Elliott Gould Thrives as Work in Progress


Elliott Gould appeared for our interview at the Chabad House near UCLA, his venue of choice, wearing a baseball cap over his unruly salt-and-pepper locks, an open-necked shirt and glasses.

That’s quite a change from the three-piece, pin-striped suit and neatly combed hair he sports as Rufus Van Aldin, the fabulously wealthy American oil magnate in Agatha Christie’s thriller, “The Mystery of the Blue Train.”

The episode, one in the British television series on the adventures of that canny Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), will air Sunday, Feb. 12, on the Biography Channel at 9 p.m. and again at 1 a.m.

The 67-year-old actor obviously enjoyed the role and the locations in Nice and London.

“The British have always been very supportive of me,” he said, a feeling that goes back to 1963, when he starred in the London production of the musical, “On the Town.”

For the West End stage run, Gould brought along his new bride, the rising young singer Barbra Streisand, and he later spoke frankly of their relationship, which has since filled reams of tabloid columns.

Elliott Goldstein grew up in a two-and-a-half room apartment in a section of Brooklyn populated by Jews, Syrians and Italians, the only child of a garment industry production manager and his wife. Both parents were born in the United States, but his grandparents emigrated from Russia, the Ukraine and Poland.

Gould has total recall of his childhood, a mixed blessing, at best.

“My parents didn’t know how to love each other, and that devastated me,” he reminisced. “I’ve been in shock and denial of this most of my life, and as a boy, I was repressed, inhibited and very withdrawn.”

On Passovers, the Goldstein family visited Uncle Louie, and young Elliott got to ask the Four Questions. The future actor found it “stressful to get it right. I was very sensitive and insecure.”

In 1944, when Elliott was 6, his father was drafted into the Army, became a sharpshooter but broke his ankle just before he was to be shipped overseas. It was a lucky break, since most of his unit was wiped out in the Battle of the Bulge later that year.

Encouraged by his doting mother, Elliott auditioned for a “country-style” TV show, got a part and was told by the producer, “‘From now on your name is Gould,’ and I just accepted it.”

His stage career accelerated at age 12, when he made his debut as a tap dancer at the Palace, and at the same time, he started studying for his bar mitzvah at a Hebrew school. “On my first test, I cheated and got a 100,” he recalled.

At 18, he made it onto the Broadway stage in the chorus line of “Irma La Douce” and supplemented his meager earnings by selling vacuum cleaners, running a hotel elevator and working as a plumber’s helper.

His first breakthrough came as the lead in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” the same musical that first brought Streisand to public attention. The two young Jewish actors struck up a romance and married within the year.

The marriage proved difficult almost from the beginning. As his wife rocketed to superstardom, Gould, despite his promising performance in “Wholesale,” had trouble advancing his career.

Snide columnists took delight in referring to Gould as “Mr. Streisand” and in chronicling his real and alleged frustrations, depressions, therapy sessions and nervous breakdowns. Even the birth of their son, Jason Gould, in 1966, couldn’t reverse the downward trajectory of the couple’s marriage, and they were divorced in 1971. Gould also has two children with Jennifer Bogart, whom he married twice, divorced once and from whom he is now separated.

It became obvious during our long interview that Gould’s feelings about his marriage to Streisand are still acute and mixed. Again and again, he interrupted our conversation on other topics to break in with comments, such as:

“It is not true that I was traumatized because Barbra’s career went up and mine didn’t.”

“Barbra and I will always be connected through our son, Jason, but we only communicate when necessary.”

“Life is a challenging and painful journey. Barbra was part of it, and our love has not been destroyed.”

“Barbra will always love me.”

As his marriage gradually unraveled, Gould’s professional fortunes took a sudden turn upward. The breakthrough came in his role as Ted in the 1969 movie, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” about two sexually liberated but confused couples, which the ’60s generation adopted as the iconic reflection of itself.

Gould, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance, was at the time described by The New York Times as “Tall, curly-haired, more homely than handsome, laid back, unconventional, sensitive and unabashedly Jewish.”

Over the following four years, Gould seemed to be everywhere on movie and television screens, and his photo graced the cover of Time magazine as “the star for an uptight age.” He was especially popular among young adults, who identified closely with the often-neurotic anti-hero he depicted.

