Producer Arnon Milchan’s goal: Broker Mideast peace

Arnon Milchan, ex-Israeli soldier, soccer star, shadowy arms consultant, international business entrepreneur and big-time Hollywood producer, does not lack confidence.

His next ambition, for instance, is to make peace between Arabs and Jews and take care of the Iranian situation.

In a wide-ranging interview, Milchan (pronounced with a soft “ch” as in “China”) reminisced about his past, discussed the movie industries in Israel and the United States and spoke of his plans for a Jewish-Arab university in northern Israel.

The occasion for the rare interview was last week’s gala dinner and show at Paramount Studios, hosted by the Consulate General of Israel and the Los Angeles-based Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel, with Milchan as the guest of honor.

“I usually hate these events. I don’t even go to my own premieres, but this is for a good cause, Israel’s youth movement,” Milchan said. “I’m not personally involved in any way; it’s almost like a surprise party.”

Milchan provided his own surprise for the occasion, when, after accepting the Legacy of Citizens Lifetime Achievement Award, he called tennis champ Serena Williams to the stage and shared the award with her.

Milchan was born in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, 63 years ago as an 11th-generation sabra on both sides of the family.

“On one family side we go back to [the great medieval Bible commentator] Rashi, on the other side almost to King David,” he said. When he met Yasser Arafat, the late PLO leader, Milchan told him, “I’m more Palestinian than you are.”

During their meeting, Milchan also discovered another side of the old terrorist.

“Arafat told me that he had seen my movie, ‘Pretty Woman,’ at least 20 times,” Milchan said. “A bodyguard took me to Arafat’s bedroom, and there was a cassette of the movie.”

In the early 1960s, Milchan was a star center forward for Tel Aviv Maccabi and the national soccer team.

“I had the choice of becoming a professional soccer player or going to the university,” he recalled. “I made a mistake and went to school.”

He has four children, ranging in age from 5 to 40 and five grandchildren “as of yesterday.”

At age 20, Milchan inherited a debt-laden fertilizer company from his father and turned it into one of Israel’s largest agro-chemical concerns. Today, with worldwide business investments and profitable movies, he confirms Fortune magazine’s estimate of his worth at $3.1 billion.

Milchan served in the Israeli army during the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After getting his feet wet in the Israeli and British movie industries, he was ready to take on Hollywood.

Now the founder and head of New Regency Productions, Milchan is credited as the producer of approximately 120 feature films. Among his best known titles are “Once Upon a Time in America,” “Brazil,” “Pretty Woman,” “JFK,” “Free Willy,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

Although he is involved in many facets of Israeli life, Milchan takes no part in the country’s film industry or, for that matter, in making Hollywood movies on Jewish or Israeli themes.

“I have a high regard for Israeli movies, but you’ve got to specialize,” he said. “You can’t make a ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith,’ which opened in 3,000 American theaters, and then a Hebrew-language film with English subtitles that plays in a few art houses.”

Milchan doesn’t do documentaries or films on Holocaust themes, he said, “although if somebody brought me a great script, like ‘Schindler’s List,’ I might make it. But I’d rather give money to someone else who can do a better job than I could.”

He does give money to Israeli causes, such as $1 million to the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, for which he also served as chairman.

Milchan said he put up $100 million for a pet project to establish a doctorate-granting university in the Galilee, with a top faculty (“I wished that teachers were the highest paid people in Israel”) to attract Jewish, Muslim and Christian students.

The project has been stalled for two years, which Milchan blames on “government changes, academic opposition and bureaucracy,” but if it doesn’t take off, he plans to initiate a major hydraulic energy scheme instead.

Milchan is not involved in the L.A. Jewish community “because I only live here, in Malibu, three months each year,” he said. The rest of the time he spends in Israel, where he has houses in Herzliyah and Bet Yanai, near Caesarea, or in his London residence.

In the mid-1980s, Milchan’s name frequently popped up as an “arms merchant” in a criminal case involving the illegal shipment to Israel of 800 krytrons, small electronic devices that can be used for triggering nuclear weapons. Milchan was never charged in the case, but he acknowledges that one of his companies served as a front in the transaction, “with the full knowledge of the Israeli and American governments.”

Milchan follows Israeli politics closely and is fond of dropping the names of his high-level friends, particularly Shimon Peres (“his first letter he wrote as president went to me”), but also Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Likud Party leader Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu.

ALTTEXTHe recalled that in 1965, he put up $3,000 to help David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Peres form the short-lived Rafi Party.

As always, he said, he likes to operate behind the scenes and asserted that he helped then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persuade Peres to join the new Kadima Party. Currently, Milchan said, “I’m trying to make peace among the left, right and center.”

He is more circumspect about playing any role in American politics. “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you, except in private, but I know the players,” he said.

Toward the end of the interview, Milchan mentioned a just-published 25-page cover story on him in Cigar Aficionado magazine written by its publisher, Marvin R. Shanken. Milchan, who said he no longer smokes stogies, offered to hand-deliver the magazine to the interviewer’s home, via his chauffeur. He emphasized that he had vetted the article before publication and that every word was true.

Milchan closes out the Cigar interview with some introspective thoughts.

“I really, really believe that I have the skills, the courage, the conviction and the know-how to make a difference in the peace process in the Middle East,” he said.

“I think I can get in a room, no different than I got into a room with Arafat,” Milchan said. “I can get in the room and work out a deal…. I can get with the Iranian guy. I think if I really want something, it is to work with the next administration in Israel and the United States, whoever is the president here, whoever is the prime minister in Israel, and get myself hired to be the go-between, between Arabs and Jews.

“I will deliver this one,” he added. “The point I’m making here, I’m the most qualified person I’ve ever met to make peace. It will be my best movie, and I can do it. That’s my big dream.”

“Wicked” producer Platt flies across another bridge

Producer Marc Platt has crossed a number of bridges in his life, and the inside of his bungalow offices on the Universal Studios back lot certainly reflects it.

On the Hollywood side, a pink-covered “Legally Blonde” script rests on a glass coffee table and a framed poster for the HBO miniseries, “Empire Falls,” hangs on the wall; on the Broadway side, a large playbill in Japanese for the Tokyo production of “Wicked” is accompanied by a 2004 Drama Desk Award for outstanding new musical.

That musical, “Wicked,” was born on the Universal lot in 1999, nurtured by the Hollywood-turned-Broadway producer who has a soft spot in his heart for stories of outsiders. And as the Tony-winning, megapopular tale of the Oz witches prepares to return to the Pantages this month, after performing to sold-out crowds there in 2005, Platt seems happy enough to defy gravity as he talks about the musical’s Hollywood homecoming.

“When we were here briefly on the national tour, there was such an excitement, if not a frenzy over it,” said Platt, 49. “The [MGM] movie that is based on L. Frank Baum’s book obviously is so closely associated with Hollywood.”

But had Platt followed through on his original plans for “Wicked,” the renowned musical that tells the pre-Dorothy story of Glinda “the Good Witch” and Elphaba “the Wicked Witch of the West” would have had a similar Hollywood treatment as its Baum counterpart — but sans musical numbers. As the former head of production for Universal Studios in the late 1990s, Platt had acquired the rights to Gregory Maguire’s best-selling book, “Wicked,” fully intending to adapt it for the big screen.

Composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell”) and writer Winnie Holzman (“Thirtysomething”) wanted to turn Maguire’s tale into a musical and contacted Platt in 1999 with the hope of securing the rights from Universal. The three met to discuss the benefits of turning the witch’s story into a musical, and what emerged became the 2003 blockbuster Broadway hit.

“When we did our first reading here on the lot of Act 1 and 2 [in 2001], we expected it to be fun and charming and witty,” Platt said. “I don’t think anything prepared any one of us — Winnie, Stephen or me — for the overwhelming, passionate, emotional response from the 50 to 60 people that were sitting in the room that day. And it sort of made us think, ‘You know, I wonder if we get this right … maybe we really have something.'”

That “something” includes a Platinum-certified album (which has maintained No. 1 on the Billboard Cast Album chart almost every week for more than a year), a makeup line with Stilla cosmetics (in pink and green, of course) and the online Ozdust Boutique, which sells everything from “Defy Gravity” T-shirts (named for the goosebump-inducing Act 1 closer) to “Wicked” golf balls.

Platt notes that the grandfather of a friend even has the lyrics “I have been changed for good” from the song “For Good” engraved on his headstone.

Another song from the show, “Thank Goodness,” which exposes how Glinda deals with getting everything she thought she always wanted, touches a chord with Platt, who grew up in a Traditional-Conservative home in Maryland with a family that he says was always involved in some form of tikkun olam: “It has some of the most brilliant lyrics I think written in a long time. For example, ‘There are bridges you crossed you didn’t know you crossed until you crossed.’ To me it is very meaty in terms of thematically what the show is about.”

Platt has crossed more than a few bridges himself. After he graduated from Penn, where he produced a small off-Broadway musical titled, “Francis,” about St. Francis of Assisi, Platt studied entertainment law at NYU, while interning with agent Sam Cohn at International Creative Management, Inc. in New York.

Platt moved with his wife, Julie, to Los Angeles around 1986.
“[I was] nervous about being in a Hollywood community,” he said.
But by 1990, he was head of production at Orion. He held a similar position at Tristar, starting in 1992, and Universal in 1996. He now heads his own company, Marc Platt Productions.

Since the success of “Wicked,” Platt’s theater division has produced the drama, “Three Days of Rain,” which starred Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd, and he is currently backing Matthew Bourne’s ballet version of “Edward Scissorhands.” Platt is expected to bring Rogers and Hart’s “Pal Joey” back to Broadway with a new book from “Three Days of Rain” playwright Richard Greenberg sometime this year.

While he’s now as inside as most people can hope to get in Hollywood, Platt maintains a large place in his heart for the stories of the outsiders, like “Wicked’s” Elphaba, a sensitivity he attributes to his Jewish upbringing.

“The notion of someone who is fitting in or trying to become part of a larger family…. It’s hard to separate that from my own Jewish roots,” said Platt, a member of Sinai Temple. “Some of the metaphors you find in ‘Wicked’ — how those in power can exploit fear in others to maintain their power — I think, as Jews, we’ve seen that historically on more than one occasion.”

In addition to having been a Wexner fellow, Platt recently joined the board of Birthright Israel and co-founded The Federation’s L.A. Couples gift division with his wife.

“If we members of the Jewish community don’t support the Jewish organizations, nobody else will,” he said.

As for the idea that Hollywood Jews distance themselves from Israel, Platt told The Journal, “I think too many people in Hollywood perhaps fail to make a distinction between the political side of Israel and the notion of the country. And they can be separate things. In recent years, there have been members of the community who are supportive — they give their time and money. It’ll never be enough … but I do feel it is there.”

While there are no plans to bring “Wicked” to the silver screen, Platt said there is one more bridge he’d like to see the show cross: “I’d love to bring [‘Wicked’] to Israel. But it’s such a small market, unfortunately, and such a big show. I hope someday to do it, even if I have to do it on my own.”

Ex-Movie Exec Isn’t Silent About Films

Roger Mayer lounges in the living room of his house on Benedict Canyon Road, a comfortable two-story clapboard structure in Beverly Hills. His dress is conservative, yet casual — dark pants, dark shoes, light-gray shirt and what appear to be horn-rimmed glasses — but he sports no tie, as per industry custom. He relaxes with his arms behind his neck, occasionally pressing his foot against the coffee table.

The newly minted octogenarian, who looks at least 10 years younger, effortlessly recalls dates, numbers and deals from decades ago. For instance, when it is suggested that Turner acquired the MGM library and pre-1950 Warner Bros. library in 1986, he points out that the deal also included the entire RKO library.

