Writer, director and producer Jim Abrahams has always liked pickle relish

This interview originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

Jim Abrahams is one-third—along with David Zucker and Jerry Zucker—of the legendary writing-directing-producing trio that gave us some of our most beloved and goofy movies. Before a screening at the Million Dollar Theatre of their 1980 comedy Airplane!—Mayor Eric Garcetti’s pick for Zócalo and KCRW’s “My Favorite Movie” series—he talked in the Zócalo green room about coveting a cameo by Ben-Hur, the sweetness of Charlie Sheen, and his weakness for Love Actually.

Q: What’s your favorite condiment?

A: Well, that’s a no-brainer. Pickle relish. It’s always been a favorite. I’m sort of a connoisseur.

Q: What was the celebrity cameo that got away?

A: Charlton Heston. Actually, we’d always go to him. He was very nice and polite, but never interested.

Q: What salad dressing best describes you?

A: Blue cheese…it’s lumpy.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about the exclamation point?

A: In regards to Airplane!—because there’s an exclamation point in the title? It made us chuckle to put it next to a bland word.

Q: What was the first album you bought?

A: West Side Story—no, it was The King and I.

Q: What was the last movie you saw that totally cracked you up?

A: I enjoyed Bridesmaids a lot.

Q: What word or phrase do you use most often?

A: Bullshit.

Q: What was the best part about working with Charlie Sheen?

A: The truth is he’s really a sweet guy and a tremendous professional. He’s one of these guys who walks onto a set and always goes up to the grips and the sound guy to say hi. He behaved like a regular person—there’s no star stuff to him.

Q: How did you get into trouble as a kid?

A: I’d wake up in the morning! When we started our careers, we were going to incorporate—form a corporation—and we didn’t know what to call it. The Zuckers said we should call it “Abrahams boy.” Because when we were kids, their parents would say to them, “Watch out for the Abrahams boy!”

Q: What movie (other than any of your own) have you seen the most?

A: I can’t pass by The Godfather if it’s on TV. I have to watch. And I have to watch Love Actually if I come across it.

Filmmaker Claude Lanzmann honored at Berlin film festival

French documentary filmmaker and producer Claude Lanzmann will be honored at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, where he spoke about filming his famous “Shoah” documentary.

Lanzmann, 87, will receive an Honorary Golden Bear for his lifetime achievement on Thursday evening.

“I was happy, I was moved and I was proud,” Lanzmann told some 200 people who gathered for a conversation between the filmmaker and German film historian Ulrich Gregor, the day before the award ceremony.

Lanzmann became famous for his 10-hour and 13-minute documentary, “Shoah,” which was released in 1985 and took about 11 years to make. A digital restoration of the film was shown at the festival, which began Feb. 7 and runs through Feb. 17.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Lanzmann recalled how he had tricked old Nazis into giving him interviews. He said that a turning point in the filmmaking came when he set foot in the Polish village of Treblinka, where the death camp was located. Nearly 1 million Jews were gassed there, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I was loaded like a bomb, but the fuse was missing” before entering the village, Lanzmann recalled. Before that moment, “I could not admit that a village called Treblinka with people living inside it could exist. But it did exist.” Lanzmann then found and interviewed residents who remembered the death camp.

German audiences were shocked by the film when it came out, recalled Lanzmann, who watched them from the back of movie theaters. After the screenings, he and young Germans “had very long discussions that lasted long into the night,” he added.

Though Lanzmann said he did “not believe in messages,” he hopes his work has had an impact in countries where Holocaust denial is common. “Shoah” has been shown in Iran and in Turkey, broken up into one-hour segments, with translation into Turkish and Farsi

Lanzmann said he had written an open letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in 2006 hosted a conference for Holocaust deniers. Ahmadinejad said he wanted to see corpses before he would believe that the Holocaust took place. “I told him that there is not one single corpse in ‘Shoah,’” because in extermination camps “there were no traces.”

“I said [to Ahmadinejad], ‘The best proof of the Shoah… is the absence of corpses. There is no trace. It was a perfect crime,'” Lanzmann said.

Six films by Lanzmann, related to Israel and the Holocaust, were screened at the festival.

Acclaimed writer Nora Ephron dead at 71

Writer and film director Nora Ephron, known for work on movies such as “When Harry Met Sally,” has died in New York at age 71, according to media reports Tuesday night, hours after it was first revealed that she was gravely ill and near death.

A spokeswoman for her agency, Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency, declined to comment on the reports. Nicholas Latimer, a spokesman at publishing company Random House, told Reuters Ephron was “gravely ill.”

He could not confirm reports that she had died, which was reported by The New York Times, The Washington Post and show business newspaper Daily Variety.

Earlier on Tuesday, New York based gossip columnist Liz Smith told entertainment industry website The Hollywood Reporter that she had spoken to Ephron’s son, Jacob Bernstein, and the family is already planning a funeral.

“I was told this morning that she was dying, but I can’t confirm it,” The Hollywood Reporter quoted Smith as saying.

ABC News posted a story on its website citing sources close to the family as telling the TV network Ephron is “gravely ill.”

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Ephron, known for screenplays “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and more recently, “Julie & Julia,” which she also directed, had not publicly addressed suffering from any illness in recent months.

During a long career, Ephron has written for newspapers and magazines. She published books and essays, but is perhaps best known for her work in movies.

She was nominated for three Academy Awards for writing romantic the comedies “Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and drama “Silkwood.”

Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Philip Barbara

Q & A with Howard Gordon

Running a television show is the sort of job that rarely leaves you with free-time on your hands, but during the writers’ strike of 2007, “24” executive producer Howard Gordon suddenly found himself with just that – free time, and no scripts to write.  So he decided to try his hand at a novel instead.  Gordon’s debut effort, an international thriller titled “Gideon’s War,” hits shelves this month. 

Jewish Journal:  Why a novel after so many years as a TV Writer?

Howard Gordon:  It’s actually less sudden than it may appear.  I’ve always wanted to write a novel.  I wrote a short novel for my thesis in college with Joyce Carol Oates as my adviser.  When the strike happened, I decided to take the opportunity to explore and flex those muscles again.

JJ:  How did you find the novel-writing experience compared to the collaborative effort of scripting a show?

Gordon:  It’s a little akin to show-running.  Actually, I take that back, it’s profoundly different.  It’s much lonelier.  The terror was far more acute.  I’d become used to relying on others; I genuinely feared not finishing the novel.  It was a real learning process for me.  Having a great editor and a great agent helped, and so did the flexible deadline.

JJ: You seem to be drawn to writing about spies and international intrigue.  What about that world speaks to you?

Gordon:  I’m fascinated with foreign policy, especially with how we (America) represent ourselves internationally, how we project our power.  I thought briefly about joining the State Department when I graduated from college.  I currently serve on the Pacific Council on International Policy, and the Homeland Security Resiliency Task Force, so it’s important to me.  It also appeals to me as a genre.

JJ: The protagonist of your novel, Gideon Davis, is in many ways the opposite of Jack Bauer when it comes to dealing with conflict.  Gideon’s brother, Tillman, seems to share more of the same views as Bauer when it comes to handling terrorism, while Gideon’s more of a pacifist.  Which approach are you sympathetic to?

Gordon:  I identify with Gideon more than Jack.  He tries to talk his way out of things, like I do.  He seeks the peaceful approach, until he’s forced to act.  Conflicts between brothers have always interested me – Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, even a movie like “The Fighter.”  I love how things swing from sibling love to sibling rivalry.

JJ:  So your book is named “Gideon’s War,” and much of the action centers around an oil rig called The Obelisk;  in the Bible, Gideon is one of the Judges, and he fights a war with the Midianites and destroys the altar of Baal.  Baal is often associated with Obelisks.  Coincidence?

Gordon:  Completely!  I didn’t even realize it until I was googling the book one day and made the connection.  Maybe it was a subconscious thing.

JJ: The novel seems tailor-made for a film adaptation, any plans for that?

Gordon:  I’m still considering it.  I didn’t write the novel with that in mind, but obviously if an opportunity comes along, I’d have to think about it.

JJ:  Any other projects in the pipeline?

Gordon:  I’m shooting a pilot in North Carolina for Showtime.  It’s called “Homeland,” and it’s based on an award-winning Israeli TV show.  So you can hopefully look forward to seeing that soon.

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.”

Wise moves jazz up Chabad telethon

Telethon promo

When the 2008 Chabad “To Life” telethon kicks off at 4 p.m. Sunday on KCAL 9, it promises a new look courtesy of a show runner with an unusual background.

Daniel S. Wise, 44, is an Orthodox rabbi who for several years had his own yeshiva in Troy, N.Y. Lately he has been pursuing a career in musical theater and related arts ventures.

“I don’t like the idea of making a living from religion — it interferes with the religion,” he said during a telephone interview.

