Tuesday, May 23
It’s a CBS kind of night, over at the JFS gala. The Jewish Family Service annual fundraising dinner honors three community leaders this year, among them, CBS exec Deborah Barak. And keeping the evening all in the CBS family, this year’s masters of ceremonies are actors Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, of the series “Numb3rs.”
5:30 p.m. Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills. R.S.V.P., (323) 761-8800, ext. 1220.
Wednesday, May 24
Opening this week is another exhibit that challenges us not only to never forget, but also to act. “Rwanda/After, Darfur/Now: Photographs by Michal Ronnen Safdie” presents some 40 black and white and color images taken in 2002 post-genocide Rwanda and in a 2004 Chadian Bahai refugee camp, where exiles of the Darfurian genocide take shelter. The exhibition is presented by the Skirball Cultural Center, with a number of related programs scheduled during its run.
$6-$8 (general), Free (members, students and children under 12). 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
Thursday, May 25
We’d hoped “paloozas” would die with the ’90s, but here’s one worth checking out, despite the hackneyed name. “Identi-palooza” is a five-week comedy series at the Skirball, in which top comedians and writers present their unique points of view. It begins tonight with Beth Lapides, Kevin Rooney, Cindy Chupack, Rob Cohen and Stephen Glass commenting on “The Ish Factor.”
Ages 21+. 8 p.m. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.
Friday, May 26
When Mark Goffman’s grandfather’s wife of 50 years passed away, he suffered a heart attack, a stroke and then fell into a coma. As he lay in the hospital bed, he was visited by the cellist in his quartet, who came to say a private goodbye, and confessed her love for him, which she had kept secret all the years he’d been married. He awoke within minutes of her visit, and married her soon after. The story inspired Goffman, a television writer and producer, to write a play incorporating his grandfather’s story, as well as his own stories of dating and falling in love. “Me Too” runs through June 25.
8 p.m. (Thurs-Sat.), 7 p.m. (Sun.). $23-$28. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 960-7745. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Film Strips Glamour Off Wartime Deeds
‘Heaven’s’ Mysterious Spirits
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has done his part to keep the Jewish people, well, literate, by publishing such erudite tomes as “Biblical Literacy” (William Morrow, 1997) and “Jewish Literacy” (William Morrow, 1991). But it seems he also wants to keep us amused on airplanes, which is why he moonlights as a mystery novelist. He recently published his fourth mystery, “Heaven’s Witness” (The Toby Press), a page-turning whodunit about a creepy serial killer who has a thing for young, pretty girls stuck on Los Angeles canyon roads.
On the killer’s trail is psychoanalyst Jordan Geller, who is drawn into the case after a woman he hypnotizes assumes the identity of one of the murder victims — who was killed several years before the woman’s birth. The book, which Telushkin co-wrote with Allen Estrin, is peppered with talmudic and biblical axioms, and raises some lofty questions about the nature of the afterlife and what happens to us after we die.
Telushkin said that he was inspired to write the book, which CBS plans to bring to the small screen in fall 2005, after he conducted a hypnotic regression with a friend of his who went back to a life in the year 1853.
“She spoke in 19th century American English using odd terminology,” said Telushkin, who has also been the spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts since 1993. “When I asked her if she was married, she complained ‘that the men here are so refractory.’ She used names of relatively obscure 19th century figures, who, after months of research, I was able to trace.”
Telushkin said that he is “open” to the idea of reincarnation, and that writing mysteries does have religious implications.
“The genre of mysteries, like the world of religion, still insists that there is a right and wrong, that not everything is relative,” he said. “You might be able to explain the reason why somebody has committed a crime, but, still, it is imperative to the genre that the person is caught, and that justice should prevail.”
For more information on “Heaven’s Witness,” visit www.heavenswitness.com.
