgely hung the photo on the wall behind my bed. Most of my barracks-mates had pictures of Hollywood movie stars hanging behind their bunks. A handful posted photographs of girl friends back home. But none of them projected the sexy aura of the new "Miss America."

My bunk--and especially the photo hanging on the wall behind it--quickly became the focal point in the barracks where my buddies gathered to gaze with rapture at the Jewish girl from the Bronx who had become "Miss America."

As guys who came from small towns in which everyone seemed to know everyone else, I had the feeling that they assumed that I knew Bess Myerson personally. Of course, I had never made that claim. The Bronx, after all, had many hundreds of thousands of residents, although I wasn't sure that my buddies knew that. Nevertheless, I maintained a nonchalant air when questioned about the quality and nature of Jewish girls from the Bronx.

The fact that both Bess Myerson, the stunning new "Miss America," and I were both Jews from the Bronx seemed to have earned me almost as much respect as if I had been awarded a medal for bravery in combat.


Blogger Dave F. said...

You need to send a copy of your article to Bess. Loved the piece.

Saturday, December 24, 2005 2:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a good time i've just had in my first meeting with your blog. slightly younger than you at 72, i'm a feminist who hopes to begin a blog to encourage exchange among older women.

it's been a goodnews surprise to find one or two men like you whose writing speaks to some of my concerns. thanks so much; i'm sending you along to my spouse for both pleasure and blog-initiation.

peace in our time, naomi

Thursday, December 29, 2005 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Norma said...

You're doing a great job with your blog. Keep it up. Love your stories.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 5:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it seems you have found a new reader in me. I have spent that last hour reading many og your posts and have enjoyed them tremendously. I have now bookmarked your blogand plan to keep reading, Thank you.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 7:28:00 PM  
Blogger Norma said...

Sorry if this turns up twice--had some problems with preview.

You have been tagged. The game is you answer this question and then tag 4 or 5 other bloggers, but they must be over 50.

"What snack items did your mother allow in your home and put out for you when you were growing up--either home made or store bought? And what item was absolutely not allowed?"

See my blog for the example if this isn't clear.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 9:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I can't say that I endured the hardships of war, or even battle for that matter, but I can say that your blog about the lovely Jewish "Miss America' stole my heart. My dad was stationed in Europe during WWII and I love hearing about his stories. Thank you (from a 43 year old man whose mother was Jewish, before she married my dad) for a heart-warming story. Please keep up the great work.

BAB in Glens Falls, NY

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger JudahH said...

Bess was truly beautiful. For more on her see

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 3:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Bronx boy, too, though only a 'baby' at 65. I remember Bess Myerson's being a Miss America and her subsequent brilliant career.

I enjoy your blog. Keep it up!


Wednesday, January 04, 2006 4:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you must know that you have finally penetrated the world of blogging now Sir. I never have time for other people's bloggings let alone to do my own but yours came up as one of the 'fave links' in wxpnews and I just had to glance at it. Even small dips into your lagoon made me realize how much I miss the time to do just the sort of thing you are doing so very well indeed. Still, only another 16 years to go ...

Yours aye

Paul Willee

Thursday, January 05, 2006 9:52:00 PM  

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