“I’m not a rabbi because I don’t work on Shavuot,” he joked.

Wise was invited to help polish the Chabad production, which first aired in 1980. The telethon will still feature plenty of the traditional celebrity guests, he said, including several hours live with Larry King. But it also will have more filmed segments, shot around the globe, which tell Chabad’s story.

There will be more prerecorded music, too.

“Underneath a lot of the speeches, we’re creating an underscore,” he said. “There will be original compositions, some based on Jewish melodies and some that are original but based on Jewish style.”

The telethon will also feature more klezmer bands and “two of the best Russian dancers in America,” Wise said.

In general, the behind-the-scenes production staff will be more specialized and experienced in specific duties than in the past.

But this won’t interfere with the joyful, spontaneous dancing that is so much of the telethon’s appeal and reason for success. Last year’s telethon netted nearly $7.2 million.

Educated from a young age in Chasidic and Lithuanian yeshivas in Brooklyn, Wise didn’t even have a television at home. Still, he freelanced comedy bits to “Saturday Night Live.”

“I had the chutzpah to find out who was the producer and call up,” he recalled. “So they put me through to Lorne Michaels’ secretary, and I said I have something and don’t worry, he knows me. I showed up at his office and the secretary said to leave it. I got a call back, and then a letter to sign and a check later. I used the name Jeffrey Daniels because at the time it was a little taboo for a yeshiva boy to write for television.”

While taking violin lessons at The Juilliard School, Wise became interested in musical theater. He has since followed two paths in that field — as a creative producer, responsible for some projects from conception to staging, and as an international presenter of successful Broadway shows.

He was involved in bringing a successful English-language production of “42nd Street” to a 2,500-seat Moscow theater in fall 2002, and he helped organize a Chinese production of “Rent.” Wise also put together an international concert tour for rock pioneer Chuck Berry, which was staged like a theatrical production. As a result of their friendship, he’s now producing Berry’s first album of new material in decades.

But Wise is especially proud of “Shlomo,” a musical based on the life of “Singing Rabbi” Shlomo Carlebach, which he co-conceived, wrote the book for and produced. It debuted in early 2007 as a National Yiddish Theatre presentation at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. A Broadway engagement and national tour are in the works, he says.

“We discovered his life had a theatrical arc,” Wise said. “He had a life story that was also the story of the Jewish journey from the ashes of the Holocaust to the 1980s and 1990s. And the music is electrifying and transformative.”

The Chabad “To Life” Telethon airs Sunday, Sept. 14, 4-10 p.m. on KCAL 9.

Producer David Heyman and the lives of outsiders, from ‘Potter’ to ‘Pajamas’

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” isn’t the sort of film one might initially expect from David Heyman — the British producer who bought the rights to the “Harry Potter” books in 1997 and steered the film franchise to become the highest grossing in cinematic history.

Harry Potter, of course, is the eponymous, bespectacled orphan who attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and battles the evil Lord Voldemort over the course of seven books and five films so far (three more are expected by 2011). The fantasy movies are set in an elaborate magical world filled with giants, sorcerers and all manner of special-effects beasts.

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” based on a book by John Boyne and due in theaters Nov. 7, by way of contrast, is set during the very real historical period of the Holocaust. The story is told from the perspective of 8-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), who is chagrined when his father (David Thewlis, who plays Remus Lupin in the “Potter” films) takes over as commandant of a remote labor-turned-death camp. The sheltered Bruno has no one to play with in his new environs, and so is fascinated by the children working on what he perceives as a “farm” far away in the distance. Overwhelmed with boredom and curiosity, he disregards admonitions to refrain from exploring the back garden and heads for the “farm,” where he meets Shmuel, a Jew his own age who lives a parallel, if alien life on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Bruno’s innocent questions about the camp lead to a forbidden friendship that has devastating consequences for both boys.

Although the milieu — which includes barracks and a gas chamber — is light years from Hogwarts’ fictional world, Heyman noted some thematic similarities. The Potter books are filled with metaphors for racism and ethnic cleansing — including characters who refer to wizards as “pure-bloods,” “half-bloods” or mudbloods (a racist slur meaning mixed or non-magical parentage). “And ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ explores issues of prejudice and ignorance — and ultimately, compassion and empathy,” Heyman, 47, said in a telephone interview from his London home. “It’s about how one engages with people who are ‘other’ — who are on the opposite side of the metaphorical fence.”

“I think a child’s window into the world of the Holocaust is interesting and unique,” he added of Bruno’s perspective. “There has only been one Holocaust, on the scale of what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, but there have been many holocausts since then, and some are going on today. The point, for me, is about learning from history. And I think this story, which is so affecting in its novelty and simplicity, can resonate today.”

Heyman said he was also drawn to Boyne’s novel because “People who fight adversity and struggle to overcome difficult situations fascinate me. Shmuel, obviously, is a heroic character, but I think that Bruno having the courage to go against what his father decrees is perhaps courageous in its own way.”

Heyman’s own family story involves the overcoming of adversity and is set, in part, in Nazi Europe. The producer’s Jewish grandfather, Heinz Heyman (the original spelling may have been Heymann), was an economist, newspaperman and broadcaster based in Leipzig, who was one of the last announcers to speak out against Hitler in early 1933.

“He was on the radio, the authorities came for him, and he had to bicycle out of Germany,” the producer said. “When he arrived in England, he was at first interned in a camp because he was a German citizen.” Before long, Heinz Heyman was working as a journalist (eventually covering economics for The Economist and The Financial Times) and sent for his wife, Hania, and infant son.

Heyman was 6 when his grandfather died — at his typewriter — after completing an article that ran two days after his death as the lead story in the Times. Hania had earned seven college degrees (the last in economics from the London School of Economics) and encouraged David’s love of authors such as George Orwell and I.B. Singer. A passionate supporter of the state of Israel, she took her grandson to visit relatives in the Jewish state every year from age 6 to 12.

David Heyman’s childhood home was as steeped in cinema as it was in literature; his parents were renowned film producers who worked with and entertained celebrities such as Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Christie and Richard Harris (the latter played Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the first two “Potter” films). Heyman remembered the hard-drinking, hard-living Harris as “a generous, warm, unpredictable man who was always incredibly kind to me and could tell a story like no other.”

Heyman did not become bar mitzvah when he turned 13 (his mother is not Jewish); in fact he attended the prestigious Westminster School, which is under the auspices of the Church of England.

“I had to go to Westminster Abbey every morning and sing hymns, which at the time I thought was a big pain in the a—,” he recalled with a laugh. “So I’d sing in this very loud, very flat voice. I didn’t appreciate that I was standing in this remarkable ancient building.”

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He said he did appreciate the “Hogwarts-like” friendships, rivalries and quaint traditions he experienced at school, which was mostly housed in the Abbey’s former medieval monastery; on Shrove Tuesday, for example, the students fought for the largest chunk of an enormous pancake that was heaved over a beam in the assembly hall (the winner received a gold sovereign coin). Every morning, Heyman added, “I ate breakfast on wooden tables made out of the bottoms of the ships of the Spanish Armada.”

When his classmates went off to Oxford or Cambridge after graduation, Heyman chose to come to the United States to attend Harvard University, where, he said, he was better able to study a broad range of liberal arts. He majored in 20th-century history and art history, and began his career as a production assistant on a film his father helped produce, David Lean’s “A Passage to India.”

Heyman went on to work as a studio executive at Warner Bros. and United Artists and segued into producing with 1992’s “Juice,” about teenagers in Harlem, starring Tupac Shakur and Samuel L. Jackson. But, by 1996, he had tired of Los Angeles and decided to return to London to found his own company, Heyday Films, and to make movies that did not reflect what he calls “a ubiquitous Hollywood sensibility.” A voracious reader, Heyman intended to focus on adapting books: “They provide great source material because authors have distinctive voices, and because books are a concrete ‘thing’ you can send to movie executives.”

Heyman set up a modest office above a music shop in London, where a colleague chanced to read a review about a not-yet-published novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (its British title) and asked for a free copy in 1997. It was summarily tossed on the “low priority” shelf at the bottom of a bookcase.

“Then my secretary, who was fed up with the rubbish she had to read, remembered the good review, took the book home, and brought it up at a staff meeting. I said, ‘Bad title. What’s it about?’ And she said, ‘It’s about an 11-year-old who goes to wizard school.’ I thought that was a great idea, so I read it and fell in love.”

“I hadn’t a clue that the Potter books would become an international phenomenon,” Heyman continued, “but I loved the author’s voice, that the book didn’t talk down to kids and that it made me laugh. I also liked it because I had gone to a school that reminded me of Hogwarts. We’ve all had friends like Harry’s [hyper-studious] friend, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, the good-time pal. The book talked about loyalty and friendship and courage and trust, which I most certainly related to. And it was the story of an outsider, an orphan, Harry, who must overcome adversity.