False Promises in Berg’s ‘Becoming’
Carlyle Discusses Dangers of ‘Hitler’
Robert Carlyle, of "The Full Monty" and "Angela’s Ashes" fame, gives a striking performance in the title role of the CBS miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil." The film, which airs Sunday and Tuesday (May 18 and 20) at 9 p.m., focuses on Hitler’s life from Munich beer hall orator in 1920, through his political machinations within the Nazi party and against the Weimar Republic, ending in 1934 with the consolidation of all state power in his hands. Speaking with a pronounced Scottish burr (which he suppresses in the film) from his home in his native Glasgow, the 42-year-old actor discussed the challenges and rewards of his role with The Jewish Journal.
Jewish Journal: What were your thoughts when you decided to take the role of Hitler?
Robert Carlyle: At first I was frightened because I realized the potential dangers and pitfalls. But I decided I wouldn’t do a carbon copy of Hitler. I would do my own interpretation, that I could explore him like any other character. Then a window opened up and I wasn’t frightened any more.
JJ: One of your fellow cast members, Peter Stormare, said, "I can’t imagine being Bobby [Carlyle] and having to look at himself as Hitler every day because of all the images that flash before your eyes, all the time." What were your feelings?
RC: Once shooting began, in my quiet moments, I tried to empty myself of the character on a daily basis, rather than store it up for four months. Also, as Hitler, I didn’t look at all like myself. I had the mustache, a false nose, cheek pieces and more weight as Hitler got older.
JJ: What was your working day like when you were shooting the film in and around Prague?
RC: It took around one-and-a-half hours for the makeup and I worked 14-15 hours on an average day. As we went further along, the days got even longer.
JJ: I understand that you were offered the role of Hitler three times before you took this one.
RC:Yes, the first time was about three years ago but it didn’t come to anything. Another time was for the film "Max" [in which Hitler was played by Noah Taylor]. Five months before I started the CBS job, I worked for three months on a BBC television production which started with Hitler in the bunker and we flashed back to his earlier life. So I had already learned a good deal about the character.
JJ: I believe the BBC project was canceled, partly due to strong Jewish protests.
RC: I’m not sure. I heard that there were funding problems because the American studio partner backed out. I don’t know about Jewish protests, but if there were any I would understand that.
JJ: One of the concerns raised when CBS announced the project was that any good actor would try to find the human elements in Hitler and therefore make him more sympathetic.
RC: It wasn’t a question of searching for the human traits. I didn’t have to find that to get close to the character. I thought Hitler was very cunning and had a belief of you’re-either-for-me-or-against-me. I tried to focus on these things.
JJ: Were you aware of the objections raised by some Jewish spokesmen and organizations in the early stages of the CBS project?
RC: Not at all. I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But I knew from the beginning that if I gave as honest a portrayal as I could, it would be all right. I didn’t want to upset anyone.
JJ: After you finished shooting, did you go through a decompression stage?
RC: Yes, I took off and spent a month in the country. A few weeks ago, I went back to London for some final dubbing and suddenly saw "my" Hitler on the monitor. And I said to myself, "Jesus, what a pompous little prick" and then, "You’ve done your job."
7 Days In Arts
Moonves: No Sympathy for Hitler
President and CEO of CBS Television Leslie Moonves came in
for a good deal of flak last year following news that the network was planning
to make a two-part miniseries from British history professor Ian Kershaw’s
book, “Hitler: 1889-l936: Hubris” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), which
covers the prewar life and times of the Führer.
Some Jewish leaders worried that a too- sympathetic
portrayal of the early life of the man responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews would feed into today’s current wave of anti-Semitism
and that a prime-time portrait of the youthful Hitler might paint him as a
misunderstood youth rather than an evil madman to millions of young viewers
with scant knowledge of Hitler’s terrible legacy.
This month, CBS, along with the producers, Alliance
Atlantic, began shooting the miniseries in Prague and might air the show as
early as the May sweeps. Scottish actor Robert Carlyle — best known for “The
Full Monty” and “Trainspotting” — plays Adolf Hitler, while Stockard Channing
(first lady Abby Bartlet on “The West Wing”) portrays his mother. The cast also
includes Julianna Margulies, Peter O’Toole, Liev Schreiber and Matthew Modine.