He scored again as Trapper John in Robert Altman’s black comedy, “M*A*S*H,” and as private eye Philip Marlowe in “The Long Goodbye.”

Then, in the mid-70s, what had been the hottest property in Hollywood went cold. Gould continued to act in movies and television but mostly in forgettable productions and roles.

In the 1990s, he began to regain his reputation as a character actor through frequent appearances on the phenomenally successful TV series, “Friends,” and in the past few years he has been lauded for his movie roles in “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Ocean’s Twelve.”

He remains as unabashedly Jewish as ever, though in his own way.

“I feel connected by the branches of the Jewish family tree,” he observed. “I belong every place where there is one of us…. Not only do I not deny my Judaism, but I am aware how unorthodox and unconventional I have been.”

Although “conditioned to question everything, the concept of faith seems right to me, and I have found my faith,” he added.

At 67, Gould considers himself “still a work in progress,” but he seems to have found a measure of equilibrium in a life during which “I never had problems with drugs, but I’ve had problems with reality.”

He lives in an apartment with a picture of Sigmund Freud on the wall and is re-reading the works of Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud.

“I have nothing more to prove,” he said in concluding our interview. “I now look on myself as a happy and healthy grandfather.”

 

Israel Growing as Arms Dealer


To every black cloud, they say, there is a silver lining. Under constant threat from terrorists and hostile neighbors, Israel has become an expert in security — and that expertise is generating huge profits.

Israel has been one of the world’s big arms sellers for more than a decade, yet it really joined the major leagues this week when the government approved the $1.1 billion sale of the Phalcon command-and-control radar system to India.

Israel’s annual sales of weaponry worldwide total about $30 billion. Figures released by the Defense Ministry during the Phalcon presentation to the Cabinet on Sunday show that with about 10 percent to 14 percent of the world market, Israel is the fifth-largest exporter of weapons systems after the United States, the European Union, Russia and Japan.

Aside from the moral issues raised by arms sales, there are some practical problems of realpolitik.

For one, the sales sometimes bring Israel into direct conflict with its closest ally, the United States, which has its own geopolitical interests — as well as a domestic arms industry that it wants to protect from competition.

For another, selling Israeli know-how to other countries means some of it could wind up in enemy hands, neutralizing key advantages Israel might need in a future battlefield.

On Sunday, the government gave the go-ahead for what will be Israel’s single biggest export deal to date: the sale of three Phalcon airborne early-warning systems to India for $1.1 billion.

Though the Phalcon does not have any American components and was developed entirely by Israel, the Israelis sought and received American permission for the sale last August.

That followed Israel’s embarrassing cancellation of a similar deal with China in July 2000 after strenuous American objections. Washington argued then that giving the Chinese such sophisticated systems could make things far more difficult for the United States in any future air battle with mainland China over Taiwan.

Israeli officials claimed that the American objection had more to do with a desire to keep Israel out of the competition for lucrative early-warning system contracts.

The Americans only approved the India deal after they were convinced that it would not destabilize relations between India and Pakistan.

In 2003, Israel signed contracts for weapons sales amounting to $3 billion. The target this year is more than $4 billion.

Israel leads the world in a number of systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, small spotter planes that fly over territory and send back data on troop and other movements; a sophisticated system for analyzing air battles, and electronic systems for fighter planes.

A partial list of current sales gives an idea of the scope of the Israeli operation. Israel sells UAVs to South Korea; the Phalcon, electronics, a sophisticated radar system, UAVs and missiles to India; anti-tank missiles to Poland; UAVs to Finland, Belgium, France and Switzerland; the system for analyzing air battles to Finland and Holland; a system for pinpointing fighter plane targets to Spain and Greece; and night-vision systems to Denmark.

Israel has upgraded tanks and fighter planes for Turkey; has sold naval systems to Australia; and has sold armor for personnel carriers, UAVs, fighter-pilot sights and the system for pinpointing fighter plane targets to the United States.

Paradoxically, Israel’s big advantage over other countries is its dire security situation, which turns the country into a laboratory for arms development. Israel has to keep developing new weapons to survive. Often, because of the conflict with the Palestinians, the systems are tested and proven in battle conditions.