“I’ve felt myself to be an outsider as a British producer in Hollywood — and for personal reasons I won’t expose,” he added with a laugh.

Heyman promptly interested Warner Bros. in the project and won over author J.K. Rowling with the promise that he would remain faithful to her story and characters; he has consulted with her regularly to seek her advice, discuss any changes, and to vet the various directors and screenwriters he has hired for the films — a process made easier as the first book and its sequels became international best sellers.

“I regard myself as the protector of Jo’s books,” he said. Heyman, moreover, was instrumental in selecting Daniel Radcliffe to play Harry Potter, after auditioning hundreds of boy for the part. “I met Dan while we were both attending a play, and he was so right I didn’t even watch the show,” he recalled.

ALTTEXTEntertainment Weekly recently named Heyman near the top of its list of the “50 smartest people in Hollywood,” stating that “he has done just about everything right … including bonding with author J.K. Rowling and wisely seeking her input. He helped find unexpected directors (e.g. Alfonso Cuarón, David Yates) who’ve kept things fresh. And he’s kept the cast intact through five films, without any of his three teenage stars succumbing to a Lohanesque episode…. The franchise’s success rests on a thousand micro-choices Heyman made, including creating a world, on set and on screen, where people want to be.”

In the most recent film, 2007’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” 15-year-old Harry secretly trains classmates to fight the genocidal Lord Voldemort and his henchmen, the Death Eaters. Radcliffe has compared Harry’s fictional guerrilla group to the French Resistance; Heyman also sees parallels.

“The echoes of World War II occur throughout the film,” he said. “Voldemort and his followers are obsessed with the preservation of blood purity; they’re not Nazis but they recall the politics and attitudes of Nazi Germany. And aesthetically — although it’s a cliché — the [Death Eater] Lucius Malfoy and his family are blond, like Hitler’s ideal of the quintessential Aryan.” (Lucius Malfoy is played by Jewish actor Jason Isaacs.)

Heyman said he did not set out to make a movie that dealt more directly with the Holocaust, but then another unpublished manuscript — a book now titled “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A Fable” — arrived in his office around 2005. The John Boyne book would go on become an international best seller (sound familiar?).

Heyman said he was “so moved by the story, and thought it was a very interesting and fresh perspective on a topic we’ve seen so often before.”

Some observers have criticized the book (and now the movie) for trivializing the Holocaust, but Heyman hopes the film will lead viewers to become interested in the subject of the Holocaust in general.

“I hope they will go on to read books like ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,'” he said.

In the meantime, next up for Heyman is “Yes Man,” starring Jim Carrey, as well as three more Potter films and other projects. As the conversation concludes, the world’s most successful producer these days has a more immediate concern: bathing his infant son.

“I’m 47 years old and I’ve finally had a child,” said Heyman, who also has four stepchildren. “I’m going to treasure these bath times.”

Photo above: David Heyman on the set of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” Photo David Lukacs/Miramax Films

Dreayer finds ‘Suite’ success with talented twins

“I had the busiest two weeks ever; sold another show, made some big deals for twins number three and oy,” says Irene Dreayer, her voice husky and a bit tired.

Gracefully traipsing between the backlot buildings of Hollywood Center Studios, her petite frame wrapped in casual but elegant garb, “The Dray,” as family and friends know her, greets everyone she passes, from celebrity to security guard.

“I kiss 400 people everyday,” says the executive producer of Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” “From day one, I hugged and kissed everybody, and it allowed everyone on the show to become family. That’s the Jewish producer in me; family is everything.”

After graduating from the University of Florida in the late 1970s, Dreayer left her childhood behind to chase her dream in Los Angeles. “I grew up in Orlando, Fla., where you either worked for Disney or a mall, so with my parents’ support I came to L.A. and cried every day for a year,” she says, her brown eyes peering out from nondescript designer glasses. “What kind of Jewish girl leaves her family?”

Dreayer re-imagined her notions of family and created a self-styled community on her sets, beginning with the discovery of twin sisters who she would go on to produce in the sitcom “Sister, Sister.”

On the way back to her office on the third-floor above the stage, she gives a grand tour of the premises, from the craft-services table to the writers’ room, and walks through the set, still mingling and embracing.

“This shoot is insane,” she declares, “very unusual, with lots of special effects and swing sets for our big Halloween episode.”

Her long and rigorous Fridays are spent in casting meetings, script rewrites and live audience tapings, which in recent weeks have boasted a guest list from Matt Damon to Larry David with their kids in tow. The sitcom starring 14-year-old twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse, whom Dreayer set her sights on when they appeared opposite Adam Sandler in “Big Daddy,” is a throwback to classic serial comedies and focuses on a central family narrative: the relationship of siblings.

As Dreayer makes the rounds, she is waylaid by cast and crew who clamor for her attention, opinion and discerning approval. This is clearly her show, and she carries herself around it with poise, ease and an irrevocably pleasant demeanor, setting the tone for a home-like atmosphere. On this set, the metaphoric parent-executives gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the children and Dreayer is conscientious of infusing her professional assessments with warmth and sincerity.

At first glance, one may wonder how such a delicate-looking 55-year-old with a bleach-blonde buzz could command such an elaborate production, but Dreayer’s cool sophistication and integrity mark her as an emblem of value, and watching her work elucidates her commanding presence.

Although she is perfectly comfortable trumpeting her various projects in development (including a pending spin-off series of “The Suite Life” currently in negotiations), there is a candor and humility in Dreayer’s tone, presumably derivative of her humble, Jewish upbringing. Indeed, the intimate connection she feels to her roots inspired the course of her life.

Her beloved father was a salesman and encouraged her to be fearless in her work.
Her mother was a stage performer with vocal talent. Dreayer recalls watching her sing, “I was smitten. I loved the theatrical world.”

Perhaps it is her indefatigable persistence that earned her a place at the head of three syndicated television series. In an industry that demonstrates little loyalty and suffers from chronic fickleness, Dreayer has achieved remarkable longevity.

“When I came out to L.A., I thought I could dance. I could not dance. So I worked in a restaurant, a wine store, baby-sat, delivered flower baskets — I did all that stuff,” she notes.

While her pursuit of producing family programming lingered, she held various management positions in other people’s companies and then her own, managing a client list of reputable actors with roles on “L.A. Law” and “Saturday Night Live.” However, that roster was short-lived after a crippling industry strike. Reflecting on the despondency she felt then, “I remember sitting in my apartment wondering what I was going to do with my life. Should I move back to Florida?”

Despite the struggle, Dreayer’s dream did not waver. She called a friend in casting at NBC who turned her on to 6-year-old Tahj Mowry (“Full House”), but he was taken. “I called his mother and asked, ‘Is there anyone else?’ and she said, ‘Well, I have these twin daughters.'”

Days later, Dreayer abandoned a baby-sitting job to attend her first pitch meeting at Paramount. By the end of the meeting, she had launched her first set of twins, Tia and Tamera Mowry, into their own sitcom, aptly titled, “Sister, Sister.” Years later, she followed suit with their little brother, Tahj, and his show, “The Smart Guy.”

Her most recent project, “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” has also become a vehicle for Dreayer’s highly prized new discovery, Camilla and Rebecca Rosso, blonde-haired, blue-eyed twins from the United Kingdom, who star respectively as Janice and Jessica on the show.

“I’m about to make stars out of my third set of twins,” she declares. “Who does that? Who finds three sets of twins, puts them on television and then they become completely famous?”

The Rossos were discovered on a Friday similar to this one, when the warm-up announcer asked the audience who was from out of town. Immediately, the 12-year-olds girls responded.

When the announcer asked if they were twins, Dreayer says she looked up, was transfixed and invited the girls to her office the following day.

“I had a vision the second I met them,” she says. “I knew they were special: 12, beautiful and international.”

“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


U.S. Studios Court Israeli Programmers

Danna Stern, head of acquisitions at YES, Israel’s only television satellite company, was surprised to see that Mark Burnett, reality TV guru and producer of hit shows like “Survivor” and “The Apprentice,” had only one framed press clipping in his office: a feature on him that had appeared in Ha’aretz, an Israeli daily.

Stern and her associates get wined and dined every year by television network executives at a weeklong Los Angeles screening of shows in May, during which 2,000 television executives from all over the world sit all day in front of studio screens to view the new fall season pilots for sale.

Hollywood exports are a big business, and U.S. studios sometimes rake in more from international licensing than domestic. Even though Israeli acquisitions account for only 2 percent of overseas television exports, Stern thinks Israel gets special attention.

“They’re always interested way beyond our share in the market — and the same goes for the talent,” she said. “Because we’re a very recognizable country, they’re very accessible to us.”