The Jewish Journal read an early script — which CBS now says
has been totally junked in favor of a completely new version by Jewish
playwright-screenwriter John Pielmeier (“Agnes of God”). Pielmeier has drawn
upon other books, periodicals and archival material for the new version.
The Journal recently spoke to Moonves about the new face of
Jewish Journal: You’ve said there’s more incident in the new
script. Do you mean more action?
Leslie Moonves: I wouldn’t say more action. There are more
things involved in Hitler’s personal life that may not have been in the Kershaw
book. In no way do I want to put down Mr. Kershaw, who clearly is a genius and
a wonderful writer. But sometimes, when you’re sticking to one work and dealing
with a historical figure it’s often good to have a variety of sources.
JJ: Where does this version begin and end?
LM: There are a very few scenes dealing with his childhood
to try to get the flavor that this is an odd young man from the time he was a
little boy. He was an outsider. He was a strange fellow. By and large, most of
the movie begins with him as an unemployed artist in Vienna, trying to get into
art school, living in poverty, being homeless and his exploits in World War I.
And from there, that’s where the bulk of the movie takes place.
JJ: Where do the first two hours end?
LM: I can’t recollect the first two-hour ending. Clearly the
whole thing ends when Hitler has taken over total power of the country in 1938
on the eve of World War II. We will also be showing a postscript. That’s very
important. Once again, we do take some of the comments we’ve received very
seriously. And one comment I took to heart: if you are showing the rise to
power — and part of why we’re doing this is that everybody knows how the story
ended but few people know how it began — some people said, “Well you’re not
showing the atrocities that this man committed. And you may be giving an
incorrect impression of him.” So it’s important to know where this led seven or
eight years later.
JJ: How will you do this?
LM: We’re not 100 percent sure. It may be with
JJ: Will you run public service announcements during the
LM: Throughout the show, and in the preceding weeks.
JJ: We heard CBS is making a donation to a Holocaust
LM: Yes, to the Shoah Foundation or something like that.
It’s not quite pinned down yet.
JJ: Who’s going to buy ad space for this movie?
LM: You don’t sell it the way you sell anything else. It’s
got to be a careful sale. People have to realize that this is an important
piece that is going to be done with quality, class and sensitivity. We haven’t
yet begun to approach the people. I think it will be easier once we have
something to show them.
JJ: Many critics worried that Hitler as the protagonist of
the story has to be shown as a human being. But by doing that you automatically
make him sympathetic.
LM: In no way, shape or form is this man in this film a
sympathetic figure. He is a monster. And it’s how he got to be that way. At no
point do you feel sympathy for this man and just say, “Oh, I understand, I feel
bad this is why he did what he did.” That emotion should never occur.
JJ: What made you chose Robert Carlyle?
LM: It was very funny, when his name first came up. He was
very charming in the “The Full Monty,” but this is Adolf Hitler.
Then I saw pieces of him in “Trainspotting.” I saw “Angela’s
Ashes,” then I saw a British film, where he played a cold-blooded killer. And
it was chilling. And when I saw that side of him I said, he can do this. And it
was who the producers supported right from the beginning.
JJ: Has Rabbi Harvey Fields from Wilshire Boulevard Temple
vetted the script?
LM: He read the first two hours and gave us extensive notes.
Those notes have been incorporated into some of the changes and he’s reading
the second part as we speak. He’s an unofficial friend in court, but once
again, certainly he’s amongst the most widely respected religious leaders in
ours or any community.
JJ: Did you agree with the criticism of the first script?
LM: When we were receiving the criticism, we didn’t like the
first script. It was dreadful. And the fact that it was being passed around we
felt was blatantly unfair.
JJ: Wasn’t your own wife opposed to the project?
LM: I don’t want to talk about my personal situation. There
has been a lot of discussions with friends and relatives. It certainly is a
lightning rod for a lot of people.
JJ: Did you lose family members in the Holocaust?
LM: I lost many relatives on both sides of the family. My
grandparents are both from Poland and they lost a number of siblings and
cousins, a great many family members during the Holocaust. They escaped from
Poland before the war began. But there were some who did not escape.
