Jean Bartel dies at 87; Miss America 1943 pushed pageant to give scholarships

Jean Bartel, a former UCLA student who became Miss America of 1943 and was credited with selling $2.5 million in war bonds, has died. She was 87.

Bartel died in her sleep Sunday at her Brentwood home, said actress Lee Meriwether, the 1955 Miss America who was a longtime friend.

A former music student at UCLA, Bartel entered the pageant circuit hoping for a career on Broadway.

“She was a wonderful actress and singer,” Meriwether said. “Back then before the pageant was on television it was difficult to convince people if you won that you had talent or a brain or personality.”

Bartel won the Miss California competition in August 1943, and was named Miss America the following month in Atlantic City, N.J. She sang the Cole Porter song “Night and Day” with a “forceful and dramatic style,” according to her profile on the Miss America website.

Bartel went against Miss America tradition by refusing to pose in a swimsuit when she won. “I use a bathing suit to go swimming in,” she later told The Times.

As Miss America, she embarked on a national tour selling war bonds “without ever selling a kiss,” according to a story on Christmas Day 1943.

“I found that mayors, governors, hospitals, canteens, factories and military bases wanted to see a typical American girl,” she said. “They wanted to talk with her and then buy bonds.”

Bartel also was credited with urging pageant officials to provide scholarship money for each year’s winner. Bess Myerson received the first scholarship of $5,000 in 1945, according to a Miss America spokeswoman.

Jean Bartelmeh was born Oct. 26, 1923, in Los Angeles. She graduated from University High School and attended UCLA from 1941 to 1942.

Bartel appeared on Broadway in the operetta “The Desert Song” in 1946 and the musical “Of Thee I Sing” in 1952. She also was an opening act for Danny Thomas in Las Vegas, appeared on television and sang in several countries.

“I was never beautiful. I had vitality. I looked healthy,” she said in a 1978 Times story about several Miss Americas. “People always told me how wholesome I was.”

Bartel had no immediate survivors and did not want any services, Meriwether said. William Hogue, her husband of 31 years, died in 2001.