In addition, she added, most of the marketing people and executives are Jewish, and are “always interested in Israel.”

Stern has mingled with Geena Davis, Teri Hatcher and Jennifer Garner, who take the time to meet with the foreign visitors at studio parties.

“The stars are really interested in hearing what works well,” she said. “They always promise to come [to Israel], but they never do.”

Last month, YES held its first-ever press screening at Israel’s largest cinema complex, Cinema City, in Herzilya, modeling it after the Los Angeles screening, to show-off its newest acquisitions. Among them are: “Prison Break,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “My Name Is Earl,” “Commander in Chief,” “The War at Home,” “Supernatural Invasion” and “How I Met Your Mother.” YES directors believed that the number and quality of acquisitions justified its screening, in which dozens of Israeli reporters got to watch U.S. television for an entire day.

While the new shows will be broadcast early next year, the turnaround time between a show’s U.S. premiere and its Israeli premiere is much shorter than in the past.

YES was founded about five years ago, increasing competition in the Israeli television market. Before that, only one cable company and two Israeli networks, Channel 2 and IBA, vied for U.S. and European shows. Now, YES competes with a whole slew of television outlets: a new Israeli network (Channel 10) and locally run niche channels for lifestyle, music, action, children, comedy, parenting, sports, documentaries and even Judaism.

Prior to this television growth spurt, visitors or immigrants to Israel were hard pressed to find their favorite U.S. TV show on Israeli channels, and if they did, they were stuck with shows from a season or two earlier. “Seinfeld” first aired only after the third season premiered in the United States.

“Everyone is trying to shorten the time because of piracy — people are already downloading shows the next day, so we can’t afford to wait as we usually did,” Stern said

The YES executive said that the current delay of a few months still has advantages. Israel does not air reruns, and a U.S. buzz around a show has enough time to echo in Israel.

YES has been the leader in importing U.S., as well as British, TV shows, including “The West Wing,” “Weeds,” “Entourage,” “The Sopranos,” “The Comeback,” “Arrested Development,” “The O.C.,” “Hope and Faith,” “Scrubs” and more. Last year’s acquisition, “Desperate Housewives,” is the biggest hit. Other shows, like “Nip/Tuck,” “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Lost,” were picked up by other Israeli networks.

Sometimes Israeli buyers view new shows via broadband, but May is the time the big sales occur, when Stern and her associates choose among 30-40 programs. She noted that shows with religious themes, like “7th Heaven” and “Joan of Arcadia,” don’t do well in Israel.

“I think Israelis are a little more sophisticated than the average American viewer,” she said. “They tend to like things with an edge.”

Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at arfa@netvision.net.il.


The Bighearted Showbiz Dealmaker

Once, when Bernie Brillstein’s career as a Hollywood manager was already so well established that people tried to hustle him, rather than the other way around, Lorne Michaels sent Bernie a gift.

The present was a Langdon Clay photograph of Broadway near 42nd Street in New York, a location that held much significance for Brillstein. It was not the block he grew up on — as a child he lived in the El Dorado building at 90th and Central Park West. Nor was it the place where he saw his first show or signed his first client. Rather, it was the location that established the basis for his business ethos.

On this block, Brillstein stole a carton of balloons when he was 14. Then, at his father’s urging, Brillstein gave the balloons back. The incident made him appreciate the value of integrity over stealthy, dishonest victories. The lesson has served him well over 51 years in show business, as a manager and producer. Brillstein’s ethics and ability kept actor Chris Farley as a client even after Farley lost the promised title role in “The Cable Guy” to Jim Carrey. And it’s why puppeteer Jim Henson handed Brillstein a $7 million check with the promise of another $3 million and $500,000 a year for life to be his manager. In Hollywood, where navigating deception and ego is usually the job of a ruthless shark, Brillstein’s modus operandi of candor and caring made him worth a lot of money.

It also earned Brillstein the sort of respect that will bring him out of the dealmaking background and into the public eye this month when he receives the Visionary Award at the opening gala of the Israel Film Festival on Nov. 30.

“I was always told that Bernie was the epitome of honesty and straightforward business dealings, and that was a huge allure to me,” said comedian Martin Short, a Brillstein client. “You don’t last as long as Bernie has in the position that Bernie has without being fair and kind to people.”

In his publicity photos, the 75-year-old Brillstein, who will receive the Visionary Award at the opening-night gala of the 21st annual Israel Film Festival, appears etched in gravitas, with a Sean Connery-esque piercing gaze and well coiffed hair. In person, Brillstein comes off as avuncular and cuddly, like a grandfather who reads stories to his grandchildren by the fireplace.

The back mantelpiece of his spacious office is covered in framed photographs, like those of John Belushi and Gilda Radner. In a glass case is “Bernie Muppet” — a Brillstein-inspired puppet that Jim Henson made for him, complete with beard, the bushy eyebrows and ever-present phone at ear.

There’s no computer: “I’m not mechanical,” he explained.

He dresses casually: a blue V-necked sweater stretched over rolls of belly, black, thick-rimmed glasses and striped socks. Throughout most of his career Brillstein eschewed power dressing because his girth didn’t allow it. On his first day in show business, as a 24-year-old punk in the William Morris mailroom, he wore a suit because, as he wrote in a memoir, “Even a newcomer has to look as good as possible, which in my case, being so heavy, was never that good, or that possible.”

But as he put it in another book, “No one is ever scared of a fat man.” Which gave him a leg up and also the wisdom to exhort people to accept who they are and use it to their advantage.

From his early years, as a preteen prowling the top New York nightclubs, to his later years as a Hollywood mogul, Brillstein always looked for an edge. Like a Sammy Glick with heart, Brillstein was aggressive, hardworking, with a peripheral gaze that could identify opportunities to pounce on. His trajectory is almost clichéd, starting with that first job in the mailroom.

“I am a lot of things, but I am not tough,” said Brillstein in an interview. “I go through life with a smile. It is much easier for me.”

It’s a slightly disingenuous statement coming from a man who fights tooth and nail for his clients, walks out of deals he doesn’t like, and screams with the best of them when his clients’ interests are on the line.

“He is the kind of guy who can explode with someone on the phone, and at the same time, while you are in his office, turn and wink at you,” Short said.

But the necessities of business have always been secondary to his affection for performers and their craft.

“Without a question, the high point of our relationship is our relationship,” said actor Rob Lowe, a Brillstein client who spoke with The Journal from London, where he is appearing in a play. “There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t talk to him, and it is usually two or three or more times a day…. Bernie loves the show of business more than the business of show. He is passionate. He loves artists.”

Bernie Brillstein grew up as the prototypical striving Jew who dreamed of show business. Brillstein and his parents, Moe and Tillie, lived with his uncle, Jack Pearl, an NBC radio comedian. They had a Christmas tree and didn’t keep kosher, but Yiddish was spoken, and Moe Brillstein was passionate about Israel and the Millinery Center Synagogue, a temple he founded on Sixth Avenue between 38th and 39th streets, so that people in the garment district would be able to say Yizkor.

Moe and Tillie had a volatile marriage, full of shouting and arguments. Tillie was a depressive, who spent her life in bed, doped up on pills. Uncle Jack took 10-year-old Bernie under his wing, bringing him to East Side clubs and restaurants, like the Stork Club, and Toots Shor’s. Moe took Bernie to the West Side clubs, like the Copacabana and the Latin Quarter.

“At Toots Shors I met Joe DiMaggio,” Brillstein said. “I met great politicians. I met Frank Costello for God’s sake. New York — I saw it at its best. I really saw it for what it was. And if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

As a teenager, Brillstein already knew that if he slipped in through the kitchen, he could watch shows for free. If the maitre d’ happened to walk past, $5 would secure his viewing perch.

“When I was 16, I saw Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and that made me decide to go into show business,” Brillstein said. “They were fantastic. And I saw them 21 nights in a row at the Copacabana. I could do their act. I thought I would never see anything like that again — and I never have, really.”

During his stint in the Army, Brillstein told a lieutenant that he had been “producing shows all my life!” and secured a gig producing morale-boosting productions. It was after his soldiering that Brillstein got his mailroom job at William Morris, and quickly moved up.

“You politicize. You walk around. You’re charming. You do what you are supposed to do. You ingratiate yourself to some of the agents,” Brillstein said. “I ingratiated myself to the head of publicity because I knew that his assistant was leaving. He did, and I got the job.”

Brillstein became head of publicity, and later, an agent in the advertising department. He took his job seriously, refusing to treat commercials as inferior to television and movies, which was the prevailing view at William Morris. Although he was Jewish, he charmed the “white bread of white bread” female executives at the Madison Avenue advertising firms. He took them to the clubs he was so familiar with; they took him to museums. And they brought him business. When they needed to book a celebrity for their commercials, they had Brillstein do it so that he could get the commission.