JJ: Have you seen early footage of the movie?
LM: I’ve seen a very little bit of it — some very
JJ: How’s it looking?
LM: So far so good … you never like to comment until
things are put together. Once again there’s a director who I’ve worked with
before, who I have great trust and faith in and a script that is a lot more —
very solid certainly. I’m very pleased with the quality of the cast.
JJ: Have you seen the movie “Max?”
LM: Yes. I don’t want to give any criticism. I thought it
was a very, very interesting movie. I thought John Cusack was terrific. I
thought it shined certainly some light on what we were doing and certainly on
the subject matter. I did think it was a decent film.
JJ: May we read the new shooting script?
LM: No. No.
JJ: Can we visit the set in Prague?
LM: That might be possible. I really want your readers to
know that this is something we are not treating lightly. It’s one of the most
important projects we’ve been involved in and we are trying to do it with great
care and great thought.
Fear and Loathing in ‘America’
Television Jews: How Jewish Is Too Jewish?
The new television season is upon us. African American and Latino groups are making the expected protests about the lack of people who look like them before and aft of the camera, and the Jews are — as usual — adding up their TV IQ on the fingers of one hand.
If there aren’t many “brothers” out there, there are even fewer “Members of the Tribe,” and those that are there are not particularly Jewish Jews, if you know what I mean.
Take 40-something, newly divorced father “Danny,” played by Daniel Stern. In CBS’ new series, Danny looks like he’s Jewish, sounds like he’s Jewish, but his live-in father is played by Polish American Robert Prosky, and his kids Sally and Henry come across as just, well, kids.
Ah, but wait, Danny is described in the program notes as “adapting to his single life one neurotic step at a time.” Neurotic is television-speak for Jew — just like “New York” as an adjective means “Jew” in the Midwest.
The whole subject makes the producers of the show, which, by the way, is set in that hotbed of neuroses, Portland, Ore., a trifle nervous. “It’s implied,” one of the show’s producers told The Journal. “It’s not an overt kind of thing. You don’t get it rammed down your throat. It’s not about his Jewish life — it’s about his life.”
Actor Daniel Stern himself, however, seems more relaxed about the idea of playing a Jewish man with a thing about basketball. “I was happy to be Jewish on the show,” he said. “And I like sort of putting it out there. And I want to put it out there in a sort of funny way. I thought that might be something that I hadn’t seen.”
That’s because he hadn’t seen the pilot for “Inside Schwartz” (see below). Adam Schwartz is also Jewish and a basketball nut. It’s not implied — he tells you that right off the bat, even though he’s played by non-Jew Brekin Meyer.
“I want to be the first Jew to win the slam-dunk contest,” Schwartz declares in the pilot episode. His more realistic dream is to become a sports announcer. Even if he hadn’t told us, we’d know he was Jewish, because his sidekick is a perfectly marvelous young Jewish woman played by Miriam Shore, who is ready and waiting for him to make his move on her. (We know she’s Jewish because she’s smart-mouthed and quirky.)
Executive Producer Stephen Engel says he wasn’t sure how the network would react to a show built around a Jewish character. And he wasn’t the only one.
“My father called while I was doing the show,” Engel said. “He said, ‘You know I don’t interfere in your work, but this show you’re doing, are you sure about the title? You know Schwartz is a Jewish name. I don’t know how the rest of America [is] going to respond to this.'”
Of course the central joke only works if the character is Jewish. Jews and sports — an oxymoron, right? And that was the point, as far as Engel was concerned.
“I like to consider myself a fairly good athlete,” he said. “I’m not a professional yet, but I haven’t given up hope. But there are Jews across America in sports. One right here in right field in Los Angeles.” (For those not into sports, that would be Dodger Shawn Green.)
Jason Alexander, one of the Seinfeld crew — the most successful Jews-who-dare-not-speak-their-name in TV history — is playing a Tony Robbins-style guru in ABC’s “Bob Patterson.” Patterson may or may not be Jewish — but he is kind of a lovable jerk. If in a future episode we find out the name used to be Futterman, be prepared to cringe.