In 2005, Mayer won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar, which honored his years of public service, particularly in the realm of film preservation. After a distinguished 53-year career in the film business, Mayer has reason to rest easily.

Even though he retired last year after 19 years as president of Turner Entertainment, Mayer remains active, heading the National Film Preservation Foundation and co-chairing the 17th annual Silent Film Gala to be held June 3 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra will perform accompaniment to two classic Harold Lloyd films from the silent era, “Ask Father,” a one-reel comedy, and “Safety Last,” a film known to cinephiles for the famous image of Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock on a building.

Mayer, whose New York accent comes through primarily when pronouncing his native town, “New Yawk,” was born in the Big Apple in 1926, the year before the first talkie. He does not remember going to see silent pictures in his childhood.

What he did see were Broadway musicals. He had a “maiden” aunt who sought his company for such outings. He loved the Broadway shows so much that he considered working in legitimate theater after he graduated from Yale in 1948. He spent that summer in Abington, Va., at the Barter Theater, so named because of its origin during the Depression, when theatergoers would exchange things “like a ham,” he said, for a ticket. He was not an actor but rather an assistant stage manager, “painting scenes, handing animals to the actors through the holes in the scenery,” he said.

After the summer, he decided to become a lawyer. Although there was a Jewish quota at Yale, he did not experience any real prejudice there; in fact, Yale’s provost gave him a scholarship for 50 percent of his tuition, after his father died in his freshman year.

After graduating from law school in 1951, Mayer moved to Los Angeles. The only real prejudice he encountered was when he tried to get a job at an L.A. law firm. All of the downtown firms turned him down; a partner at one actually said to him, “We’d love to hire you, but we just don’t hire Jews.”

Mayer sold pajamas at the May Co. and studied for the bar. Then, a lawyer at one firm suggested that he try getting a job at Columbia Pictures, a client. He worked there for nine years, primarily doing contract and copyright law before joining MGM.

Despite the seeming pedigree of his name, Mayer is not related to Louis B. Mayer, who had headed MGM. At the time Roger Mayer became assistant general manager of MGM in 1961, Louis B. Mayer, who had been fired a few years earlier, was engaged in a proxy fight against the company.

“I had to convince people I wasn’t related to him,” said Mayer, who has a modesty about him, despite his recent Oscar. He also has an Emmy as executive producer of “Judy Garland: By Myself.” Both awards rest discreetly out of sight on the mantel in the den.

Mayer has no entourage, no servants in his home. He doesn’t put on airs.

He doesn’t even particularly want to talk about himself as much as he wants to promote the Silent Film Gala and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which he called, “one of the cultural icons of Los Angeles that kind of gets lost in the shuffle.”

Maybe, Mayer is a little like the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, an underrated talent, overshadowed by more glamorous types. He has always felt more comfortable around the set designers, musicians and composers than the actors, many of whom he calls “self-absorbed.” Perhaps, this down-to-earth quality is a function of his many years as a behind-the-scenes executive, whose bailiwick was not creative matters but rather physical production at MGM and Turner Entertainment.

Describing a typical workday, Mayer said, “On an average day at MGM, there would be 4,000 people on the lot, and all of them would report to me, except the actors, the directors, the producers and the writers. But that’s 3,500 people.”

At MGM, Mayer met Ray Klune, a legendary executive who had been the production manager on “Gone With the Wind” and headed up physical production for David O. Selznick, Louis B. Mayer and Howard Hughes. Klune showed him the concrete vaults that contained the film negatives on MGM’s 200 acre-lot, then based in Culver City; he said to the young executive, “One of your jobs is to make sure we have proper security for the vaults and that these things aren’t deteriorating.”

“I found out that the security was great, but that in the summer, in the 100-degree heat, the film was deteriorating,” said Mayer, who then instituted a film preservation program at MGM that included the first air-conditioned, refrigerated vaults.

He found his calling and, after more than 40 years of leading efforts to restore film, Mayer received his Oscar, following an introduction from director Martin Scorsese, well-known for his own dedication to film preservation.

“I was never out of work in 53 years in the motion picture industry. Either they didn’t know what I was doing, or I was doing something right,” Mayer said with a smile.

The 17th annual Silent Film Gala, featuring two Harold Lloyd films and accompaniment from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, will be held at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Saturday, June 3, at 8 p.m. (213) 622-7001, Ext. 275.


‘Steins’ Skewers Simcha Rivalry

“Keeping Up With the Steins” proves that you don’t have to be Jewish to make a funny, insider Jewish film, or that if you grow up in the Bronx or went to school in North Hollywood, you become a Jew by osmosis.

Case in point is the son-father team of Scott and Garry Marshall, with the younger one directing the movie and the older one just about stealing the show as a hippie Jewish grandfather, who teaches his yuppie descendants that there’s more to a bar mitzvah than throwing the most lavish party in Brentwood.

The film opens with an aerial shot of a Queen Mary-sized cruise ship, whose bow displays a giant banner “Mazal Tov, Zachary.” The theme of the modest celebration is the last voyage of the Titanic, complete with a huge iceberg mockup, from which emerge a bevy of scantily clad mermaids — and that’s just for the appetizer.

Hosting the simcha is Arnie Stein (Larry Miller), “agent for the stars” and his trophy wife, who met at a Texas wet T-shirt contest.

Among the guests, and gnashing his teeth, is Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven, also slick agent Ari Gold in the HBO series “Entourage”), Stein’s business competitor, accompanied by his wife Joanne (Jami Gertz) and nerdy-looking son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara), whose own bar mitzvah is coming up in a few months.

Driving home from the Titanic bash, Adam Fiedler starts obsessing about his own heir’s bar mitzvah party. It’s not enough to keep up with the Steins — he has to put on a bash that will crush and humiliate his rival.

Safaris are so 1990, but renting Dodger Stadium is a possibility. At night, Adam dreams about a line of yarmulke-wearing Laker Girls as a bar mitzvah highlight.

As Adam’s fevered mind nears the breaking point, up pops his father, Irwin (Garry Marshall), pony-tailed and hippie-clad, along with his spaced-out blonde girlfriend Sandy (Daryl Hannah), whom he met on an Indian reservation, where her name is Sacred Flower.

Irwin deserted his wife, Rose (Doris Roberts), and young family 26 years ago, and Adam, who hasn’t seen or talked to his father since, has never forgiven him.

Father-son relations go from bad to worse when Irwin and Sandy go skinny-dipping in the family pool (in public view but backsides only), although the old hippie has better luck bonding with his grandson Benjamin.

Gradually it dawns on the boy, his parents and his up-to-date rabbi (who is busy preparing for his “Bill O’Reilly Show” appearance to discuss “The Passion of the Jews” and is portrayed by Richard Benjamin) that maybe, just maybe, the religious and spiritual aspects of the rite of passage are more important than the prize for the most ostentatious party.

Garry Marshall, born 72 years ago under the good Italian family name of Marscharelli, said that his son, the director, picked him for the grandfather role as “his 10th choice.”

In truth, agreed Scott Marshall, 37, he had first tried to cast Carl Reiner or Mel Brooks, but both balked at the skinny-dipping part. When he finally approached his father, the latter asked who would be his pool partner. Told it would be Hannah, Garry Marshall quickly agreed.

During a joint interview at the Marshall family-built and run Falcon Theatre in Burbank, father and son noted their qualifications as honorary Jews.

Garry, whose credits as comedy writer, producer, actor and director (film, television and now opera) stretch from “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” of the 1960s, through TV’s “Mork and Mindy” to such films as “Pretty Woman” and the recent “The Princess Diaries 2,” pointed to his Bronx boyhood and accent.

However, his real education came as decades-long comedy writer, when he was thoroughly indoctrinated with Jewish and Yiddish humor by his fellow scribes.

Scott, directing his first full-length feature film, passed the ethnic test when he had to convince “Steins” producer A.D. Oppenheim that he could do justice to the script by Mark Zakarin, even if he wasn’t Jewish.

“I told the producer that I married a Jewish woman, and therefore, in a way, I have a Jewish mother,” Scott Marshall said. “Luckily, that was close enough.”

He further strengthened his case during the interview by referring to “bubbe’s latkes” and his education at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood.

“When I was in seventh grade, I went to over-the-top bar mitzvahs all the time,” Scott Marshall recalled. “At that age, it was about the only place you could meet girls and socialize.”

He met his future wife at the school and even tried his hand at writing a youthful bar mitzvah party script.

“Steins” was shot in 25 days in Brentwood and other parts of Los Angeles, with the synagogue scenes filmed at Adat Ari El in Valley Village.

After shooting three separate bar mitzvah ceremonies or parties for the movie, Scott Marshall noted “Through this experience, I feel I have finally become a man.”

“Keeping Up With The Steins,” a Miramax film, opens May 12 at selected theaters.


Director Pays Price in Making ‘Capote’

Truman Capote, the legendary writer and subject of the eponymous Sony Pictures Classics release that has been nominated for five Academy Awards, spent six years writing “In Cold Blood,” the book that would cement his literary legacy while also leading to his spiritual downfall.

If the writing of “In Cold Blood” proved a Faustian bargain for Capote, the making of “Capote” has not left its principals unscathed. Bennett Miller, 39, who has received an Oscar nomination for best director, speaks over the phone with the world weariness of a much older man, one who has weathered many crises.

“I can’t imagine anything that’s going to prove as difficult,” he said about directing “Capote.” “It took everything out of me, and it took everything out of Phil [actor Philip Seymour Hoffman], as well.”

Caroline Baron, the film’s producer who worked with Hoffman on “Flawless” and has known screenwriter Dan Futterman and Miller for a number of years, said that all films present challenges, but that from the outset, she had “100 percent confidence in Bennett as a director and Phil as an actor.”

Hoffman’s presence in the project helped her convince investors to pony up $7.5 million for a movie to be directed by a first-time feature filmmaker.

Where Capote never forgave himself for betraying, or at least manipulating, Perry Smith, the murderer with whom he had bonded in writing “In Cold Blood,” Miller said that collaborating on “Capote” brought him, Futterman and Hoffman, who have known each other since they were teenagers, “even closer. Something like this challenges you.

“In the natural course of a friendship,” he continued, “it doesn’t always happen that one’s wants are up against another’s. Not just any wants. Deeply felt wants.”

Miller, who like Futterman is Jewish, met the latter in junior high in Westchester County, N.Y. He spent much time at Futterman’s house, even occasionally celebrating Passover together. If Miller is not very religious, he has been obsessed with filmmaking since he got his first camera, a Super-8, when he was 11.

He got some strong reviews but little recognition for “The Cruise,” a 1998 documentary that follows the quirky life of a homeless Manhattan tour guide who rattles off statistics about the Big Apple while riding a double-decker bus. “Capote” marks his entree into the A-list, just as “In Cold Blood” made Capote an international literary phenomenon.

Capote was already a darling of cafe society, renowned since the late 1940s for his short stories and later novels like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” when he saw the potential for creating a nonfiction narrative using techniques traditionally associated with fiction writing — interior monologue, differing points of view and voice. He wanted to get the reader so deeply into the heads of two murderers that the reader would not only be chilled but also feel a modicum of empathy for Dick Hickock and particularly Smith.

Miller, Futterman and Hoffman have honored the man some view as the greatest postwar writer by making a film that, like the best of Capote’s prose, has both a spareness and beauty. One of the frequent images in the film is a shot of barren trees in the early Kansas morning; they stand alone like sentinels that have failed to protect the Clutter family from violence.

Without a word of dialogue, these shots tell us what we have to know about Kansas, that it is a lonely part of the country with a lot of open space, and that there is something austere, even a little sinister, that could be lurking in this land.