Some critics question the morality of such sales, saying they hardly fulfill the vision that Theodor Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement, would have hoped for — though he probably also wouldn’t have expected to find Israel still under existential threat 55 years after its founding.

Spokesmen for Israel’s military industry often justify the sales by arguing that if Israel didn’t provide weapons to various countries, someone else would.

Moreover, they say, arms sales are not necessarily immoral; they sometimes can prevent wars by deterring would-be aggressors.

The Israeli sales, however, sometimes lead to strained relations with the United States. In addition to the tension over the Chinese Phalcon sale, there have been other cases of the United States stifling Israeli initiatives: Washington put pressure on Britain not to buy Israeli "Spike" anti-tank missiles and to purchase American "Javelin" missiles instead.

The United States also forced Israel to accept American-made radar in the state-of-the-art, F-16I fighter bombers Israel recently received from the United States — rather than the Israeli Elta system that Israeli officials consider to be better.

Israeli officials recognize that the more weapons they sell, the greater the risk that Israeli systems could fall into Arab hands. If that happened, the systems could be dismantled and analyzed, and crucial battlefield advantages could be nullified.

Officials already fear that some military technology they shared with the United States has reached the Egyptian army, which is supplied by the United States — and such snafus could happen on a wider scale if Israel sells weapons to less trustworthy clients.

Israel could increase its already large share of the world weapons market if projected sales of the Arrow anti-missile system are allowed to go ahead.

India is one of several countries that has expressed interest. The United States, which funded much of the Arrow’s development, so far has blocked any sale, arguing that the Arrow could destabilize India-Pakistan relations by tilting the balance of power too strongly in India’s favor.

Some U.S. Congressmen have suggested that the United States deploy the Arrow until its own anti-missile defense system is operational, but so far Washington has not shown any interest in buying Arrows from Israel.

Israeli officials say Israel gladly would forego the billions of dollars it earns in arms sales if peace with the Arabs could be achieved and military development could be de-emphasized.

Until that happens, however, the byproduct of Israel’s own defense needs is likely to be a thriving defense industry, conducting an ever-growing export trade.

Russian Artists on Display


It’s common knowledge that the Jewish exodus from Russia in the late 1980s brought to Israel a flood of talented artists and musicians. Less well known is that many came to the United States as well. On Sunday, Jan. 24, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will spotlight the works of a half-dozen of these artists in a slide show and discussion, “An Afternoon with Jewish Artists from the Former Soviet Union.”

You’ll see the works, meet the artists, and marvel at the conundrum of a society that could help produce such brilliance, only to treat it so miserably. The program and slide show begin at 4 p.m., followed by a reception and viewing at 5:30. The artists featured are:

Vladimir Derkach: Born in Moscow in 1964, Derkach has already gained an international reputation for his intense, romantic studies of nature, landscapes and cityscapes.

Irine Fire: Artist, writer and illustrator, Fire began to draw only in 1991, but her work has already attracted the attention of collectors and galleries around the world. Her creations, saturated with color and cramped with images, buzz with warmth and light — as if a lifetime of pent-up creative energy is bursting through in each canvas.

Zoya Ivnitskaya: She was already an acclaimed set and costume designer throughout the former Soviet Union when her paintings began to show at galleries in Moscow and Kiev. Her work uses elaborate color schemes and inspired detail.

Ann Krasner: A highly trained scientist in her native Moscow, Krasner had never picked up a brush until she received a set of watercolors as a present from her husband on her 30th birthday. Since then, Krasner has walked away with first prizes in art competitions, sold out gallery shows and been sought after by museums and galleries from Los Angeles to Paris. Her mostly large, allegorical works use bold colors and striking figures to explore themes of love, nostalgia and longing.

Alex Shagin: An internationally acclaimed coin designer and metal sculptor, Shagin combines his awesome technical skills with an eye for telling detail. His numerous works depicting significant events and outstanding individuals in history are coveted by collectors.

Peter Vegin: In his native Russia, Vegin was famous as both poet and painter. Though a critic of the Communist regime, he managed to publish 14 books of poetry, two of which he illustrated himself. His poetry is informed by images of the great painters, and his painting conveys much of the romance and precision of good poetry. — Rob Eshman, Managing Editor

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