Mike Binder, however, former stand-up comic star and creator of HBO’s “Mind of the Married Man,” is undoubtedly Jewish, although it’s never stated, and he’s married in the show to a gorgeous blonde Englishwoman, played by Oxford-educated Sonya Walger.
Binder grew up in a Jewish community in Detroit, and made a 1993 movie about his summer experiences at the Jewish Camp Tamakwa in Ontario (“Indian Summer”). He even wears a Tamakwa sweatshirt in one scene in the new show. But the character is just another narcissistic, sports- and sex- obsessed American male. And you don’t have to be Jewish to be that.
On the other hand, Max Bickford, professor of history in CBS’ “The Education of Max Bickford,” doesn’t know from sports. His is the ivory-tower world of old European white males to whom scholarship and love of the past is life.
And while he’s staggering under the pressure of apathetic students and political correctness, he’s doing it (from the evidence of the pilot, at least) as a slightly over the hill, all-purpose ethnic. So — is he Jewish?
“I think so, yes,” says Bickford’s alter ego, Richard Dreyfuss. “He’s got an edge; he’s a curmudgeon. The way I keep describing him is Walter Matthau, but shorter.”
He’s also the most potentially interesting of the ‘Jewish’ characters on this season’s new shows, if only because Dreyfuss is noted as that rare Jewish actor who enjoys being Jewish on screen: think Moses Wine, ace detective in “The Big Fix,” Duddy Kravitz, and even Meyer Lansky.
But since this is essentially a serious show, well written and dealing with intelligent issues, just hold your breath that it will enjoy a long run. Even if it is, don’t expect Bickford to deal with his Jewishness. Having an overtly Jewish character as the lead on a drama is still seen in Hollywood as a surefire way to cut yourself off from the American mainstream viewer.
Serious shows with Jewish content have a history of wiping out before you can say, “Nielsen, Shmielsen.” Remember “Brooklyn Bridge,” Gary David Goldberg’s loving tribute to his Brooklyn bubbie? Or how about “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” in which Rosie (Sharon Gless) answered to a kippah-wearing, public-defender boss played by Ron Rifkin? Neither lasted long.
Comedies have a longer shelf life. Jewish humor on television is the one thing that has been accepted with open arms by the rest of America — witness “Seinfeld.” Because, whether they know it or not, just as Jewish music became Tin Pan Alley, Jewish humor, as filtered through the Catskills, Hollywood and Las Vegas, is now American humor.
Bob Hope once quipped, “Hollywood is the only town where they give up matzah balls for Lent” — a line written by one of his many Jewish writers. The point being that everyone in Hollywood is Jewish, whether they were born into it or not. Hollywood has been shaped by Jewish culture — by now that’s a sociological truism — but the only place you’d know it on television is in comedy.
From “Seinfeld” to “Mad About You” to “Dharma and Greg” to “The Larry Sanders Show,” Jewish humor has infiltrated popular culture. On television, Jewish humor is the Trojan horse sneaked into the living rooms of non-Jewish America to acquaint them with the fact that Jews are pretty much like them, only more so.
“Northern Exposure,” for example, worked because America identified with its hero — a nice Jewish doctor (Rob Morrow) plunked down in small-town Alaska, where he was the least weird of the bunch. “Picket Fences,” created by Irish American David E. Kelley, introduced the conniving Jewish defense attorney played by Fyvush Finkel. (Kelley’s in-joke was that Finkel’s character bore the WASP-ish name of Douglas Wambaugh.) In one episode, he was called before a beit din to answer charges that his sleazy behavior was damaging his people’s good name.
Ironically, Kelley wrote the episode after receiving letters complaining that Finkel’s character perpetuated the stereotype of the shyster lawyer.