If Capote disarmed people with his self-deprecating wit, his effeminate mannerisms and above all his bizarre voice, he also disarmed them with his surprising toughness, the kind that allowed him to brave a foray into Middle America, where few had encountered an eccentric like him before.

Still, it took its toll on him, just as it has on Miller, who relates a story from kindergarten. All the kids were asked to take those colorful, big blocks, known to all kindergarteners, and to construct “a kind of needle, a pyramid.” Miller hid underneath a desk and watched as the other kids assembled their structures.

“Finally, I ventured out to do it. I did it deliberately upside down.” With characteristic fatigue in his voice, he said, “That is how this movie feels to me.”



Rebecca Smith, Foundation Inspiration, Dies at 27

Rebecca Smith, whose diagnosis at age of 5 of the rare genetic disease affecting the nervous and immune systems known as Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T), spurred her parents, George and Pam Smith of Hidden Hills, to establish the Ataxia-telangiectasi Medical Research Foundation (A-TMRF), died on Jan. 22 from complications of leukemia caused by A-T. She was 27.

Through their efforts on behalf of the A-TMRF, the Smiths helped raise more than $10 million. In October of 2004, the Smith family endowed the Rebecca Smith Chair in A-T Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Dr. Richard Gatti holds the Rebecca Smith Distinguished Professorship at UCLA.

Although Smith’s condition affected her speech and gait, it did not stop her from pursuing an active lifestyle. She attended Sinai-Akiba Academy, Stephen S. Wise High School (now Milken Community High School) and Calabasas High School and was close to completing an Associate of Arts degree at Moorpark College.

For several years, she helped run Becca’s Chic Boutique, a clothing resale store which generated funds for A-T research. Her favorite activities included riding horses, attending concerts and taking an annual trip to Broadway.

When Gatti first met the Smiths, soon after Becca was diagnosed, he was one of very few researchers studying the rare disease. A-T has since become recognized as a potential key to understanding neuro-degenerative diseases, immune system disorders, cancer and aging, and now is studied worldwide. The A-T gene was identified in 1995 by the lab of Tel Aviv University researcher Dr. Yossi Shiloh, who also received early and ongoing support from the A-TRMF.

Becca’s father, George, a leader in Southern California’s real estate finance industry, died in November of last year.

“Although neither Becca nor George lived to witness their goal of seeing a cure for A-T, their efforts guarantee that it will arrive years earlier than it otherwise would have,” Gatti said.

Becca is survived by her mother, Pam; brothers, James and Matthew; sister, Jill Oaks; and nieces, Samantha and Hannah.

Donations in her memory may be sent to the A-T Medical Research Foundation, 5241 Round Meadow Road, Hidden Hills, CA 91302. — Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

Robert Newmyer, Film Producer, Dies at 49

Hollywood film producer Robert Newmyer died Dec. 12 of a heart attack at age 49, just as his film work was expanding into helping Sudanese refugees via the University of Judaism (UJ).

Newmyer produced more than two-dozen films including, the acclaimed “Sex, Lies and Videotapes,” “The Santa Clause” movies and the Academy Award-winning “Training Day.” He died while working in Toronto on the spy drama, “Breach,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Newmyer’s Outlaw Productions company was also in the process of developing a film, possibly for Paramount, about the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, a group of 3,900 displaced young Africans whose lives in refugee camps resembled postwar Europe’s Displaced Persons Camps.

Last Memorial Day weekend, the UJ’s MBA nonprofit program began helping the Sudanese refugees create a nonprofit instigated by Newmyer.

“This [‘Lost Boys’ film] project has dominated my life for three years now,” Newmyer told The Journal.

The Bel Air resident said he contacted the UJ to help him help the Sudanese because the UJ was, “right down the street from me.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Newmyer was a graduate of Swathmore College and Harvard Business School, according to The Washington Post, and came to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. He was a production/acquisitions vice-president at Columbia Pictures before creating Outlaw Productions in 1988.

He is survived by his wife, Deborah; daughters, Sofi and Billi; sons, Teddy and James; parents, James and Virginia; and sisters, Elsa (Larry Forester) and Lory (Stephen Cooper).

Donations may be sent to Bobby Newmyer Memorial Fund to help the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, care of Outlaw Productions, 3599 Beverly Glen Terrace, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Bradley Jacobs, Dedicated Israel Activist, Dies at 47

Bradley Jacobs, tireless lover of and worker for the State of Israel and citizens of the Yesha communities and publisher and editor of the Israel News, died Jan. 14. He was 47.

Jacobs worked tirelessly in the Chicago community and around the country on behalf of maintaining Jewish sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. For years, Jacobs compiled and widely distributed a weekly newsletter with highlights of Israel national news.

He was the devoted son of Doris (nee Freedkin) and Ben; loving brother of Cheryl Jacobs Lewin; adoring uncle of Shoshana Maryam Lewin; wonderful nephew of Irwin (and the late Paula) Freedkin; and outstanding friend to David Abell, Norman Abell, Joel Jacobson and many others.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in his name may be made to The Hebron Fund, 1760 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y., 11230.

Shirley Ashe died Dec. 23 at 83. She is survived by her husband, Harry; son, Allan; one grandchild; sister, Hortley Weinstock. Groman

BERTHA BARLAZ died Dec. 26 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Frederica and Hinda. Sholom Chapels

Manya Berestetsky died Dec. 13 at 86. She is survived by her daughter, Stella. Chevra Kadisha

Barry Breslow died Dec. 23 at 59. He is survived by his wife, Wendy; son, Eric; one grandchild; and mother, Hilda. Groman

Rose Blumberg died Dec. 24 at 101; she is survived by her son, Donald; and four grandchildren. Groman

CHARLOTTE SYDNEY BROWN died Dec. 25 at 74. She is survived by her husband, Maynard; son, Jeff; and nephews Reid Brown and Rob Curtiss. Hillside

ROLF BURK died Dec. 26 at 87. He is survived by his son, Michael (Roxane); and one grandchild. Hillside

BERTHA COOPER died Dec. 23 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Harvey and Charles; and grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Ayzik Davidovich died Dec. 24 at 76. He is survived by his daughters, Sophia Garfinkel and Elena Barash; and four grandchildren. Groman

Stephen DuBow died Dec. 23 at 60. He is survived by his wife, Ardeen; sons, Matt (Tina) and Nicholas (Leah); two grandchildren; mother, Nettie; brother, Norman (Laura); sisters, Natalie (Greg) Davidson and Michele (Gary) Reynolds. Malinow and Silverman

EDNA EINSTOSS died Dec. 22 at 97. She is survived by her son, Charles; daughte.r Sharon Hall; 14 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Hillside

Joseph Ellenbogen died Dec. 26 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Ethel; daughters, Barbara Rose and Susan; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Charlotte Freiberg died Dec. 25 at 90. She is survived by her son, Gary. Malinow and Silverman

Zvi Reuven Galibov died Dec. 24 at 96. He is survived by his brother, Ze’ev Benjamin; and friends, Larry Frazin and Nickie Rothwell. Chevra Kadisha

Miriam Garian died Dec. 26 at 77. She is survived by her husband, Issac; and son, Ron. Chevra Kadisha

Hyman Getoff died Dec 21 at 88. He is survived by his son, Peter; daughter, Tova; and grandchild, Emily.

Arthur Glanz died Dec. 22 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Muriel; son, Brian; daughter, Nanci Fisher-Levin; and four grandchildren. Groman

Phyllis Goldklang died Dec. 22 at 73. She is survived by her husband, Stanley; daughter Lori (Simon) Furie; one granddaughter; and brother, Richard (Helen) Wendlinger. Malinow and Silverman

David Gorokhovskiy died Dec. 12 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Anna Gorokhovskaya; and daughter, Ella (Peter) Skibinsky. Chevra Kadisha

Eleanor Gottlieb died Dec. 22 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Kenneth; daughter, Jean; and brothers, Bernard and Donald Gordon. Groman

Albert Greer died Dec. 26 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Bessie; sons, Robert (Eding) and John (Guila); daughter, Dahlia; one grandchild; and two great-grandchildren. Groman

Leslie Hyde died Dec. 23 at 59. She is survived by her daughter, Lisa; and parents, Sy and Lucille Fuhrman. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Karmen died Dec. 17 at 84. He is survived by his niece, Ilona Sherman. Chevra Kadisha

Rozalyn Leybovich died Dec. 25 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Zinoviy Rubenshteyn; daughter, Marina Gurevich; nephew, Leon Belous; and niece, Bella Ratushnyak. Chevra Kadisha

Florence Mozelle Meyer died Dec. 16 at 100. She is survived by her cousin, David (Louise) Ellias. Chevra Kadisha

Miriam Moskowitz died Dec. 23 at 84. She is survived by her son, Marc Forman; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Groman

Youssef Nourafshan died Dec. 9 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Parvin; and son, Jack. Chevra Kadisha

Betty Orland died Dec. 26 at 87. She is survived by her sons, Jerry, Eugene and Phillip; nine grandchildren; nine great- grandchildren; and brother, Irving Kooba. Groman

Issac Ovsiowitz died Dec. 16 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Emily; son, Leonard (Sharon); daughter, Elaine (Norman) Blieden; sister, Sally Garlick; sister-in-law, Joyce Kron; four grandchildren; and one great-grandson. Chevra Kadisha

Donald Harry Pessell died Dec. 25 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Beverly; son, Robert; daughter, Lori York; four grandchildren; and brother, Sheldon. Groman

Selma Peters died Dec. 22 at 83. She is survived by her son, Laurence (Caren); daughters, Margo (Marc) Weinberg, Berdie (Leonard) Stein and Cheryl (Michael) Glynn; six grandchildren; and sister, Rosa (Harry) Leafe. Mount Sinai

Maryam Pourat died Dec. 18 at 88. She is survived by her brother, Mansour. Chevra Kadisha

Hanna Reif died Nov. 24 at 56. She is survived by her husband, Willy. Chevra Kadisha

Adeline Ritz died Dec. 23 at 90. She is survived by her son, Herbert Klein; and two grandchildren. Groman

Harvey Gerald Rose died Dec. 26 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Esther; sons, Lloyd and Brian Sharaga; four grandchildren; and brother, Merle. Groman

JEAN SACKS died Dec. 24 at 88. She is survived by her son, Calvin (Marilinn); daughter, Sandra (Irwin) Cohn; and granddaughter Lauren Sarabia. Hillside

Barbara Florence Scherr died Dec. 23 at 73. She is survived by her sons, Mitchell, Scott and Mark; five grandchildren; and brother, Stephen Katz. Groman

Morris Sherman died Dec. 13 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Evelyn; daughters, Marcia Fellner, Alyse (David Kirschen) and Susan (Pack Warfield); nine grandchildren; brother, Bernard; and sister, Brynie Curtis. Chevra Kadisha

Joyce Solarz died Dec. 22 at 76. She is survived by her husband, Hal; sons, Neil (Barbara) and Barry (Melissa Holland); and four grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Richard Kraus Spero died Dec. 23 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Lorelei; daughters, Melinda and Susan; two grandchildren; and brothers, Robert and William. Groman

MARK STAWISKY died Dec. 25 at 87. He is survived by his daughters, Linda Wolfson and Susan Konheim; eight grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and sister, Hannah Rome. Hillside

J.C. Strauss died Dec. 21 at 85. He is survived by his great nephew, Jason Cane. Malinow and Silverman

Roy Stuart died Dec. 25 at 78. He is survived by two nieces, and many friends. Chevra Kadisha

Esther Stella Suissa died Dec. 17 at 80. She is survived by her son, Youssef; and daughter, Mazal Nadia Adida. Chevra Kadisha

Shokat Yazgel Tehrani died Dec. 23 at 97. She is survived by her son, Yousef; daughter, Mahin; 10 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and brother, Rohollah Adel Ar Jomand. Groman

Riva Velednitskaya died Dec. 17 at 74. She is survived by her husband, Dimitriy Velednitskiy; and daughter, Irina Vishnevsky. Chevra Kadisha

Sadie Welner died Dec. 24 at 98. She is survived by her daughter, Estelle (Bernie) Case; son, Jerry (Sylvia) Welner; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Shirley Annette Wolfson died Dec. 25 at 82. She is survived by her son, Steven; daughter, Shari Allen; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Groman

Nettie Vickter died Dec. 22 at 90. She is survived by her sons, Sheldon and Marvin; and daughter, Beverlee. Mount Sinai

Candy Weinroth died Dec. 22 at 62. She is survived by her sons, Richard and Joshua; one grandchild; sister, Susan Leifer. Groman

Menasheh Yaghoubzadeh died Dec. 20 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Shoshan; and son, Shahram. Chevra Kadisha

Belle Esther Yarmish died Oct. 28 at 82. She is survived by her daughter, Marcie (Levi) Meier; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha


The Tao of Woody


First came God. Then came Godot. Then came Woody Allen. Actually, none of them ever showed up — not in the play “Waiting for Godot” or the newly acclaimed short feature film parodying it, “Waiting for Woody Allen.” In the 16-minute feature, two Chasidim — Mendel and Yossel — sit in Central Park waiting for the venerable filmmaker to show up and give their lives meaning. In the meantime, against this autumn backdrop of one day, they argue in their Yiddish-tinged accents about whether they should give up religion or they should wait for Woody, nu?