The suits at William Morris started disliking Brillstein’s radical style. For one thing, he didn’t wear a suit. And it was unorthodox when he booked nonagency talent for gigs, even though he also made sure the agency got the commission. And he sold a TV show on his own. After 10 years, he quit.

“It was not the place for me,” he said. “It was not aggressive.”

He became a talent manager, signing young comedians. He moved out to California in 1967 to start infiltrating the television business. When he couldn’t sign the big stars, he concentrated on writers, directors and producers.

“Bernie helped create the role of manager in Hollywood,” said William Morris CEO Jim Wiatt. “He is old school, making it work in a contemporary environment.”

An early labor of love was the career of Jim Henson, who’d been a client at William Morris. Three months after Brillstein left, Henson joined him. Brillstein negotiated the deal with Henson and the Children’s Television Workshop, which resulted in “Sesame Street.” He also persuaded Henson to license his puppet characters (which brought in millions in income). And Brillstein persevered in pitching “The Muppet Show,” even after the networks told him that a frog couldn’t host in prime time.

At The Brillstein Company, his stable eventually included “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, Norm Crosby, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman.

“I figured that if I represented five comedians, what the first one couldn’t do, maybe No. 4 could,” he wrote in ” Where Did I Go Right?: You’re No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead” (Warner, 2001) “But on the most basic level, my reason for having multiple clients is that I simply don’t trust show business.”

His calmness as a septuagenarian Hollywood survivor belies his early insecurities. He worried perpetually about losing his income, even when he made enough to own a Beverly Hills mansion and to travel on the Concorde once a week to catch “The Muppet Show” in London. One day when he couldn’t get through to Jim Henson on the phone, he had a panic attack and passed out on a chair near the pool of his London hotel.

As Brillstein’s career was soaring, his personal life was dipping and diving. He divorced his first wife, Marilyn, six months after their first child, Leigh, was born, in the late 1950s. His started dating his second wife, Laura, while she was still married to her first husband. Once they married and moved to California, things turned sour. According to Brillstein, Laura “behaved abominably” to his daughter, Leigh, and she also didn’t know how to handle his clients. His next marriage, to Debbie, lasted 20 years. They had two children together and also reared two children from Debbie’s first marriage. Debbie, he said, finally left him for a man she met on the Internet.

“I’m amazed it lasted that long, since I was usually so buried in business that I didn’t give my private life a fair shake,” he wrote.

Now Brillstein is married to Carrie, whom he describes as “fantastic.”

His business also brought periodic heartbreak. Belushi and Farley, who were clients as well as friends, died of drug overdoses. Radner succumbed to ovarian cancer; Henson to bacterial pneumonia.

“I was overwhelmed with the finality of it all,” he wrote. “It was like burying my own children.”

Brillstein’s current gig is founding partner at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which he formed with Brad Grey in 1992. It represents, among others, Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler, and produces TV shows, including “The Sopranos.”

Brillstein, who also wrote the recently released “It’s All Lies, and That’s the Truth” (Gotham Books), still manages 16 clients personally — including Michaels, Lowe and Short. And he’s producing the television show, “Heist,” for NBC. For the most part, the difficult times are over for Brillstein. He can relish the skills of his clients and the challenges of his craft as dealmaker and manager without the anxiety that once plagued him.

“People don’t expect me to do the shlepping,” he said. “I can be creative and have fun.”


Let My People Merlot


In the beginning, there was sweet wine. Really, really sweet wine.

But as the kosher market broadened, a trickle of new wines targeted to a more sophisticated audience began to raise expectations among Jewish wine lovers.

Now kosher wines have entered a third era, in which many are not only passable, they’re praiseworthy. Though winemakers in Israel and the United States still grow the largest numbers of these wines, vineyards all over the globe — from Australia to South Africa to Chile — are joining in, giving Jewish consumers an array of choices to accompany their charoset and brisket.

Passover is the kosher industry’s peak season; virtually all kosher wines are kosher for Passover. In North America, perhaps 50 percent of annual kosher wine sales are made during the holiday or in the weeks that precede it. This percentage is falling, though, as kosher wines gain more year-round acceptance.

The kosher food market is growing by perhaps 15 percent a year, said Menachem Lubinsky, the editor of koshertoday.com and president and CEO of Lubicom, a marketing consulting firm that focuses on kosher brands. He estimates that sales of kosher wines in the United States will reach roughly $160 million in 2005, up from $130 million just two years ago.

Lubinsky said that the number of kosher wines on the North American market is in the thousands, so everyone preparing a seder has plenty of strong choices at a variety of prices.

To make sense of this welter of wines, JTA’s editorial team took upon itself the task of taste-testing 20 kosher wines and picking out some winners. The wines we tested were provided by Royal Wines, one of the world’s largest producers, importers and distributors of kosher wines.

Wines we reviewed that are mevushal, an additional koshering step that involves flash-pasteurizing, are indicated with an “M” next to the price. (To make the testing more fair, we did not know how much each wine cost when we tasted it.)

According to Herzog Wine Cellars winemaker Joe Hurliman, the process changes the way fruit in the wine tastes. Indeed, a handful of nonkosher wineries have begun to flash-pasteurize their wines to capture this distinctive taste.

To best simulate the actual seder experience, our testers ate only Tam Tam matzah crackers for palate cleansing.

Our overall favorites were a pair of inexpensive moscatos that would be excellent choices to accompany desserts, or perhaps spicy foods. Italy’s Bartenura Moscato ($11, M) and Moscato di Carmel ($9) received equally high scores from our reviewers for their light, sweet, extremely fruity flavors. Of the Carmel moscato, one taster wrote, “Smells like honeysuckle, tastes like a party.”

Segal’s Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) is from Israel. This deep red wine is vivid, rich and slightly tart, with an alluringly earthy aroma; it had the most uniformly high scores of any wine in our testing.

Spain is a less traditional kosher wine producer — Spain has less than 40,000 Jews — but the Ramon Cardova Rioja, a Spanish tempranillo ($13), is a terrific dry red, offering a sharp berry taste with hints of vanilla and a potent fruity aroma. It ranks high on our list of best buys.

According to JTA’s testers, several other red wines also deserve a look: The Carmel Appellation Bordeaux Blend Limited Edition ($40) is an Israeli blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, dark and thick with a spicy aroma and a smooth taste that has notes of both sweetness and tartness. Another nice blend is the Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah ($35), a brand-new California wine from Herzog. It was a bit thinner than many of the reds we tasted, but we appreciated its smoothness, layers of fruit and less acidic finish.

A few of the white wines we tasted stood out. Aside from the dessert wines, the tasters were most impressed by the Francois Labet Puligny Montrachet, a French chardonnay ($55) that is vivid and a bit acidic, with a pleasant lingering finish. Also from France, which is the third largest producer of kosher wine in the world, is the Verbau Gewurztraminer ($15, M), a sweet, fruity wine with a mildness that makes it more versatile than the moscatos.

Of the kosher champagnes we tested, the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut from France ($47) drew the most praise. It has a tempting aroma, earthy taste and crisp aftertaste, though some testers felt it was too heavy.

Our testers intended to include a traditional sweet concord wine in our sampling, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to open it after tasting all these elegant wines. However, concords continue to be strong sellers year after year and cost $5 or less, so perhaps there is a place for one at your table.

Listed prices are approximate retail prices. The less expensive wines — $15 and under — often can be found at retailers for a dollar or two less during the days before Passover.

The Best of the Bottles

Though it would be impossible to sample even 10 percent of the thousands of kosher-for-Passover wines on the market there are a number of solid choices we can recommend from the group of wines we sampled with Jay Buchsbaum of Royal Wine, who holds free tastings with many Jewish groups throughout the year.

Mevushal wines are indicated with an ‘M’ next to the approximate retail prices.

Best Values

Bartenura Moscato (Italy, $11, M)
Moscato di Carmel (Israel, $9)
Ramon Cardova Rioja (Spain, $13)
Verbau Gewurztraminer (France, $15, M)
Baron Herzog Zinfandel (U.S., $13, M)

Best reds

Segal’s Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon (Israel, $60)
Ramon Cardova Rioja (Spain, $13)
Carmel Appellation Bordeaux Blend Limited Edition (Israel, $40)
Herzog Special Reserve Cabernet/Zinfandel/Syrah (U.S., $35)
Chateau Leoville Poyferre (France, $85)

Best whites (nondessert)

Francois Labet Puligny Montrachet (France, $55)
Verbau Gewurztraminer (France, $15, M)
Binyamina Special Reserve Chardonnay (Israel, $15)

Best for dessert

Bartenura Moscato (Italy, $11, M)
Moscato di Carmel (Israel, $9)

Best champagne

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut (France, $47)


You’ll Do Lunch in This Town Again

Powerful women in Hollywood, back in 1978, were as prevalent as communists during the blacklist. Probably even less so.