HBO’s “Larry Sanders Show,” which told the truth about so many aspects of American television, also warned about the perils of being too Jewish. In one episode, Larry’s sidekick Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) became a born-again Jew, and insisted on wearing a kippah on the show. Larry’s creator, Garry Shandling, noted his favorite line in that episode was when a Jewish network executive said it was OK for him to be Jewish because, unlike Hank, “he was behind the camera where the audience couldn’t see him.”
Larry Gelbart, one of the funniest comedy writers today, says of Jewish humor, “I think it’s our cultural heritage to find some relief from intolerable situations with laughter. To use it as both a sword and a shield, as an offensive and defensive weapon against those who are being hostile to you.” It seems that in a more dangerous and difficult America, the rest of the country increasingly wants to borrow the weapon.
The good news this season — yes, there is some — is that with “The Nanny” and “Suddenly Susan” (the JAP stereotypical Vicki may have been married to a decent sort of rabbi, but she was definitely cringe material), having passed into the lucrative afterlife of syndication, parodies of spoiled shopaholic Jewish women on primetime television have given way to spoiled shop-a-holic Italian women on “The Sopranos.”
And despite rumors to the contrary, the girls on “Sex and the City” can’t possibly be Jewish: Carrie only shops retail, Samantha is a nymphomaniac, Miranda is too thin, Charlotte is married to the only Scottish doctor on Park Avenue, and they’re always picking at a salad and getting tanked on cosmopolitans at lunchtime.
In short, Jewish viewers are likely to find this season as unsatisfying as countless others. As in real life, Jews on television this year are still married to, or dating, non-Jews. It cuts down on interesting sources of conflict, according to the writers, if two characters both celebrate Chanukah and know the difference between a matzah ball and kreplach — as if the writers never noticed the surfeit of conflicts within the Jewish community.
And there are still many Jews who, while they have Jewish names and look Jewish, never identify themselves as such. But, of course, we’ve never heard of that in real life, have we?
P.A. Under Siege?
Basketball and Life
"Be Quick — But Don’t Hurry: Finding Success in the Teachings
of a Lifetime" by Andrew Hill with John Wooden
(Simon & Schuster, $20)
Andrew Hill should be considered a very lucky man. The 50-year-old Los Angeles native played basketball at UCLA in the 1970s under the auspices of John Wooden, one of the school’s greatest coaches. Hill won three championship rings with UCLA but left the university with a chip on his shoulder and a deep misunderstanding of the coach who would later become his greatest mentor.
Hill went on to become president of productions at CBS and president of programming at the student-oriented Channel One Network, never fully conscious of the role that the coach’s teachings had played in his life.
One sunny day while facing down a 210-yard, 2-iron golf course, a friend told him to keep his balance, something that Wooden had always stressed. Hill, who described his experience on the golf course as an epiphany, wanted to reconnect with the man he had so deeply misunderstood in his youth.
Hill picked up the phone and tracked down Wooden. The coach embraced his former pupil as though he had been waiting for him all along.
The reunion went so well that Hill took to calling Wooden "coach" and was inspired to share Wooden’s teachings and philosophies with others in his new book, "Be Quick — But Don’t Hurry."
"Life is precious," Hill says. If you have an opportunity to "reach out to the older people in your life, [you should]."
"Be Quick" begins with a forward by Wooden outlining his "Pyramid to Success" based on his years of coaching — loyalty and friendship are two elements that form the foundation, while faith and patience sit at the zenith due to their deep moral value.
Hill outlines 21 secrets he’s learned from experiences with Wooden and explores how each relates to basketball and life.
Secret No. 9, titled "A Great Leader Cannot Worry About Being Liked," focuses on the very crux of Hill’s early contentions with Wooden.
Hill writes candidly about how Wooden was not well liked by his players and that Wooden expected his players not to like him. The coach’s focus was on the greater picture, winning national championships. He didn’t care about the feelings of the players who sat on the bench and whined or those who didn’t like the way Wooden talked to them.
According to Hill, Wooden had realized that "feelings get hurt and lives are disrupted, but the ability to make those tough choices is essential to being an effective leader."
If he had to pick one secret from his book to emphasize, Hill says, "focusing on effort, not winning" is the most important, because "we live in a society in which we always keep score."