While “The Great One” might never make an appearance in this droll existentialist film, recent events may prove that there is a God: “Waiting for Woody Allen,” garnered its director, Michael Rainin, a $1-million budget to direct a film.

Beginning this year, the L.A. International Short Film Festival, which took place Sept. 7-13, chose four directors out of the 500 filmmakers for its Discovering New Artists Award. The winner, Rainin, will direct a feature-length film with talent attached.

“It’s my dream come true,” the 29-year-old director said about his first film. Rainin decided to make a short film about a year and a half ago, when he moved to Los Angeles, following a six-year stint in New York as a writer and a producer.

“Instead of spending $40,000 to go to film school, I decided to spend the money to make a film,” he said.

He scoured Craig’s List for a script (hey, those actually get made!) and was struck by Jonathan Brown and Daniel Wechler’s “Waiting for Woody Allen.”

“I grew up with the Jewish humor of my grandfather and father my whole life,” Rainin said of his father’s Russian Jewish family. “And he turned me on to Woody Allen’s film at a young age.”

Now, the production designer’s prize is to direct to direct “Learning to Fly,” a romantic comedy which has not yet been cast but is set to start filming in March. And then what?

“I want to make films,” Rainin said. “I want to make interesting and profound films for the rest of my life — hopefully this is just the beginning.”

From Woody’s lips to God’s ears.

For more information, visit

Latkes Lose Again

by Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer

The Chanukah stamp has a new look for the first time since the United States and Israel jointly issued the stamp in 1996. The U.S. Postal Service dedicated the new design Oct. 15 in New York. It will be available in post offices starting Saturday, Oct. 16.

The stamp, part of a holiday series, has for years featured a menorah of brightly colored candles. The new design displays a dreidel from Jerusalem in front of letters spelling “Hanukkah.”

Ethel Kessler, the stamp art director, said using a dreidel was not her first choice.

“A dreidel is playful and fun, but I was looking for something more serious,” she said. She visited the Jewish Museum of New York and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in search of ideas.

Kessler saw a menorah at the Skirball that had candleholders in the shape of the Statue of Liberty. She liked the symbol, which she thought represented religious freedom. But the intricate menorah was not right for the small stamp.

Kessler considered depicting an ancient menorah to show how long Jews have been celebrating the holiday. But she wondered whether the meaning would come across.

Then, the art director had the idea to show an old manuscript. But that would work for Purim, not Chanukah, she decided.

“I kept coming back to the joy of the holiday,” Kessler said. It was the dreidel that best captured the playful spirit of the celebration.

The winning dreidel belongs to a rabbi’s collection. It has a “quality of craft that’s interesting,” she said.

Kessler also liked that it depicts Jerusalem.

She added text behind the image to make the stamp “contemporary and understandable to a wide audience.”

Sixty million copies have been printed, according to Frances Frazier, a Postal Service official involved in publicizing the stamp.

For more information, visit

The Circuit

Commending the Caring

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) has, for the past 150 years, been helping more families than you can count. On March 19, 5th District City Councilman Jack Weiss presented a JFS delegation that included Paul S. Castro, executive director of JFS, and Marcia Volpert, president of the JFS board, with a city commendation honoring the anniversary during a meeting of the City Council.

The commendation reads “Congratulations on the celebration of your 150th Anniversary! As the largest and oldest social service agency in the city of Los Angeles, it is an honor to commend you for your extraordinary commitment and unwavering service to the Jewish community and to the people of our great city.” In return, Volpert presented Weiss with a desk-sized replica of a bus bench featuring one of JFS’ anniversary advertisements that reads “Healing families in L.A. since before the Civil War.”

“Our organization has grown alongside the city since 1854, helping its citizens to meet the small and large challenges of life,” Volpert said. “We are proud of our great partnership, which provides vital services to all the people of Los Angeles, and look forward to another 150 years of successful service.”

Iranian Schindler

At the Yom HaShoah commemoration at Nessah Synagogue on April 18 and again at the Wiesenthal Center on April 19, the man who was known as the “Iranian Schindler” received commendation for his work — six decades after World War II.

During the war, Abdol Hossein Sardari was the Iranian Charge d’Affairs in Paris, under the Nazi occupation. Sardari took it upon himself to issue Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews who were facing deportation, and saved the lives of thousand of Jews. Sardari died in London in 1981.

At the Nessah ceremony, Sardari’s nephew and the former Iranian regime’s ambassador to the United Nations, Fereydoun Hovedya, received a Plaque of Appreciation from the leaders of the Jewish community.

Let the Music Play

Pamela and Dennis Beck and Carolynne and Ze’ev Drori of Beverly Hills; Joan and Allan Burns and Leslie Vermut and Tom Weinberger of Brentwood; and Denise and Tom Decker of Bel Air were the co-chairs of the Music Center of Los Angeles County’s 16th annual Spotlight Awards gala performance and dinner on April 17 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. They watched 12 performing arts finalists compete for a $6,000 prize in categories of classical voice, nonclassical voice, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, ballet and nonclassical dance in front of celebrity judges like Kevin Eubanks, Suzanna Guzman and Paul Salamunovich.

Read Up

It was a big night for the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) on April 7, when 270 people came to the Central Library downtown to watch writer Susan Sontag, philanthropist Caroline W. Singelton and The Boeing Company represented by Vice President William R. Collopy Jr. be honored at the library’s ninth annual awards dinner.

Sontag, an award-winning essayist, playwright and director, and the author of “Illness as Metaphor” and “Against Interpretation,” among others, accepted the LAPL’s Literary Award for her impressive contribution to literature. Singelton was presented with the Light of Learning Award for her significant contribution to the LAPL’s adult literacy services. Singleton’s gifts established a state-of-the-art literacy center in the central library and expanded the program into 12 branch libraries throughout Los Angeles. The Boeing Company received the LAPL’s Corporate Philanthropy Award for supporting a variety of programs for children and youth.

Great Big Gift

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles announced in March that it received the largest permanent gift in the organization’s history — a $12 million bequest from the estate of Werner and Ellen Lange. The gift serves as the cornerstone of the newly created Werner and Ellen Lange Endowment Fund, which is anticipated to generate $500,000 annually to support initiatives and new projects that will have a lasting impact on Israel and the local Jewish community.

Werner Lange came to America from Germany in the 1930s to escape Nazi persecution. He married Ellen in 1941 and the couple moved to Los Angeles after World War II where Werner established a substantial optical instruments business. The Langes never had children, and were described as “modest” by those who knew them, giving anonymously to a range of causes that supported the Jewish community here and in Israel. Ellen Lange died in 2000; Werner died in 2003.

“The Langes are true exemplars: for the humility they demonstrated during their lifetimes and for their commitment in leaving a legacy that stands to make a difference — a profound difference — in the lives of others who come after them,” said Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Foundation.

To Your Health

The Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) sponsored an evening of cancer awareness on April 15 at Loews Beverly Hills Hotel. Dr. David Herber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, professor of medicine and public health and the founding chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition in the Department of Medicine at UCLA, spoke about “Obesity and Cancer.” The evening was moderated by UCLA professor Benjamin Bonavida, president of ICRF.

In other cancer news, Dr. James Berenson, the former director of the Multiple Myeloma and Bone Metastasis Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and professor of medicine at UCLA, announced the founding of the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research (IMBCR) in March. The IMBCR is an independent research institute aimed at learning the causes and developing new treatments for common forms of cancer.

And on April 14, the The Wellness Community-West L.A, which offers support, education and hope to cancer patients and their families free of charge, honored Billy Baldwin on behalf of the Baldwin family, community leaders Stacy and Alberto Valner, culinary expert/cookbook author and philanthropist Judy Zeidler and Grammy Award-winning recording artist/producer Steve Tyrell with their Human Spirit Award. More than 400 people attended the gala dinner, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where Hollywood heavyweights Diane Keaton, Steve Guttenberg, Courteney Cox Arquette and David Arquette were honorary co-chairs.

Smart Teacher

The better teachers are educated, the better they will teach. In April, Lisa Ansell the world languages chair at the New Community Jewish High School (NCJHS) was awarded a Fullbright Fellowship for a six-week study program in Russian language and literature at Moscow State University. Ansell, who is fluent in nine languages, and currently teaches Spanish, French, Arabic and Hebrew at NCJHS, hopes to use her fellowship to enhance all of the language courses at the school.

Heart of the Matter

UCLA heart surgeon Dr. Hillel Laks of Beverly Hills, professor and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of UCLA Medical Center’s Heart, Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Programs, was presented with the 2004 Medical Honoree Award at the Camp del Corazon’s Gala del Sol event April 3 at Universal Studio’s Globe Theater.

The award, presented this year by Larry King, recognizes an individual who focuses their work on pediatric cardiology and/or congenital heart disease. This year’s inaugural award was given to Laks for his ongoing support of the camp as well as his role in the medical care provided to many patients who have attended the camp.

Camp del Corazon is a medically supervised residential summer camp on Catalina Island for children age 7-17 who have congenital heart disease. In was founded 10 years ago by UCLA’s Dr. Kevin Shannon, a pediatric cardiologist, and Lisa Knight, a UCLA cardiology nurse.

The camp presented its 2004 Corazon Media Award to actor Noah Wyle, who accepted the award on behalf of the NBC drama “ER.”

A Family Affair

In his 86th year and in his 86th movie, Kirk Douglas has fulfilled a long-cherished dream by uniting his clan in the film, "It Runs in the Family."

The picture’s Gromberg family, for whom the word "dysfunctional" was invented, consists of patriarch Alex (Kirk, naturally), son Mitchell (son Michael Douglas) and grandson Asher (grandson Cameron Douglas).

Rounding out the mishpachah (family) is Diana Douglas, Kirk’s ex-wife and Michael’s mother, who plays the patriarch’s wife, Evelyn.

The Grombergs of Manhattan are over the top in every conceivable way. They are gratingly Jewish: Kirk sprinkles his comments with Yiddish vulgarisms, screams out a "Kaddish" (prayer for the dead) as he sets fire to a boat carrying the corpse of his senile brother and for good measure, there is a family seder from hell.