That’s when Loreen Arbus came to town. A Jewish girl fresh out of college with some summer internships at Cosmopolitan magazine under her belt, Arbus wanted to make a career in television.

And make it she did, becoming the first woman to head up programming for a national network (Showtime and Lifetime), and earning an Emmy nomination for her work as a producer. Now, almost three decades later, the writer, producer and philanthropist has much to be proud of, but one of her crowning glories is The Women’s Luncheon, a monthly gathering of the communications industry’s most powerful women.

“In the beginning I was amazed at how many remarkable people in the industry I was meeting, even though I was brand new,” Arbus told The Journal.

One of those amazing people was Nancy Hutson Perlman. Like Arbus, Perlman, who eventually founded the management company Hutson Management, back then was just starting out. What the two fast friends discovered was that they had a talent for networking. So they decided to hold a small lunch to introduce everyone around.

“We each invited a few people — six or eight people total — and we had a lunch at the Plaza Hotel. We all had a wonderful time — we learned a lot from each other,” Arbus told The Journal airily. “We found ways, things that we talked about that could be helpful to each other.”

Arbus and Perlman decided that if each person could recommend someone else, they’d do it again the following month, and “we could create a network,” Arbus said.

Even though Arbus’ motivation in doing the monthly luncheon was to “build my Rolodex,” she discovered that “it would be a wonderful thing to introduce some of those terrific people I was meeting to others. In numbers we have strength.”

Some early attendees included producers Lynn Roth and Caryn Mandabach.

“I met people along the way and I found that sometimes in a short period of time, the person who was nobody had now landed,” Arbus said.

Those people brought other people, and month after month Arbus and Perlman invited a dozen or so women to connect each month since.

“We began to reach out to a lot of women who had clearly broken through what we didn’t know was called the ‘glass ceiling.’ These women weren’t joiners, they wouldn’t have come to things that we would have met them at,” Arbus said.

The luncheon began to take a shape, with some 30 percent of people they knew; 70 percent they didn’t.

Over the years the luncheon has evolved — to focus on top-level women, rather than entry-level, and to include communications professionals as well as entertainment — but it’s never been canceled. In these 27-plus years of luncheons, once a month in Los Angeles (and once in a while in New York) more than 11,000 women have attended the luncheons, including Sherry Lansing, Wallis Annenberg and Gloria Allred, to name a few.

For some, it was a great place to be in the company of other women.

“There were such good vibes in that room — such a giving feeling among us all at what you had created,” NBC writer and producer Josephine Lyons wrote in a letter of thanks to Arbus. “We all left so much richer — for we had done what you wanted, we ‘networked.'”

For others, the luncheon has brought about great career benefits and moves. For example, author Rona Jaffe, who attended the luncheons both in New York and Los Angeles, met producer Marcy Gross, who made a TV movie from one of her books.

For Arbus herself, it has reaffirmed her belief in the power of women and of strength in numbers.

Back in the days when Arbus worked for Cosmo with Helen Gurley Brown as her mentor, it was believed that if only women were in positions of power, they would help each other. But over the years, as women have indeed broken through that ceiling of glass, anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. Women do everything but help another woman.

But that’s never been Arbus’ experience.

“I’ve been challenged on it. But I swear on the Bible and the life of my little dog, I have never ever in my entire life personally and professionally interacted with women who weren’t supportive, and if they hadn’t been, I wasn’t aware of it,” Arbus insists. “I can’t say that it isn’t true for others. I’m no judge, but I only know my own self.”

Raised Reform in New York, Arbus had the strongest feminist example laid by her mother, the first woman in New York to be accepted to the Union Theological Seminary.

“She wanted to study all the great religions of the world. And so I had exposure in rather extraordinary ways to religion,” Arbus said. “I’m proud to be Jewish. Jews are extremely philanthropic and generous.”

“There was always an emphasis of giving and giving back,” she explained. “I was always brought up to follow my own path.”

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 www.waitingforwoodyallen.com.

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 www.usps.gov.

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.”

Producer Channels

Gays weren’t even on the radar in Ilene Chaiken’s Jewish community in Philadelphia back in the 1960s.

The creator of Showtime’s lesbian drama, "The L Word," grew up in a home of "good liberal Jews" and belonged to a Reform temple.

"But I think the closest one ever came to acknowledging that homosexuality existed was that ‘queer’ was an insult," said Chaiken, 46. The poised, cerebral executive producer spoke to The Journal in her publicist’s Beverly Hills office. "For years, I was conditioned to think of myself as heterosexual and to measure myself in terms of how I fared in the heterosexual world."

After moving to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, the 22-year-old Chaiken obtained a job as an agent trainee and a steady boyfriend, with whom she shared an apartment. But despite the external stability, she felt out of sorts.

"I sensed it had something to do with my sexuality, but I didn’t confess that even to myself," she said.

The change came when she began hanging out at a West Hollywood cafe owned by several lesbians; eventually she struck up a friendship with one of the women, with whom she had her first same-sex affair.

While the relationship didn’t last long, she said, "it let me know that this was a possibility, and once I became aware of it as a possibility, suddenly life seemed a bit more right. The process was scary, but it was much more just a revelation and a relief."

Chaiken channeled that experience and others into "The L Word," which centers on a circle of hip lesbians in West Hollywood. The first television series to revolve around lesbian characters, it joins gay-themed TV shows such as HBO’s "Six Feet Under," NBC’s "Will & Grace," Showtime’s "Queer as Folk" and Bravo’s "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

Although "The L Word" has been well-received by TV critics, some observers worry that the series and others like it will enhance the allure of "bisexual chic" among teenage girls.

"Children, in particular, are vulnerable to messages they receive from the popular culture," said Robert Peters, president of the interfaith watchdog group, Morality in Media.

Chaiken, who dismisses such thinking as "archaic," insists the show "is not going to make something happen that is not already happening in the zeitgeist." In fact, she conceived the show while writing an article for Los Angeles magazine four years ago on the gay and lesbian baby boom, a trend she had personally experienced when her partner, Miggi, gave birth to their twin daughters in 1995.

"I suddenly realized that I was very much writing about my life and my community, and that there were so many more [lesbian] stories that hadn’t been told," she said. "I figured the best way to tell them was to do an ensemble TV show."

She brought elements of her own life to several of the characters, including the fictional Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirschner), a passionate, bookish Jewish writer, who is new to Los Angeles and living with a boyfriend, albeit sexually confused.

While Jenny soon questions her heterosexual relationship, the more hesitant Chaiken continued dating men for a year after her first lesbian experience. It took her even longer to come out to her parents, which happened when she was 24 and living with Miggi, an architect, whom she described as her roommate. But a few days after her mother came to visit around 1984, Chaiken knew she had to come clean.

"Things got very tense and awkward, because it’s unpleasant to live a lie," she recalled.

Over the course of 12 years, the Chaikens began including Miggi in family seders and calling her their daughter-in-law.

Each "L Word" character also tells her coming-out story, which Chaiken calls a seminal experience in every gay person’s life.

Charges that the steamy sex in the series is a ploy to draw male viewers irk Chaiken.

"The whole notion that we did this just to titillate men is just so off the mark," she said. "The sexuality portrayed in the show … speaks directly to gay women starved for representations of themselves on TV."

Although Chaiken’s primary concern is telling meaningful, universal stories, she also hopes the show reaches lesbians who feel as lost as she did during her early years in Los Angeles. "I hope it helps them come to terms with themselves and to feel less alone," she said.

"The L Word" airs Sundays, 10 p.m., on Showtime.

Book Unpacks Shoah Memories

Karen Levine never had plans to write a book.

Then in 2001, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. radio producer came across an article in the Canadian Jewish News about a young Japanese woman, urged on by Tokyo schoolchildren studying the Holocaust, who traveled halfway round the world to find the owner of a child’s battered suitcase. That child, Hana Brady, had died in Auschwitz at age 13, but the determined young woman tracked down Hana’s brother George, who had survived Auschwitz and found a new life in Toronto.

Levine made a radio documentary chronicling the meeting between Fumiko Ishioka and George Brady, and that led her to write a children’s book, "Hana’s Suitcase," a gripping detective story and an inspirational saga.

Since its publication in March 2003, "Hana’s Suitcase" has attracted readers in 26 countries and won accolades including the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Award. Levine, Brady and Ishioka have become ambassadors on behalf of the book, sharing Hana’s story with children around the world. Brady, overjoyed to see good coming out of the tale of his sister’s death, has ceased having the nightmares that once plagued him. And Levine has unexpectedly found herself in the role of best-selling author.