A basis of Wooden’s teachings, according to Hill, is that the focus on the effort required to do something "frees you from the result." But Hill continues to struggle with aspects higher on Wooden’s pyramid, like patience.
Each of the 21 secrets helps elaborate and provide examples for Wooden’s philosophy, adding imagery and establishing connections between his concepts and the two men responsible for the book.
Hill says that you must buy into Wooden’s whole idea of the pyramid in order to achieve balance in your life, adding that if "you gave your best effort, you have succeeded."
The Jewish King
Feting CBS President
Television and film star George Clooneypresents Leslie Moonves with the Sherrill C. Corwin Human RelationsAward
“Jewish people have always been in my life,whether I wanted them there or not.”
So joked Bill Cosby to the capacity crowdattending the American Jewish Committee’s annual Sherrill C. CorwinHuman Relations Award Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Thehonoree that Thursday evening: CBS President Leslie Moonves,recipient of the AJC’s distinguished Corwin Award.
Originally established in 1906 in response toczarist Russian pogroms, the AJC has long fought to protect civilrights and celebrate those who have vocally fought discrimination.Honorees of previous star-studded AJC affairs have included StevenSpielberg, Clint Eastwood and Ted Turner.
A plethora of CBS suits and celebs turned out tohonor Moonves, as well as people connected to his previous tenure aspresident of Warner Bros. Television, where he helped launch hitshows such as “ER,” “Friends” and “Lois and Clark: The New Adventuresof Superman.” Jane Seymour, Steven Bochco, Robert Stack, John Ritter,Elliott Gould and cast members of “Everybody Loves Raymond” wereamong the friends and fans visibly enjoying the evening.
But none were more proud of Moonves than his ownfamily — including his wife of 20 years, Nancy; his parents; brotherJohn; and children, Adam, Sarah and Michael.
After dessert, a “60 Minutes” parody, hosted byMike Wallace and Lesley Stahl, appeared on the video screen,comically recapping the actor-turned-executive’s career. Cosby’saddress came next, followed by some words by longtime friend GeorgeClooney, and Moonves’ own acceptance speech. A well-receivedhighlight of the night was a videotaped message by President Clinton,which was received with a roomful of supportive applause.
AJC leader Rabbi Gary Greenebaum cited Moonves'”long history of involvement in bringing the community together.”Celebrities in attendance echoed Greenbaum’s praise. Fran Drescher,who on “The Nanny” arguably portrays the most unabashedly ethnicJewish character in television history, shared her high esteem forMoonves with The Jewish Journal. She labeled the Eye Network chief “apillar of the community…” and praised his firsthand philanthropicinvolvement in important causes. “He doesn’t just write out a check.He really gets into life [and] works very hard.” Indie film queenIleanna Douglas singled out Moonves’ “sense of loyalty.” TeriHatcher, perhaps the only woman ever coveted by the Man of Steel andAgent 007, glowed: “He makes every person feel special.”
Brad Garrett, Ray Romano’s towering TV brother onCBS’s hit comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond,” duly noted that, unlikeother network programmers, Moonves’ word is bond. “When he says he’sbehind [a show], he’s behind it,” Garrett said.
Moonves himself told The Journal: “It isimportant, whether Jewish, Irish or Italian, to maintain [culturalidentity in programming]. Assimilation is a dangerous thing, and itis important to portray diversity on TV.”
He opined that, by and large, depictions of Jewsare handled responsibly by the networks. He also recalled a dinnerwith his granduncle in Israel 28 years ago as a defining moment inhis life “that will stay with me always” — particularly noteworthysince his granduncle happened to be first Prime Minister of IsraelDavid Ben-Gurion.
Moonves’ contributions to television andJewish-American culture did not escape the young Jewish minds behind”Diagnosis: Murder.” Executive producer Lee Goldberg evaluatedMoonves as “one of the most creative people in the business…[notyour typical] stand-offish, icy exec,” to which partner WilliamRabner concisely pointed out: “And he put ‘The Nanny’ on theair.”