Adding to the New York stereotype, the Grombergs are obscenely rich, thanks to the patriarch’s successful career as a corporate lawyer.

At the seder, when the youngest grandson, Eli (Rory Culkin), finds the afikomen, Kirk whips out a $1,000 bill and another greenback of the same denomination for 24-year-old Asher, who didn’t find the afikomen.

There is almost constant intramural bickering between the crusty Gromberg patriarch and his son; between the son and his wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters); and between this couple and their children. Ultimately, the family rallies around when Asher is busted for growing and selling marijuana.

Relief comes occasionally, as in the warmly portrayed relationship between the Gromberg grandfather and his wife and the brotherly bonds between the two grandsons.

But most of the time, the film is as dysfunctional as the Gromberg family, running off in a dozen different directions and with a convoluted plot line that defies description.

Australian-born Fred Schepisi directed the film, with Michael Douglas doubling as producer.

"It Runs in the Family," released by MGM and Buena Vista International, opens Friday, April 25.

Joining ‘Gangs’ to Work With the Best

When the now-legendary film director Martin Scorsese first discovered Herbert Asbury’s book, "Gangs of New York," in 1970 and decided to make it into a film, Rick Schwartz was a 2-year-old growing up in a modern Orthodox home in Teaneck, N.J.

It took three decades for Scorsese to complete his dream — the much-anticipated epic film just earned five 2003 Golden Globe Award nominations — and it was helped along by hundreds of people. One key figure was Schwartz, the self-effacing vice president of production for Miramax Films, who served as co-executive producer on the movie.

During several recent interviews, Schwartz, 34, who now lives in Englewood, N.J., spoke about the "incredible opportunity" of spending much of the last three years working closely with Scorsese and actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz on the film, an almost three-hour depiction of the brutal and bruising life in Lower Manhattan during the Civil War period, little explored in American movies.

"We all knew that we would never have another experience like this," Schwartz said, given the size, complexity and talent of the assembled cast.

He has some trouble defining just what his job as a producer entails but noted that it is mostly about "problem solving," serving as a buffer between the studio and the creative people, dealing with every aspect of making a film and "a million logistical problems along the way."

Whatever those problems are normally, they surely were multiplied in making "Gangs of New York." In the world of Hollywood hype, the film is known as much for the off-screen monumental struggles between Scorsese and Miramax founder and co-chairman Harvey Weinstein over artistic issues and budget — it took 137 days to shoot, was in post-production for 18 months and cost about $100 million — as it is for its content.

Not given to gossip, Schwartz diplomatically noted that there were "creative tensions and heavy moments" between Scorsese and Weinstein, both of whom he describes as men of great passion, commitment and intellect.

On one level, "Gangs" is the story of a young man (DiCaprio), who as a child witnessed his father’s death in a major gang war between Irish immigrants in the Five Points section of New York and the nativists who resented the newcomers. Years later, the young man returns to the neighborhood to seek revenge against the powerful leader (Day-Lewis) who killed his father.

But the film is also the story of prejudice, class and race in this country, set against the backdrop of the Civil War. The story culminates in the 1863 Draft Riots, the deadliest urban uprising in U.S. history.

For those who don’t mind the sight of gore and blood — there are no gun battles but just about every other form of brutal mayhem is vividly depicted — the story is compelling and the visual impact stunning in its scope and authenticity. Scorsese, celebrated almost as much for his perfectionism as his talent, recreated 1860s New York on the outskirts of Rome, building more than a mile of city life, as well as two huge ships for several harbor scenes.

All of this made life both incredibly difficult and exciting for Schwartz, who was on the scene throughout the shoot, as well as for the post-production process, editing the film down to its final length and getting to see the genius of Scorsese’s filmmaking up close.

He is indebted to Weinstein (the subject of yet another major profile in the Dec. 16 New Yorker, depicted, again, as a highly talented man given to bouts of abusive behavior and deep insecurity), who hired him after the briefest of interviews more than six years ago.

"By the time I met Harvey, I had spent hours with people at Miramax telling me how tough he was, and I was terrified," Schwartz recalled recently while waiting to fly with Weinstein on a private jet to Los Angeles. "They marched me in, the room was small, there were other people there, Harvey was on the phone and he cupped his hand over the phone and asked me why I wanted to be in the movie business."

Schwartz said he was tempted to just say he was delivering pizza and flee. He doesn’t recall his response to the question, but they spoke briefly about family life — "Harvey was trying to find out what kind of a person I was" — and he was hired on the spot.

Schwartz spent the next two-and-a-half years as an assistant to Weinstein and was at his beck and call at all times, attending meetings and flying around the world. Along the way, he worked on various films in a variety of capacities. Then one day (in 2000), Weinstein casually informed him that he had been promoted to associate producer and was to leave for London the next day to work with director Kenneth Branagh on "Love’s Labour Lost."

When he arrived, Schwartz recalled, he told Branagh he had no idea what to do but said if Branagh was patient with him, he’d be willing to learn and help. It must have worked, because Schwartz became increasingly trusted by Weinstein and went on to serve as executive in charge of production for Giuseppe Tornatore’s "Malena" and "Birthday Girl," the Nicole Kidman film, and executive producer of "The Others," also starring Kidman, before and during "Gangs."

"Rick is modest about his talents, but he is especially appreciated for his ability to develop relationships and maintain his composure in challenging moments," said Matthew Hiltzik, Miramax’s senior vice president for corporate communications.

The two men have become good friends. "We come from the same place, literally and figuratively," said Hiltzik, who also grew up in Teaneck and is an observant Jew.

Schwartz said that while the rest of his family is "quite Orthodox, I am still finding my way, but I no longer take my Jewish education for granted." He graduated from the Moriah day school in Englewood and Frisch yeshiva high school in Paramus, N.J., and said he increasingly appreciates the rootedness his traditional Jewish lifestyle gives him.

"I operate in two worlds," he said, "and while Hollywood is filled with Jews, many of them are nominally Jewish. Hollywood is all about fantasy, and it’s very seductive, and I see peers who get lost, searching for something to ground them, whether it’s Buddhism or Scientology or something else."

"So there is an immense benefit for me to come off of Tom Cruise’s private jet and feel very anchored," he said, referring to his family (he and his wife, Heidi, have two young daughters) and the Englewood Jewish community where they live. He attends Ahvas Torah, a modern Orthodox synagogue there, and his oldest daughter attends kindergarten at Moriah, where her father started out.

"It’s exciting," Schwartz said of his professional life, "but literally, you have to know where you come from."

Reprinted from The Jewish Week.

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, can be
reached by e-mail at

The ‘Kid’s’ Staying Power

Every day during the summer of 1942, 12-year-old Robert Evans set out with a copy of Radio Registry under his arm and hit every audition room in New York.

"I [made] up one story after another about my brilliant career," the legendary producer recalls in "The Kid Stays in the Picture," a juicy new documentary based on his 1994 tell-all memoir. After months of rejection, he capitalized on his uncanny knack for accents and landed a gig that appalled some members of his Jewish family: playing a Nazi concentration camp colonel on "Radio Mystery Theater."

"[There] I was, a 12-year-old Jewish kid … labeled the top Nazi in town," he says with a laugh.

It’s the kind of outrageous chutzpah hijinks one would expect of Evans, whose roller coaster of a life is chronicled like a Hollywood epic in "Kid." The doc recounts his discovery as an actor by silent movie star Norma Shearer, his ascension to Paramount production chief in his 30s, his penchant for bedding actresses such as Ava Gardner and Raquel Welch and greenlighting such hits as "Love Story" and "The Godfather." It also describes how Evans — perhaps the last great producer of the pre-Jerry Bruckheimer era — was busted for cocaine and linked to the notorious Cotton Club murder case in the 1980s (he was never indicted). And how his very public fall from grace bankrupted him and made him a pariah, though he’s since reclaimed the spotlight with his memoir and the documentary, directed by Oscar nominees Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein.

"I’ve been from royalty to infamy and back again," the 72-year-old says in his famous purr-growl while reclining on his fur-covered bed at his Woodland Drive mansion.

Morgen agrees: "Bob’s life is like a movie. He’s also a tragic figure in the sense that he almost lost everything because of his transgressions." Morgen, 32, who attended Jewish studies classes at Amherst, adds that the producer "in a way reminds me of King David. Just as David had his love for Bathsheba, which was his big transgression, Bob had his addiction to excess and to cocaine."

Even the way the producer (ne Shapera) became Robert Evans sounds like a scene from a Hollywood melodrama. Evans says it happened late one night in 1942 when his dentist father, Archie, tearfully asked young Bob and his brother, Charles, to adopt Archie’s dying mother’s maiden name. "It was a means of exacting revenge against [Archie’s] father, a gambler who would step out for a newspaper and return home, broke, three weeks later," the producer says.

Cut to 1956, when the strikingly handsome Evans — then a millionaire partner in Charles’ clothing firm, Evan-Picone — caught Shearer’s eye while sunning himself by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel. Shearer said his confident manner reminded her of her late husband, the Jewish movie mogul Irving Thalberg, and would Evans like to play him in the James Cagney flick, "Man of a Thousand Faces"?

Evans did, and some months later — in a completely unrelated incident — he was "discovered" by mega-producer Darryl Zanuck while dancing the tango with a countess at a posh supper club. Zanuck decided to cast him as Ava Gardner’s Latin lover in the 1957 film version of Ernest Hemingway’s "The Sun Also Rises" — but the author (and Evans’ co-stars) disagreed. "Everyone on the set knew [Hemingway’s] thoughts about how this Jewboy would ruin the film," Evans says. "But he couldn’t convince Zanuck."

Instead, the stogie-smoking Zanuck observed Evans’ bullfighter shtick, put a bullhorn to his lips and proclaimed, "The kid stays in the picture. And anybody who doesn’t like it can quit."

Evans recalls: "It was then that I realized I didn’t want to be some actor sh–ing in his pants to get a role, but the guy who gets to say, ‘The kid stays in the picture.’" After finagling a three-picture deal at Fox, he was named head of production at Paramount in 1966.

During his tenure there in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Evans hired the Polish-born Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski to direct the classic films "Rosemary’s Baby" (1968) and "Chinatown" (1974). He resorted to a typically Evans-esque stunt when Polanski wanted to leave the "Chinatown" set to attend a seder in Poland.

"Bob said, ‘Roman, I’ll throw you the best Passover you ever had,’" Morgen says. "He ended up with Kirk Douglas leading the seder with Polanski and Walter Matthau in attendance."

Evans went on to bring the quintessential 1960s Jewish American film to Paramount, though not without his share of tsuris. He wanted a Jewish actress to star in "Goodbye Columbus," based on Philip Roth’s biting novella, and was appalled when filmmakers instead cast Ali MacGraw. "Ali MacGraw, an 18-year-old spoiled Jewish American Princess?" he shouted incredulously at producer Stanley Jaffe on the telephone. "She’s a 28-year-old over-the-hill shiksa." The actresses’ luminous screen test convinced him otherwise, however, and, "I fell in love with her while watching the dailies," Evans recalls. In October 1969, they were married.

But the producer didn’t want to talk about MacGraw — who left him for Steve McQueen three years later — or the Cotton Club case when Morgen and Burstein arrived to film him in early 2000. It didn’t matter that Morgen had studied Evans’ movies as a cinema-obsessed kid (the poster to Evans’ "Popeye" hung over his bed) or that he had attended Crossroads School in Santa Monica with the producer’s son, Josh. ("There were rumors that Josh’s dad was possibly involved in a murder," Morgen recalls.)

Evans, who narrates the film, says, "It’s difficult to make a picture that shows your life, warts and all, and we had very big fights about it."