Still, she’s not yet ready to let her own 8-year-old read "Hana’s Suitcase."

"I haven’t been able to burst that bubble yet," she told The Journal. Growing up in multicultural Toronto, Gabriel Zev is still "totally and completely colorblind," and the thought of introducing an awareness of racism into his world is something Levine finds heartbreaking. — BG

Community Briefs

L.A. Officials Honor Israel

Senior City of Los Angeles officials, visiting Israel under the auspices of the L.A. Jewish Federation, presented a proclamation from the L.A. City Council to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai praising Israel as a “bedrock of stability, democracy and modernity with shared common values of pluralism and cultural diversity.” (From left) City Council President Alex Padillo, Huldai, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and City Councilman Jack Weiss. Photo courtesy Israeli Free Sun

Kuehl: Anti-Hunger Groups Shouldn’t GiveUp

About 22 percent of Israelis suffer from the fear a food shortage called “hunger insecurity,” according to Los Angeles-based Jewish anti-hunger group MAZON. That figure is an increase from prior Israeli surveys on hunger.

“It’s a spike because of three years of terrorism,” MAZON Executive Director H. Eric Schockman told The Journal. Though Israel lacks regional food banks and other American solutions to hunger, Schockman does not believe in creating a new Israeli government hunger office but said that Israel’s 150 anti-hunger agencies must start communicating. “They don’t talk to each other.”

California’s various MAZON-funded anti-hunger groups met Nov. 9-10 in Santa Monica, and heard state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) outline how she sees the new Schwarzenegger-run California government handling budget cuts, especially to social service agencies.

“There is very little else to cut but education and social services,” Kuehl said to about 100 nonprofit executives. “It’s always going to be a struggle. We have to be the squeakiest wheel we can possibly be.”

Kuehl also said that anti-hunger groups should never stop asking for state funds because, no matter how much money a nonprofit raises, “It will never be as much as I’ve got to give out.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Wolpe Recovering From Surgery

Rabbi David Wolpe was released from the hospital last week following a successful surgery to remove a brain lesion. Wolpe, Sinai Temple’s senior rabbi for the last seven years, first experienced a seizure on Oct. 23 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was speaking at the dedication of a new Hillel House.

Wolpe is recuperating at his home and plans to return full time to his duties at Sinai and in the community at large. He and his family thank the community for their prayers, concern, calls, e-mails, letter, donations and most of all, love.

In lieu of flowers, balloons or food, donations can be made to Sinai Temple or Sinai Akiba Academy. Any inquiries, cards, or well wishes should be directed through Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024, Attn: Tracy Schatz. — Staff Report

Israeli Cultural Attaché Resigns

The Israeli cultural attaché in Los Angeles, Moti Reif, resigned this week following a sexual harassment complaint filed against him in Israel’s Foreign Ministry earlier this month. Reif, a former model and TV producer, was appointed to Los Angeles some three months ago, amid heavy criticism from Israeli ministry officials who said Reif had no diplomatic experience. There are no current plans to replace him. — Staff Report

New Producers Join Chabad Telethon

Chabad’s annual "L’Chaim — To Life!" telethon will look a little different this Sept. 14 since two new producers are helming the 23-year-old fundraiser.

Barry Silver, who worked on "The Howie Mandel Show" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," and Michael G. Levin, who worked as a news producer for many years, have taken over production of the telethon from veteran producers Jeff and Jerry Cutler and associate producer Andrew Martin.

The telethon, broadcast annually in August or September and watched by 20 million people nationwide, is Chabad’s largest fundraiser, bringing in more than $5 million for Chabad programs. While the funds raised at the telethon do not support already existing individual Chabad houses, they are used to support the establishment costs of new Chabad houses and the Chabad infrastructure in California, which includes a girls’ day school and a drug rehabilitation center.

Over the years, the show has attracted A-list celebrities like Academy Award-winner Jon Voight and the cast of "Friends," who tout Chabad’s commitment to social justice causes and urge viewers to phone in their donations. The show is also famous for its rabbis, lead by Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the director of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch, who join hands and dance the hora every time a new figure is displayed on the tote board.

While the basic format of the telethon — with its various segments of celebrity pitches, Jewish entertainment, taped greeting and, of course, those spirited horas — will remain the same, Silver and Levin have made some changes to the show this year.

Celebrities will not only appear for their five-minute segments, but actors like Jeffrey Tambor ("The Larry Sanders Show") and Mindy Sterling ("Austin Powers") will lend their talent for 60 to 90 minutes. There will also be more segments devoted to people who have been helped by Chabad over the years.

While in the past, these segments have typically focused on Chabad programs, this year’s program will concentrate on Chabad people, for example, following rabbis as they go about their "crisis intervention work" and filming inmates in state prison who have been touched by Chabad. The show will also feature more comedy sketches than in the past.

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, Chabad’s public relations director, said that the organization was able to expand the range of segments this year since the show attracted more collaborators than in the past, including Kevin Bright, executive producer and creator of "Friends," who is joining the telethon as a creative executive and segment producer.

"In the past, the telethon was run by a group of seven or 10 people that put in 24 hours a day to make it happen," Chaim Cunin said. "This year there are 40 people involved, and they all have their staff, so there are 150 people who are involved and working toward the telethon."

So far, the list of celebrities who will be appearing on the telethon include Martin Sheen, Regis Philbin, Serena Williams, Magic Johnson, Howie Mandel, "Spy Kids’" Darryl Sabara and the cast of "Friends."

The Chabad Telethon was started 23 years ago, when Jefferson "Jeff" Cutler came to the West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters in Westwood, hoping to do a documentary about Chabad, when her mission changed.

"We were putting our crew together, meanwhile a Chabad house burned down and three men were killed in the fire," Jeff Cutler said. "Rabbi Shlomo Cunin called my husband and asked if we could put something together across the street in a tent. We put together a one-act play, Arthur Hiller directed it, Ed Asner and Leonard Nimoy were in it, and it made a million dollars. We were rehearsing it during the day, and Rabbi Cunin asked us ‘Have you ever produced a telethon?’ We said ‘no,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re going to!’" In six weeks we put together a four-hour telethon with Jan Murray as the host, and we made another million dollars. It was a very successful, amazing time, and we made it an annual show."

However, last year Jeff and her husband, Jerry, who produced the show for 22 years and were responsible for many of the big celebrity names the show attracted, along with Martin, who had worked on the telethon for 18 years, left citing difficult working conditions.

"’Severing ties’ sounds sinister. No, they just decided to do their thing and we didn’t want to be part of it. We are still friends [with the Cunins] but his children got much too involved, and my wife felt stifled," Jerry Cutler said.

"Chabad respects them and their decision to move on and wishes them well in their future endeavors," said Chaim Cunin.

Chabad’s "L’Chaim — To Life" Telethon will air Sept. 14 on KCAL 9, from 5 p.m.-midnight.

Capturing Yiddish Theater

When Dan Katzir saw the classic Yiddish play “Grine Felder” (Green Fields) in New York about three years ago, he was so moved that he cried at the end.

That was an unusual emotional reaction for a self-possessed young sabra and a former lieutenant in the paratroops, the more so since he hardly knew a word of Yiddish.

Katzir, who combines the pragmatic outlook of his Israeli contemporaries with a not-so-typical attachment to the traditions and heritage of the Jewish people, decided to transform his sensibilities into a working project.

A director, producer, cinematographer and writer, Katzir set out to capture what would prove to be the dying gasps of the Yiddish Public Theater on New York’s Lower East Side and of some of its venerable performers.

Sitting in a French coffeehouse near the UCLA campus with his enthusiastic producer, Ravit Markus, Katzir carries with him a 16-minute tape with highlights of the provisionally titled “The Yiddish Theater of New York.”

The tape is a fundraising persuader, and if it does its job, Katzir plans on a 90-minute film, to be followed by video cassettes, a DVD, a Web site and a CD of favorite Yiddish songs.

Katzir, 34, whose work is partially supported by the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, is among thousands of hopeful filmmakers in Los Angeles, among them a smattering of Israelis.

However, he has a leg up on much of the competition through a brief but solid record of awards for his previous works.

During the last couple of months, his documentary “Today You Are a Fountain Pen” (2002) has won best short film honors at the well-known Palm Beach (Florida) International Film Festival, the Joyce Award at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival, and the Diversity Award of the Multicultural Motion Picture Association.

Katzir’s first film, 1997’s “Out for Love… Be Back Shortly,” is still a favorite of Israel’s younger generation. However, he is no fan of the current crop of Israeli films, which he considers hypercritical of the country and too imitative of French and certain Hollywood movies.

“There is a tremendous warmth and humanity in Israel, which are not being shown,” he said. “There are any number of Israeli versions of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ which could well compete in the international market.”

Dan Katzir can be reached at (323) 939-3261 or love@katzirdan.com .