Touch and Go
Touch and Go
TV writer and CBS executive Eugene Stein exposes a darkerside in his latest book of fiction
By Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer
Eugene Stein calls himself a Jewish writer, a gay writer, aprogressive writer.
He is also a successful TV writer and the vice president of comedydevelopment at CBS, where he develops sitcom scripts and pilots,including one for next season that will feature a cheerful nanny fromouter space.
But when the workday is done, Stein, 37, explores a darker part ofhimself, a biting, sardonic side that is featured in his second workof fiction, “Touch and Go” (Rob Weisbach Books, $22.). The oftenwickedly funny volume of short stories is about as far away fromsitcom as you can get.
The characters are mostly lost, lonely souls who wander bleak,absurd landscapes, from Belize to Fairfax Avenue. The stories arereminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut and Brett Easton Ellis, and, no, theywon’t play in Peoria.
A bedridden grandmother turns into a murderous giantess in “TheGrandma Golem.” A gay Jewish teen-ager is jealous of his straightbrother in “Mixed Signals.” Even the criminals are served freshcoffee at “Mom’s Diner.”
“What my protagonists have in common is that they are outsiders,”says Stein, who has something of an outsider’s perspective as a gayand Jewish man.
Yet the friendly, low-key executive seemed much the corporateinsider during a recent telephone interview, which he conducted fromhis busy CBS office. His hectic schedule goes around the clock: At 6a.m., he sits down to write his own fiction for two hours; he goesinto the office from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; at night, he often attends acomedy club or a sitcom taping.
Growing up near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Stein, who says thathe was first drawn to sitcoms while watching “Get Smart” and “The OddCouple,” was imbued with “Jewish left-wing” politics and a love forliterature. His grandfather was a barber and a Yiddish journalist,his father was a union organizer, and his mother was a librarian.
The author draws upon his childhood memories in illustrating theBronx Jewish middle-class families that appear in “Touch and Go.” Healso touches, however unconsciously, upon the family trauma thatoccurred when he was 15 — the beginning of his older brother’sdownward spiral into mental illness.
Several characters in the short stories are tormented byrelationships with troubled brothers: In “Death in Belize,” a gay manjourneys far from home to avoid the pain of watching his siblingwaste away, but remains wracked by guilt.
In “Close Calls,” the pill-popping protagonist is pushed intobecoming an overachiever because his brother is not. “[He] can’t holddown a job, and I was always the one who succeeded, always the onewho set goals, always the one who had to do everything perfectly,”the character says, lamenting. “I take pills perfectly, too. I don’teven need water to swallow them.”
Stein dealt more directly with his brother’s illness in his firstnovel, “Straightjacket & Tie” (1994), in which the elder brotheris a schizophrenic who believes gays are taking over the world, andthe younger brother is struggling with the growing awareness that heis gay.
All this hasn’t stopped Stein himself from becoming anoverachiever. He graduated from Yale and from the Columbia GraduateSchool of Journalism and worked his way up the corporate TV ladderwhile still in his 20s. He has written episodes of “Cheers,” “MurphyBrown” and “The Golden Girls.”
Yet he isn’t above poking some vicious fun at his day job in”Touch and Go.” In “Close Calls,” the mortified protagonist has topitch a show to Fox about a black rabbi: “Go Down, Moses.” “They lovehigh-concept,” his boss assures him.
Once, Stein really did hear a pitch for a “‘Go Down, Moses,’ butwe passed on it,” he says, laughing.
Actually, the writer likes balancing the “intensely communal”world of television with the “intensely solitary” world of fiction.And he doesn’t see any conflict between calling himself a “gay-Jewishsocialist” and working in the capitalistic world of network TV.
“It is not unprogressive to give people pleasure,” says Stein, whois proud of his upcoming series, “George & Leo,” starring JuddHirsch and Bob Newhart as the mismatched machitonim (in-laws)of a mixed marriage. “I just hope I can work on shows that givepeople as much pleasure as ‘Taxi’ and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’have given me.”
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