August 13, 2002

My nomination for the best beach-reading book ever published: When She Was Bad: The Story of Bess, Hortense, Sukhreet and Nancy, by Shana Alexander.

The book is aptly described by its publisher:

“In 1945 Bess Myerson made headlines as Miss America. In 1988 she made them again as the star in one of New York City’s seamiest political corruption trials, the ‘Bess Mess.’ The still-beautiful Bess was charged with conspiracy to influence Hortense Gabel . . . the judge in her lover’s divorce case. Bess’s lover, the much younger Andy Capasso, ended up in prison. Bess and the judge were acquitted. But not before Bess Myerson’s scandalous private life became front-page news.”

Also featured prominently in this tale: the unforgettable and inimitable Sukhreet Gabel, the judge’s daughter, and Nancy Capasso, Andy’s wife.

Originally published in hardcover by Random House in 1990, the book was reprinted as a mass-market paperback by Dell Publishing in 1991.

Sadly, both volumes are out of print, though the paperback is held under lock-and-key in the library of The Rittenhouse Review.

Your late-summer project: Visit the used bookstores in your favorite beach resort town or country-cottage village and find a copy of this book. There are plenty of used copies for sale on the web at sites including,,,, Powell’s, and Alibris.

You will thank me. I’m certain of it. Rare is the beach book that will make you glad you skipped Saturday evening happy hour.


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