February 18, 2020

Meet the Parents

Tom Rothman, Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chair, honors his folks at Jewish Home for the Aging’s Anniversary Gala.

Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman Tom Rothman is beaming. The fact that his studio recently ruled the weekend box office with its Steven Spielberg-Tom Cruise collaboration “Minority Report” might have been enough to put some spring in his step. But at the moment, he’s happy because he’s talking about his parents, Donald Rothman and Bette Davidson, both of whom will be honored alongside Marilyn and Monty Hall at Jewish Home for the Aging’s 90th Anniversary Gala celebration on July 9 at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre.

“They were very socially conscious certainly before it became fashionable,” Rothman says. “Charity was a given in our home.”

Rothman’s father, Donald Rothman, was born the son of a traveling salesman in Baltimore in 1923. He entered Harvard Law School’s class of 1948 and became a trial lawyer who was named to the American College of Trial Lawyers. He fought racist real estate practices, founded the repertory theater Center Stage in Baltimore, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year, and created a foundation to support the city’s public School for the Arts.

Rothman’s mother, Bette Davidson, earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology the same year that Tom Rothman was born. She later worked as a teacher at an inner-city Jesuit school while getting her master’s degree in education, started a cooperative nursery school, taught a middle-aged friend to read, helped a baby sitter attend nursing school and assisted students in getting scholarships.

“It never came in the sectarian way,” Rothman, 47, says of his parents’ Jewishness. “It was a question of humanity. My parents didn’t distinguish between Jewish causes and non-Jewish causes.”

Nevertheless, Tom Rothman’s Jewish upbringing propelled him far. He left Baltimore to attend Brown University, then taught English in Connecticut before going to Columbia Law School. He was headed for a career in his father’s footsteps as a trial lawyer when he got sidetracked into entertainment law.

“It was fascinating and fun,” Rothman recalls of his participation in the mid-1980s thriving independent film scene that included directors Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. Rothman produced some movies, then headed West in 1986 to work for Columbia and Samuel Goldwyn before arriving at 20th Century Fox in 1994.

Rothman rapidly ascended the ladder at Fox, rising from president of production to president of 20th Century Fox Film Group to co-chair of Fox Filmed Entertainment with Jim Gianopulos, as of July 2000.

During Rothman’s tenure, Fox delivered the mother of all gross-out comedies (“There’s Something About Mary”), spawned films that became international phenomena (“Titanic,” “Independence Day”), ushered in the recent big-budget superhero wave (“X-Men” and the upcoming “Daredevil”), released a slam-dunk remake of “Planet of the Apes” and distributed re-releases and new installments of a little franchise called “Star Wars.”

“We lived through the worst and the best,” Rothman says, referring to the $200 million co-production of “Titanic.” “It was the hardest production experience ever and the most satisfying.”

Rothman says he has mixed feelings about Hollywood’s Jews vocalizing their support for Israel. “Whether it’s vocal or not,” Rothman says, “I think it’s an individual decision, but I think that the public as a whole really doesn’t realize how strongly philanthropic the community is.”

The best part of his job is “being part of history. The privilege of working at a major studio, you’re a small part of film history. That’s a great experience and it’s exciting. It’s full of ups and downs. You get knocked to the canvas. But you also get to work with the level of creative people.”

Rothman, who with wife, Jessica Harper, has daughters, Elizabeth, 13, and Nora, 11, admits that he still looks back at his rise from law clerk to studio head with wonder “every day when I drive on the lot. I’m a lucky guy.”

For information on “Reflections: The 90th Anniversary of Jewish Home for the Aging,” with special guest appearances by Ray Romano and Harry Connick Jr., call (818) 774-3334.