Not that Evans didn’t try to put on the charm, instructing his butler to prepare caviar omelets for Morgen and Burstein and regaling them with stories beside a vast swimming pool. "We knew that Bob was trying to ‘seduce’ us," says Burstein, 30, who grew up Reform but attended an Orthodox grade school in Buffalo, N.Y. "And we, in turn, were trying to ‘seduce’ him."

Evans is glad they did. During the "Kid screening at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, he received a 12-minute standing ovation and he’s now back on the Paramount lot, making movies with directors such as Wes Anderson. "I hope the film inspires people to know that when you’re down, it ain’t over," he says, sounding like the chutzpah kid who reinvented himself as the "Jewish Nazi" in 1942. "Sometimes it hurts, but you’ve gotta stay in the picture.

Divine Inspiration

Why do most people want to believe that a successful career in show business happens by luck? Maybe it’s because for people who haven’t made it, that’s a good explanation or excuse. And maybe successful people want it to seem as if it were easy for them, as if they were chosen to receive such blessings because they are so very special.

But it’s not an accident or magic, and it’s never just a lucky fluke, not if you have any staying power. People succeed in show business just as they succeed in any business, step by small step.

Exhibit A: Bonnie Bruckheimer.

Bruckheimer is one of Hollywood’s most successful producers. The fact that she’s a woman is not incidental; it’s remarkable, especially in a business where few women make it to the top.
Bruckheimer is Bette Midler’s business partner. Midler may make you laugh, but Bruckheimer is the woman who makes her laugh.

The two have been business partners and great friends for more than 20 years, quite a record in or out of show business. They formed All Girl Productions together in 1985, with the 1988 feature “Beaches” as Bruckheimer’s producing debut. Since “Beaches” she’s produced three more Midler movies, “For the Boys,” “Hocus Pocus” and “That Old Feeling.” She co-produced the comedy hit “Man of the House,” starring Chevy Chase and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and executive produced Midler’s HBO concert film “Diva Las Vegas,” as well as Midler’s television production of “Gypsy” for CBS, both of which won Emmy Awards.

Currently Bruckheimer is producing “Bette,” a new sitcom on CBS, remarkable for its ability to combine broad physical comedy and smart, sophisticated wit. Perhaps even more remarkable is that it has a recognizably Jewish female character, the lead no less.

Not bad for a high school graduate from Brooklyn who started as a secretary in the garment business before she knew how to type. Not to mention a mother who told her to “marry a nice guy who’ll take care of you,” and a father who told her to “get a job in civil service so you can’t be fired.”

Bruckheimer credits working in the garment industry as her training ground. “I talked a good game,” she explained in an interview at her bungalow on the Culver Studios lot. “I didn’t always keep the jobs, but I could talk my way into them” — which happens to be the No. 1 qualification for a show business career.

“The garment center is a lot like the movie business and I think I was lucky to work there. I was able to pick up things that were really important,” said Bruckheimer, who had men’s clothing designer John Weitz as an early boss. “He was a tough task master,” she said. “I was his assistant, and if anything ever went wrong, I would always find an excuse. I would say things like, ‘Well, uh, you know, it wasn’t my fault because, the … you know …’ He hated that! And he drilled into me that you must own up to your mistakes. It took a long time, but I left there knowing how to take responsibility. It has served me in everything I do.”
“And I was personable” — she actually does purr as she rolls the word off her tongue: purrrr-sonable.

“Once I had the job, I started to learn secretarial skills. I created my own shorthand, which I called ‘Bonniewriting.’ It was basically scribbling and remembering,” she says with a laugh. It’s easy to see how she kept those jobs. Not only is she a hard worker, she’s funny and unpretentious; anyone would want her around.

After she became, as she put it, “a really great secretary,” Bruckheimer landed a job as executive secretary to the treasurer of Columbia Pictures Industries. She was still in New York and at the time was married to Jerry Bruckheimer, who, as she said decided he wanted to be a producer,” she said. “Little did I know he would be the most successful producer of all time.”

They moved to Los Angeles, and Columbia gave her a job at the studio. That’s when she started learning about film production. Not from Jerry Bruckheimer, though. He was just starting out when they were married, and they were divorced before he hit his stride.

Bruckheimer met Midler in 1979, when she was working as a producer’s assistant on “The Rose,” and went on to be Midler’s personal and professional assistant. “I took care of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g,” Bruckheimer said, becoming, in the process, she added, the world’s best assistant. The relationship grew into their partnership.
What’s kept them together so long in a business notorious for contentious breakups? Bruckheimer credits their mutual respect for each other’s abilities.

“We each have our strong suit,” Bruckheimer said. “I’m much more business-oriented, and Bette trusts me with that. But if you ask Bette, she’d say [that] I make her laugh. We both really love to laugh. We’ve been in a lot of tough situations, and we’ve managed to keep our sense of humor.”

For example, Midler had been offered the leading role in the film “Misery,” but she didn’t want to do it. Bruckheimer thought she should, but ultimately Midler just wouldn’t do the part — a role that won Kathy Bates the Academy Award. When asked if Midler admitted she had been wrong, Bruckheimer giggled triumphantly, “Absolutely, oh, absolutely! And I played it for all it was worth.”

But Midler, Bruckheimer said, taught her the importance of perfection. “She taught me many years ago that you don’t look at your watch and say, ‘Uh-oh, time’s up. It’s good enough.’ ”

As producer of “Bette,” Bruckheimer is definitely feeling the pressure. “We are trying to find our way, to look at our shows and see what worked and what didn’t, but we’re so visible because of its being Bette,” she said.

But after making it to the top, Bruckheimer has found an important way to stave off the pressure and gain perspective: her children. “I was good at what I did before I had children,” she said, “but I learned patience from my kids. And I’ve learned that none of it, businesswise, is life or death. Sometimes the work is great, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all, but your family is what really matters.”

As she put it, “I am more a mom than I am a producer. My kids come first, and they always will. I have no social life: no business dinners, no screenings or parties.” What many consider the glamorous perks of show business, the stuff that’s in People magazine, Bruckheimer has given up.

“When I go home at night, I spend the evening with my kids,” she said. “I’m helping with homework, I’m putting them to bed or I’m just hanging out with them. If I go anywhere on the weekend, it’s to a soccer game or with other parents, and we go to kid-friendly restaurants, like the California Pizza Kitchen.

“Since I’ve been doing ‘Bette,’ they come to the tapings and we watch the show together on Wednesday nights,” she continued. “They feel very much a part of what I do. That’s one of the ways I do it. And the other way is I pull my hair out.”

In addition to producing a prime-time television show — a full-time job for anyone — Bruckheimer is also deep in preproduction for her new Warner Brothers feature, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.” Awed, I asked how she could possibly do so much. Her answer was a nonplused “I don’t know.” Then she added, “When you’re the busiest, everything happens. But you manage to do it.” She pauses for a self-effacing moment. “Well, we’ll see.”

Coming Attractions

If the mark of a fully matured film industry is that directors have logged enough time behind the camera that one can spot personal styles emerging over several films, then this year’s Israel Film Festival proves that the Israelis have definitely reached that plateau. With Eran Riklis (“Cup Final”) represented by two features and a new film by Aner Preminger (“Blind Man’s Bluff”), not to mention the latest work from Israel’s one truly world-class director, Amos Gitai, one can speak comfortably of Israeli auteurs.

Truth be told, the Israelis had reached that particular plateau many years ago, but who wanted to brag about the generally meretricious work of Menachem Golan or the trivialities of Amos Kollek? No, it was Gitai and Eli Cohen (“The Quarrel”) who first drew some positive attention.

With “Cup Final,” Riklis announced himself as the next Israeli filmmaker to watch, and this status is probably confirmed by the fact that his latest film, “Vulcan Junction,” is the opening night offering at this year’s festival, the 16th annual version of the event. Unfortunately, “Vulcan Junction” is of a piece with the previous Riklis film shown in the festival, “Zohar: Mediterranean Blues”; that biopic (of the Mizrachi singer Zohar Argov) looked and felt like an American TV movie, sloppy, mannered and hurried. “Vulcan Junction” is a multi-character melodrama, following the gradual breakup of a ’70s rock band and the circle of friends surrounding it, shot in the same disjunctive TV-and-rock-video style as “Zohar,” but without that film’s compelling central personality. Thematically, Riklis has some interesting pre-occupations — the way in which people use pop culture (soccer, rock music) to hide from their personal problems, the damaging nature of overweening machismo — but he hasn’t yet found forms to express them.

National film industries develop different genre strengths. In the past decade, the Israelis have emerged as purveyors of intriguingly quirky comedies with the tart edgy quality of the classic American screwball works of the ’30s, and bleak family melodramas with more than a suggestion of maverick filmmakers like John Cassavetes and his successors. The best of the theatrical features on view in the festival fall into these two categories.

The festival’s closing night film, “Yana’s Friends,” directed by Arik Kaplun, is a warm and engaging comedy about a young Russian émigré, the very fetching Evelyne Kaplun, who finds herself abandoned by her ne’er-do-well husband in a dazzling and confusing Tel Aviv on the eve of the Gulf War. Kaplun is himself a transplanted Russian (with a background in medicine, of all things), and this sweetly sentimental film has all the earmarks of first-hand experience. Like so many other Israeli films, it is structured around a large ensemble cast, a veritable community constellation from which its protagonists emerge. A first feature of real promise.

Gideon Kolirin produced one of the most execrable Israeli films of the ’90s, an embarrassing adaptation of Amos Oz’s “Black Box,” so nothing could have prepared me for his second feature as a director, “Zur Hadasim.” This is a quirky, punky ensemble comedy about two couples, all of them born losers, living on the edge of booming Tel Aviv society, desperately trying to grab a share of its largesse. Etti is pregnant. Her idiot boyfriend, Shaul, is a minor functionary in the underworld, a self-satisfied schlemiel with the IQ of a fire hydrant. The pair become entangled with Adi and Ilana, a similar, older couple, who have engineered a kidnapping that, through no particular expertise of theirs, should net them a tidy sum. Eventually, all the film’s players end up on the site of a never-to-be-built luxury housing development whose name gives the film its title, where things are worked out amusingly, if a trifle too neatly. An edgy, funny little film about the lure of foolish dreams of prosperity.

Community Briefs

Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

The Producer

There isn’t much Irwin Winkler doesn’t know about making movies, which is maybe why, unlike a lot of the young hotshots who’ve been in the business five seconds, his favorite subject is not his own genius.

Yet the Jan. 15 opening of “At First Sight,” which he directed and stars Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino, marks Winkler’s 30th year as one of the top filmmakers in the business.

Some of his greatest successes have been as a producer. The Winkler “brand” has so far accounted for 12 Academy Awards from 45 nominations, including a dozen for best picture. His blockbuster “Rocky” won for best picture in 1976. “Raging Bull,” “The Right Stuff” and “Goodfellas” show up high on most critics’ all-time-best-movies lists. And “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,” his devastating look at desperation in the Depression as seen through a grueling dance marathon, garnered nine Oscar nominations by itself.

Into his 60s, Winkler decided to try his hand at directing. With the blacklist drama “Guilty by Suspicion,” the downbeat “Night and the City,” and the Nazi war criminal drama “Music Box,” Winkler’s directing efforts further enhanced his reputation as a filmmaker whose love is for the good story rather than the effects-packed blockbuster; he’d prefer to tackle darker, often introspective and controversial stories.

Winkler’s movies, whether as producer or director, always set out to challenge, but as a producer/director, he always keeps one eye on the budget. The producer in him loathes the current vogue for mega-budgets.