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 Gary@Jewishweek.org.

Marvin Mirisch

Marvin Mirisch, one of three brothers who formed the Mirisch Co. motion picture production company, died on Nov. 17 of undisclosed causes at UCLA Medical Center. He was 84.

Born in New York City, Mirisch was the third of four Mirisch sons. After attending City College of New York, Mirisch eventually relocated to Los Angeles in 1953, where he joined brothers Walter and Harold at Monogram Pictures. When Monogram turned into United Artists, the first artist-run independent studio, the Mirisch brothers independently packaged such movies as John Huston’s “Moby Dick” and the Billy Wilder favorite, “Love in the Afternoon.”
In 1957, the Mirisch brothers established the Mirisch Co., where Marvin acted as the chief financial officer and Walter functioned as the producer. The Mirisch Co. created 68 motion pictures over 17 years in a deal with United Artists. Mirisch Co.-produced films — which included “The Apartment,” “West Side Story” and “In the Heat of the Night” — were nominated for 79 Academy Awards and won 23.
In 1968, after Harold died, Marvin and Walter moved to Universal Pictures, where they produced “Midway” and “Same Time Next Year.” Marvin also produced 1979’s “Dracula” and in the early 1990s was an executive producer of a “Pink Panther” cartoon series.

Marvin Mirisch was active in Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences politics. He also chaired the motion picture division of United Jewish Welfare Fund, and was on the boards of Temple Israel and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Mirisch is survived by his wife of 60 years, Florene; son, Don; daughters Carol Hartmann and Lynn Rogo; six grandchildren; brother, Walter. He was buried on Nov. 20 at Hillside Memorial Park.

Contributions can be made to UCLA Foundation, 10945 Le Conte Ave., Suite 3132, Los Angeles, CA 90095. — Staff Report

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.

Courageous Acts

On April 18, 1943, as the vaunted German army marched in to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto, a few hundred Jewish resistance fighters, armed with pistols, rifles and homemade Molotov cocktails, confronted the Nazi soldiers and held them at bay for almost a month.

The ghetto fighters "chose to live and die honorably in a dishonorable world and to take control of their own destiny when the world had abandoned them," says filmmaker Jon Avnet.

Avnet, as director, executive producer and co-writer, has been the driving force behind the miniseries "Uprising," which will air in two two-hour segments on Nov. 4 and 5, from 9 to 11 p.m. on NBC.

The completion of "Uprising" wraps up an intensive seven-year campaign by Avnet, a successful commercial filmmaker, against the "canard" that all 6 million Jews went without protest to their deaths during the Holocaust.

The closest current analogy to the ghetto fighters, in Avnet’s mind, is represented by the passengers aboard United Airlines flight no. 93 on Sept. 11, who rushed the terrorists of their hijacked plane, in the near certainty that they would all die.

Cleaving closely to the facts, the makers of this docudrama have based their story mainly on the memoirs of the few who survived the destruction of the ghetto.

The film’s timeline starts at the beginning of 1943, when the 450,000 Jews once crammed into the Warsaw Ghetto had been reduced to 60,000 by deportations, starvation and disease.

Among this remnant was the nucleus of the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ZOB), the Jewish Fighters Organization.

Except for a handful of "older" leaders in their mid-20s, most of the fighters were between 18 and 21 years old. Their attempts to enlist the help of the Judenrat, the Jewish Council appointed by the Nazis, failed, and the ZOB drew first blood on Jan. 18, attacking German soldiers escorting a column of deportees.

The Nazis returned in force, with tanks and artillery, on April 18, and their commander promised that the entire ghetto would be liquidated by April 20, as a birthday present to Hitler.

During the next few weeks, the surprised Germans were repeatedly beaten back, until they systematically leveled every ghetto building and flushed out holdouts with gas and fire. The last organized stand came at a bunker at Mila Street 18, although some fighters escaped to the "Aryan" side through Warsaw’s sewers and lived to fight as partisans and tell their story later.

On May 16, 1943, German Gen. Jurgen Stroop declared Warsaw "Judenrein" (free of Jews), although a few Jewish snipers remained to harass the Nazi soldiers.

The dominant figure in "Uprising" is ZOB commander Mordechai Anielewicz, a 24-year old teacher, who was killed in the final battle at Mila 18. Anielewicz is portrayed by Hank Azaria, known mainly for his comedic roles, who here displays a forcefulness and intensity that is central to the credibility of "Uprising."

Other resistance fighters are played by Leelee Sobieski (Tosia Altman), Stephen Moyer (Simha "Kazik" Rotem), John Ales (Marek Edelman), as well as Sadie Frost, Radha Mitchell and Israeli actress Mili Avital.

Donald Sutherland gives a finely nuanced performance as Adam Czerniakow, the conflicted head of the Judenrat, while Jon Voight commendably avoids playing General Stroop as a one-dimensional villain.

The only miscasting appears to be David Schwimmer of "Friends" fame, who portrays Yitzhak "Antek" Zuckerman. Even with a willing suspension of disbelief, it is difficult to imagine the well-fed and neatly combed Schwimmer as the ZOB’s chief operative on the "Aryan" side and the organization’s commander after Anielewicz’s death.

"Uprising" has moments of sheer elation, as when the ghetto fighters raise a hand-made flag with the Star of David over one building, in the teeth of Nazi artillery. In counterpoint, educator Janus Korczak, head of an orphanage, tells his charges that they are going on a picnic, and they climb into the cattle cars on the way to Treblinka, singing "The Sun Is Shining."

Among the most harrowing scenes are those of German soldiers pumping water into the rat-infested sewers to flush out the remaining fighters.

"Uprising" is likely to raise protests from Polish American organizations for its unsparingly harsh view of the Polish people.

In one particularly damning incident, an Easter Mass is celebrated in a Warsaw cathedral, while the smoke of the ghetto’s burning buildings and bodies drift into the church. The priest’s response is to close the windows and continue the service.

At other dramatic points, the Polish underground refuses to aid the embattled Jews, and a Polish worker, paid to guide the Jews through the sewers, tries to renege on his bargain.

Avnet remains unfazed by possible negative reactions. "I wasn’t nearly as tough on the Poles as I could have," he says. Without Polish collaboration with the Germans, "many thousands of Jews could have been saved, and we can say the same of the Ukrainians and Latvians."

One of his grandfathers was a cantor in the Ukraine, but he was raised in a "traditional Reform" family in Brooklyn and on Long Island.

He filmed "Uprising" in the Slovakian city of Bratislava. It was a 73-day project he describes as "very difficult — physically, emotionally and financially."

The director praised the dedication of the predominantly gentile cast and crew, who "worked for very little under tough conditions." The shoot has some moments of high emotion, as when Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, who served as consultant on the film, led cast and extras in the singing of "Hatikvah," the Israeli national anthem.

Avnet hopes that "Uprising" will show the world the courage of many Jews during the Holocaust, and he does not hide his anger at those "who have inflicted the final indignity" on the 6 million by drawing a picture of complete Jewish passivity.

"I cannot understand why [historian Hannah] Arendt perpetuated this image, and shame, also, on the journalistic community, which has really blown it," Avnet says. "This film is a clarion call to unblow it."

The Lamb is Sure to Go

Mallory Lewis grew up with a very famous sister, but she laughs if you ask about sibling rivalry. "She slept in a shoebox in the closet, I had my own room, it was fine by me."

But this is no horror story of an evil stepsister. Mallory Lewis’ sister is Lamb Chop, the adorable, perpetually 6-year-old puppet of children’s entertainer Shari Lewis. Beloved by millions since their 1957 debut on "The Captain Kangaroo Show," Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop would go on to entertain generations of kids with their PBS series and videos. Mallory Lewis began writing her mom’s newspaper column for kids at the age of 12, and by the early ’90s, she was head writer and producer for mom’s series.

Her work made it all the more natural for Mallory Lewis, now 34, to fill her mother’s sock after Shari Lewis’ untimely death from uterine cancer in 1998.

Though many, not least of all Mallory Lewis, feared that the lovable puppet would die along with her creator, the plucky puppet took only a year’s hiatus before piping up again, now through her big sis. "When [my mom] died, Lamb Chop just spoke. I don’t practice Lamb Chop. She works through me."

So while some world-weary grownups might see a celebrity daughter and a puppet, don’t mention the puppet thing to Lamb Chop. "She is real as far as she is concerned," Mallory Lewis says, "Lamb Chop thinks of me as her supporting act."

"Jewish communities around the country were always extremely supportive of my mother," says the lifetime Hadassah member. "She always said it made her feel like there was family in the audience."

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop kick off the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles’ Sundays are for Stories series on Sunday, Sept. 9, 3 p.m.-4 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For reservations or more information, call (323) 761-8648.