David Arond’s The One and Only Jewish Miss America is among the 40+ films featured at this year’s Whistleblower Summit and Film Festival. The documentary film tells the story of Bess Myerson, a young Jewish woman from humble beginnings in the Bronx who would go on be crowned Miss America.
But Myerson’s story isn’t the ordinary tale of the underdog, who abandons her roots to surpass the competition. Rather, Myerson rejects all attempts to suppress her Jewish identity and conform with traditional notions of American beauty. Early on, for example, she is asked to change her surname from Myerson to something “less Jewish.” But Bess, a daughter of poor Yiddish immigrants, embraces the whistleblower spirit and stays steadfast to the truth in refusing to change her name.
After winning the title Miss New York City, Myerson is invited to compete as one of forty contestants in the 1945 Miss America pageant, on the heels of World War II and the genocide of European Jewry. She is unexpectedly approached by masses of Jewish admirers who insist, “you have to win so you can show everyone we are not victims.” Despite attempts to manipulate judges into voting against the Jewish contestant, Bess “charged into the competition with newfound purpose” and defeated all odds by claiming the title.
But during her year traveling the country as Miss America, Myerson experienced constant antisemitism. She was denied hotel accommodations and refused entry at country clubs while corporations slowly pulled their sponsorships. Rather than engage with the corrupted and prejudiced pageantry circuit, Bess returned to her beloved New York, where she committed herself to “blowing the whistle” on racism. With support from the Anti-Defamation League, Bess performed her lecture “You Can’t Hate and Be Beautiful” at educational institutions around the country.
To get the full scoop on Bess Myerson’s valiant efforts to expose prejudice in America, register today for the 9th Annual Whistleblower Summit or click here for more information.