“It’s not just aggravating; it’s going to hurt the business a lot,” he says. “I can see spending a lot of money if you need special effects or you want to make ‘Ronin’ [the l998 John Frankenhemier epic] and you’ve got cars racing through the streets of France. That’s going to cost money and time to do. But when you have a love story and it’s two people talking in a room and you end up spending 120 days shooting and multimillions…I can’t see, frankly, how they can spend so much money on a picture like ‘Meet Joe Black.’ There isn’t anything that would justify it. It’s bad for the business, for filmmakers and bad for the studios because it means they’ll continue to do movies that don’t offer any real challenges to either audiences or the filmmakers.”

He likes to tell the story of making “Rocky,” a film no studio would make with the unknown Sylvester Stallone as writer and star. Winkler and his then-partner, Bob Chartoff, had a clause in their contract that stipulated they could make anything they wanted, provided the budget was no more than $1.5 million. So they guaranteed to make “Rocky” for that Scrooge-like figure. To finance the picture, the two men mortgaged their own houses.

Winkler had long been acquainted with the ignoble side of entertainment. The product of a traditional Jewish home on Coney Island and the son of a businessman and a housewife, his first job in “show business” was pulling dodgem cars apart when they got stuck.

He attended NYU at night so that he could work during the day. After he graduated, Winkler took the traditional first step toward a successful entertainment career — he joined the William Morris Manhattan office mail room in l955, working two nights a week.

“David Geffen came after me. Bernie Brillstein and Jerry Weintraub were there at the same time.”

The rest of the time, he was a “clacker” leading the laughter and applause on the “Walter Winchell” and the “Buddy Hackett” live shows.

But his real entree into the business was as a manager. “We represented Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, and a beautiful British actress named Julie Christie,” he said. “The then-president of MGM, Robert O’Brien, had been asking us to go out to Hollywood to produce films for him. They wanted new, young blood in movies. So I brought him a project called ‘Double Trouble’ as a vehicle for Julie.”

In typical Hollywood fashion, the studio heads loved the script but wanted it for their star — a young man recently finished with his Army service, Elvis Presley.

No problem. “We rewrote it for Elvis,” says Winkler. “I didn’t know much about making films, but I watched and I learned.”

The Winkler-Chartoff team went on to produce provocative movies, such as “They Shoot Horses,” the jazz-era “Round Midnight,” “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” “Up the Sandbox,” “The Gambler,” “Comes a Horseman” and “True Confessions.” “Point Blank,” shot on Alcatraz, introduced director John Boorman to American audiences and starred Lee Marvin in one of his most interesting roles. “The Strawberry Statement” was based on an article in New York Magazine about campus unrest.

Along the way, Winkler developed a close relationship with two young Italian Americans, among the most gifted men in the business — director Martin Scorsese and actor De Niro.

“I met Martin at Lincoln Center after a screening of ‘Mean Streets.’ It led to ‘New York, New York.'”

With De Niro, he made a slew of films, including “Raging Bull” and “True Confessions.”

“To me, he’s one of the greatest actors of all time,” says Winkler. “He has an incredible intelligence about character, but, beyond that, he also works so hard on it. On “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” he was an unknown actor. We were paying him, I think, about a thousand a week. He came to me and said he wanted to go to Italy to research the character. I told him we didn’t have the budget to send him anywhere. And he said, ‘No. I’m going to do it on my own.’

“He had no money, but he comes back in a couple of weeks with all the wardrobe he would need and all his props. That’s a commitment you don’t get from anybody else.”

On “Raging Bull,” Winkler said that he tried to persuade De Niro to wear prosthetics for the “fat” Jake La Motta.

“I told him I thought gaining and losing all that weight would be dangerous. He told me: ‘You don’t understand. If I don’t do that, I won’t walk the same way. I’m going to have to gain the weight so I’ll feel heavy.’ He goes beyond what any other actor will do.”

The same could be said for Winkler, the only producer to have three movies on the American Film Institute’s top-100 list. Married 40 years to the same woman, he could spend his twilight years traveling between his home in Aspen, Colo., and his beloved France, where he is a Commander Des Arts et Lettres. Instead, he is planning a bunch of new pictures.

He is currently casting “The Lush Life,” a story he will produce about the friendship between jazz greats Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Then there’s a movie about the Vietnam War, for which Paul Atannasio (“Homicide: Life on the Street”) is currently finishing the script.

Winkler would love to get a musical about the life of George Gershwin off the ground, but admits that it’s been in gestation for 18 years. But if anyone can get it done, Winkler’s the one.

Community Briefs

Even for an international film producer and inveterate traveler, Arthur Cohn has covered a lot of territory recently.

During the last week in October, the winner of a record five Oscars and producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and “Central Station” was feted in Shanghai at his very own “Arthur Cohn Day” by the Chinese government and film industry.

He used the occasion of a retrospective of his works at the Shanghai International Film Festival to premiere his latest documentary, “Children of the Night.”

Conceived as a cinematic memorial to the 1.3 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust — and their rescue from the anonymity of statistics — the film resurrects the faces of its subjects, sometimes at play, more often ragged and starving.

Although the film is only 18-minutes long, Cohn spent three years scouring archives across the world for material, of which only six yielded scraps of usable footage.

For the feature film to follow the documentary at the Shanghai festival, Cohn had originally selected his 1995 movie “Two Bits” with Al Pacino. However, government officials in Beijing insisted on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” the 1971 classic about an aristocratic Italian-Jewish family that is ultimately destroyed by the fascists.

Cohn says that he took the Beijing fiat as a signal that “the theme of the Holocaust has been openly recognized by the Chinese government for the first time.”

His reception in Shanghai was remarkable, as press and public mobbed him like some rock star. More than 130 journalists covered his press conference, during which a giant banner above his head proclaimed “World Famous Producer Arthur Cohn” in Chinese and English.

For the screening itself, Chinese fans fought for tickets to the 2,000-seat theater. When the two films ended, the audience sat, as if stunned, for three-minutes, before quietly leaving.

For most Chinese, it was their initial introduction to a Holocaust theme. Said a young hotel manager, “Six million dead … that’s as if they murdered every bicyclist in this city.”

A reporter for the Shanghai Star perceived that “Cohn seems to cherish a special feeling for the Jews.” Indeed, the producer’s next release will be “One Day in September,” referring to the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

The production will be a “thriller with documentary footage,” says Cohn, with Michael Douglas in the central role of the commentator.

“One Day in September” will have its world premiere on Jan. 18 in Los Angeles, under the auspices of the American Film Institute.

A couple of days later Cohn arrived in Hollywood to report on his Shanghai triumph and participate in the first annual International Jewish Film Festival here.

He officiated at the American premiere of “Children of the Night” and presented an award to veteran actor Gregory Peck.

Cohn, who stands a rangy six-foot, three inches, is a third generation Swiss citizen and resident of Basel.

His father, Marcus, was a respected lawyer and a leader of the Swiss religious Zionist movement. He settled in Israel in 1949, helped to write many of the basic laws of the new state, and served as Israel’s assistant attorney general until his death in 1953.

The family’s Zionist roots go even deeper. The producer’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Arthur Cohn, was the chief rabbi of Basel. He was a friend of Theodor Herzl and one of the few leaders in the Orthodox rabbinate to support the founder of modern Zionism.

It was because of this support, says Cohn, that Herzl chose Basel, rather than one of Europe’s more glittering capitals, as the site of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.

Of the filmmaker’s three children, two sons have served in the Israeli army and studied at Israeli universities.

Surviving Hollywood

On the old Paramount Ranch deep in the San Fernando Valley, Woodstock has returned — as in the world’s greatest love-in, the ’60s festival that affected a generation. Producer Lynda Obst, who is responsible for this unnerving flashback, watches intensely from the sidelines with a proprietary eye.

She attended the real thing back in 1969 and she wants to make sure the re-creation stays true to the original. Some 300 extras mill about in front of her, with long bleached hair, tie-dyed shirts, headbands, bodies wrapped in U.S. flags — and that’s just the men. The women with flowers in their hair are clothed in ankle length dresses and bellbottoms. Psychedelic painted buses are parked nearby. Incense burns, however the odor of marijuana is absent, just to keep everything legal.

Every so often an actor breaks from the milling ranks and runs to Obst. Like a general inspecting troops she smiles then waves him back.

The whole process is bringing back vivid memories of her own Woodstock experience: “I remember driving my car in reverse for about 12 miles to get out of the mud,” she recalls.

In fact, in absolute defiance of the old adage about the ’60s: ‘If you can remember it, you weren’t there,” there isn’t much about the whole thing Obst can’t recall in almost obsessive detail. On this subject she’s an expert. In fact her four-hour miniseries, “The Sixties,” (airing on NBC in February) and the reason she’s at the Paramount Ranch, is based on “The Rolling Stone History of the Sixties,” which she authored.

For Obst, a magazine editor turned movie producer (“Fisher King,” “Hope Floats,” “One Fine Day,” “Contact”), working in TV is a whole new experience after almost 20 years in features. “The Sixties” comes hot on the heels of the launch this month of “The Siege,” the latest terrorist-threat-to-America movie, starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening and Bruce Willis, and directed by Ed Zwick.

If “The Siege” appears to be yet another wannabe blockbuster, blow-’em-up action flick, Obst insists: “It’s not an action movie in pursuit of the dollar. It’s an action movie that may also get people thinking.”

But while there’s heavy spending riding on the outcome of the potential blockbuster, for Obst it’s clear that “The Sixties” is her personal passion.

As the hundreds of extras work themselves up into a wild passionate dance frenzy under a special effects rainstorm, she explains why, after a slew of hit movies, she’s bothering with TV.

“I haven’t really had a reason to do TV until NBC came up with the idea,” Obst says. “This is near and dear to me. In many ways I’ve wanted to find a way to tackle the ’60s all my career. They wanted a kind of Ragtime blend of history. I had done the book and knew here was the reason to do a miniseries. TV is the right medium. It’s so epic, so much happened and all we’ve been able to do is a slice of that era.”

The NBC documdrama follows three families as they grow up and become part of the counterculture, affected in various ways by the cataclysms of the era.

“We mix our family stories in between history and archival footage: Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, civil rights marches, the Vietnam War. One of our characters is at RFK headquarters when Bobby is assassinated. We all saw it in news footage and felt it in our daily lives.”

As the oldest of three (“That’s how I got so bossy,” she laughs), Obst grew up in a Jewish home in affluent Westchester County, N.Y., admitting she was spoiled by her garment industry executive father and her schoolteacher mother who provided her with a snazzy sports car as soon as she turned 16.

A graduate of Pomona College, she started out in publishing as editor/author of the “Sixties” history. She then spent three years at the New York Times Magazine covering a wide range of stories.

In l979 she moved to the West Coast with her then husband, agent David Obst, who came to L.A. to start Simon and Schuster Productions. But it was Lynda who was hired by the couple’s friend Peter Guber to develop scripts at his Casablanca/Polygram Productions.

“I’d just had a baby (son Oliver, now 20), and Peter offered me a job, not having any idea of whether I could do it or not. In those days all a woman had to do was to be able to have proper behavior at a meeting, know how to dispense water and give notes on scripts. He figured at the very least I could probably do the serving water part.”

From the bottom of the executive pile, Obst toiled hard to develop “Flashdance” as a movie. It was a major hit, although in the end she had to be satisfied with an associate producer credit.

She left Guber to work with producer David Geffen and then, in the mid-’80s teamed up with Debra Hill to produce “Adventures in Babysitting,” with actress Elisabeth Shue. Four years later (also with Hill but under her own banner), she produced the Robin Williams’ urban fairy story, “The Fisher King,” followed by two Nora Ephron directed films, “This is My Life,” with Julie Kavner and Samantha Mathis, and “Sleepless in Seattle,” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Assorted other hits have followed.

In 1996 Obst wrote a witty primer on making it and surviving in Hollywood, her best-selling book, “Hello He Lied, and Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches,” but there is little about her personal background or insider gossip. The book takes the Hollywood “high road” and chronicles her adventures as a woman trying to get recognized in the male-dominated movie hierarchy.

But by the time the tome came out, Obst was no longer struggling. She had acquired power and clout on her own.

“For the first time leading actors request meetings with me and not just the director,” she wrote. “Marketing departments change their advertisement campaigns when I feel they’re not up to par. Things have gotten easier, so it’s now possible for me to directly affect the quality of my own work. I am no longer at the mercy of the ‘gatekeepers’… I am responsible for the work that appears on the screen.”

Things have changed all around since she wrote the book, she comments while on the set of “The Sixties,” citing the fact that now five woman make key decisions at different studios across town. “But even though we’ve got as many women picking pictures as men,” she insists, “the ultimate ownership of the companies, the Wall Street part of the equation, is still in the hands of the guys.”

Even with her success, the 48-year-old producer admits launching a new project is still no cakewalk. She has been trying to get the rights to the story of Richard Jewell, the security guard wrongly accused by the FBI of being behind the 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta, made into a movie. She optioned a Vanity Fair story on Jewell’s ordeal and hopes to get the project under way now that writer-director David Mamet has shown interest in the story.

Perseverance, Obst explains, is the name of the Hollywood game.

“I’m like an elephant, I never lose interest, never forget and always have something on the backburner. I never cease trying unless it’s not good. Then you have to stop hitting your head against the wall.”

Lynda Obst

‘Watts Side Story’

Michele Ohayon was nursing her 2-month-old babywhen the phone rang at 5:45 a.m. and the caller answered a silentprayer: Ohayon’s film, “Colors Straight Up,” had been nominated asone of five documentary features in contention for an AcademyAward.

The newly nominated director/producer immediatelyrelayed the good news to her parents, Elie and Perla Ohayon, inJerusalem.

At this point, if Michele Ohayon were shooting amovie of her own life, she would probably flash back to Casablanca,where she was born 38 years ago, and then to 1965, when her familyemigrated from Morocco to Israel.

Other flashbacks would show a 17-year-old in herfirst job as assistant editor with Israel Television; army service;and her first professional recognition, as a Tel Aviv Universitystudent, for her short film “Pressure,” the love story of an Arab boyand a Jewish girl.

Cutting to the present, Ohayon sat down in a noisyHollywood coffee shop a few days ago to talk about the genesis of”Colors Straight Up.”

It was 1992, and she had just spent four longyears directing and producing her first feature-length documentary,”It Was a Wonderful Life.” The film explored the lives of homelesswomen who, through divorce, misfortune or personal failings, losttheir once seemingly secure middle-class status and were reduced toliving on the street.

When the Rodney King riots exploded that year,Ohayon was shaken by the general condemnation of the black teen-agerioters, and she decided to look for herself.

Driving from her home in the Hollywood Hills toSouth Central was like traveling from a First World country to aThird World enclave, Ohayon discovered. She also encountered anafter-school performing and visual arts program, called LivingLiterature/Colors United, at Jordan High School. Through the program,African-American and Latino teen-agers were finding an alternative toand refuge from the mean streets of drugs and gang shootings in dailyand weekend rehearsals under the tough-love discipline of a white anda black director.

Ohayon wasn’t sure how “a white Jewish girl” fromHollywood would be received by the youngsters, and she charted outher campaign in her characteristically meticulous and time-demandingstyle.

For the first year, Ohayon, often accompanied byher preschool-age daughter, just attended rehearsals, talked to thestudents, shared their meals, and visited their homes andfamilies.

In the second year, she started mapping out thefilm, using only a video camera. Not until the third year did shebegin filming in earnest, focusing on the lives, sorrows and triumphsof six teen-agers.

Centerpiece of the film is the group’s gradualevolution of the musical “Watts Side Story,” based on “Romeo andJuliet,” by way of “West Side Story” — with the Crips and Bloodsreplacing the Montagues and Capulets and the Sharks and Jets.

Ohayon’s camera films the bloody rivalries onstage and, with the same fidelity, records the real-life outside. Thelead actor, a talented Latino boy, is briefly arrested and jailed; agirl’s mother tells of her street life as a crack addict; a familygrieves over a son killed in a gang shooting.

The end result is a 93-minute documentary ofunblinking and, at times, almost unbearable honesty, in which thecamera is somehow in the face and unobtrusive at the sametime.

“Colors Straight Up” has already garnered eightnational awards at various film festivals, but the creation didn’tcome easily.

Financing and fund raising were a constant worry,and, for six months, Ohayon recalls, “we couldn’t view the dailyrushes, because we didn’t have the money to develop the film.”

Salvation came mainly through two grants from theCorporation for Public Broadcasting, totaling $175,000, and PBS willair the film nationwide on May 19. The total project cost came to$300,000 in cash and another $150,000 in donated equipment andservices.

The documentary’s sensitive photography is thework of the respected Dutch cinematographer Theo Van de Sande(“Assault,” “Crossing Delancey,” “Wayne’s World”), who also happensto be Ohayon’s husband.

Ohayon believes that she is the first Israeli tobe nominated for an “American” Academy Award, outside theforeign-film category, but there’s no guarantee that she’ll beclutching an Oscar at the March 23 ceremonies. Among her toughcompetitors are Spike Lee’s “4 Little Girls,” about the bloody daysof the civil rights struggle, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “TheLong Way Home,” which chronicles the desperate attempts of Europe’sHolocaust survivors to reach the Jewish homeland.

But even the nomination by itself has alreadyraised her stock in Hollywood. “When I first came here in 1987, Ididn’t realize how hard it would be to break into the industry,” shesays. “As both a woman and a foreigner, it was even harder to beaccepted as a director.

“Now, however, with the nomination as a stamp ofapproval, it’s getting easier. You have easier access. Where I mighthave been 10th on a list of possible directors for a project, now I’mclose to the top.”

Ohayon says that she will no longer spend three tofour years, and go through the incessant rounds of fund raising, tomake a documentary, and she wouldn’t mind a slightly more relaxedhome life either.

“Now, I have to fit my schedule around nursing mybaby every two to three hours, and, while I’m nursing, I use aheadset for making phone calls and read a script at the sametime.”

Currently, Ohayon has lined up two possiblefeature-film deals with Paramount and MGM. Closer to her heart,though, is a project and script she has carried around for more than10 years; it’s titled “Homeland.”

“It’s the story of the illegal Jewish immigrationfrom North Africa to Palestine, before Israel became a state, andwhich paralleled the Aliyah Bet effort from Europe,” she says.

“It was just as dramatic as ‘Exodus,’ but nobodyknows about it. I’ve pitched the story to Jewish executives here, andthey had no idea that so many people from North Africa are living inIsrael.”

Ohayon recalls that her own father was deeplyinvolved in bringing Jews from Morocco to Palestine, so, “in a sense,’Homeland’ will be a fictionalized family story, a tribute to myparents.”

In South Central, Ohayon (inset) encounteredLiving Literature/ Colors United, an after-school visual andperforming arts program.

From the Tube to the Big Screen

Veteran television writer/producer Saul Turteltaub had to wait 44 years for his first film credit, “For Roseanna,” starring Mercedes Reuhl and Jean Reno.
Saul Turteltaub, a name-brand television comedy writer and producer for 44 years, remembers submitting his first movie screenplay.

“I showed it to [producer] Irwin Winkler, who loved it. He showed it to United Artists, and they didn’t love it. So, instead, Winkler went ahead with another low-budget film, called ‘Rocky.'”

That was more than two decades ago. The 65-year-old Turteltaub is only now celebrating his first movie credit, as the writer of “For Roseanna,” a.k.a. “Roseanna’s Grave.”

The film deals with a trattoria owner (French actor Jean Reno) who desperately tries to keep alive all the residents of his Italian village in an effort to save one of the few remaining plots in the local cemetery for his ill wife (Mercedes Ruehl).

Despite the somewhat somber subject, and mixed reviews, Turteltaub’s comic flair predominates, and the film winningly alternates between tender middle-age romance and robust humor.

In any case, Turteltaub himself is now being acclaimed as the poster boy of the geriatric set — in a town and industry rife with age discrimination, where 30-year-old writers and producers are often considered past their prime.

Producer Norman Lear says of his old colleague: “I know a lot of guys who are 35 and who are far older than Saul. He’s a life force. If this doesn’t send a loud message to an industry that needs a loud message, I don’t know what would.”

Turteltaub is also notable for a less-recognized achievement. While it is not uncommon for Hollywood personalities to write generous checks for Jewish causes or to accept plaques at star-studded testimonial dinners, Turteltaub is one of the few members of the entertainment industry to enlist in the less glamorous, foot-slogging work of daily Jewish community life.

He has done so while writing and/or producing some 1,500 episodes for more than 30 TV comedies, including “Kate and Allie,” “What’s Happening,” “Sanford and Son,” “Love American Style,” “That Girl,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.”>

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in the 1960s, Turteltaub and his wife, Shirley, joined Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

“I am not as strongly Orthodox as most of the congregants [among them a high percentage of writers],” he says. “I’m more of an ‘Orthodox-style’ Jew.” Although Turteltaub maintains that he “doesn’t feel worthy” of playing a prominent role in the congregation, Beth Jacob honored him and his wife for their contributions to the synagogue some years ago.

His most consistent involvement has been with the Entertainment Division of the United Jewish Fund, the money-raising arm of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. He served as the division’s chairman in the late 1980s and continues as a member of its cabinet. He has been equally active in promoting Israel Bonds, and he currently serves as vice president of the regional chapter.

Turteltaub appreciates his status-raising role as a screenwriter, though he is not too enchanted with the finished product.

“‘For Roseanna’ is the longest thing I’ve ever written,” he says during a phone interview from New York, where he is in the midst of a two- year stint as executive consultant to the “Cosby” show. “It’s nice to have friends call you with congratulations and to see your name in the papers. But it’s also frustrating because, in the end, the film isn’t really yours. I had to make a lot of changes to please the director (Britain’s Paul Weiland). In films, the writer is very unimportant, while the director is god.”

Turteltaub can cast an equally sober eye on some of the less elevating moments of his illustrious TV career, particularly the short-lived “Chicken Soup.”

That 1989 sitcom, with Turteltaub as writer and producer, played off the ethnic and religious differences between Jewish comedian Jackie Mason and the non-Jewish Lynn Redgrave.

In the original version, Mason was to have been married to Redgrave, but Turteltaub refused to go along with the concept. He said that he could accept a Jew and non-Jew falling in love — “that’s an emotional reaction” — but he couldn’t endorse intermarriage.

The show lasted a mere eight weeks, partially because Mason was wrong for the part, Turteltaub says. “Jackie is a reactor, not a pro-actor; he’s best when he’s kibitzing.”

“Chicken Soup” also drew the ire of the militant Jewish Defense League, whose national chairman, Irv Rubin, attended one of the tapings, eyed by nervous security men.

“Irv was sitting in the front row, and, after a while, he fell asleep,” says Turteltaub. “So I woke him up and told him, ‘You can hate the show, but you can’t sleep through it.'”

As for now, Turteltaub’s belated screenwriting career is taking off. He has finished a script for Mel Gibson, who will direct the romantic adventure story, also set in Italy, while another feature deal has been sealed with Miramax.

Coming up is a joint venture with his son, 33-year-old Jon Turteltaub, currently one of the hottest young directors in Hollywood.

Saul as writer and Jon as director will collaborate on an American version of the recent Japanese release “Shall We Dance?”

Father and son, who run a mutual-admiration society, expect nothing but harmony on the set.