The critically acclaimed HBO "Deadwood" prominently features SOL STAR, a likeable Jewish shopkeeper character. Star, who really lived, was one of the many Jewish pioneers in the frontier town. There's even a large Deadwood "Hebrew cemetery" dating back more than a century.
Sol Star was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1840. He moved to the States in 1850 and quickly settled in Montana, where he went into the hardware business with his friend, Seth Bullock. South Dakota's gold rush drew the pair to Deadwood and they ended up as prosperous hardware merchants.
Star, who died in 1917, was a Republican state legislator as well as being Deadwood's mayor for 14 years. Meanwhile, Bullock, as shown in the series, became the sheriff whom "cleaned Deadwood up."
Recently, Mary Kopco, head of Deadwood's "Adams House" museum, spoke to the Rapid City Journal (SD) about Deadwood's history; her help with the series' historic research; and the huge increase in visits to the museum website since the series began (www.adamsmuseumandhouse.org). She told the Journal that Museum's web page profile of Sol Star is one of the most popular. (There's also a nice photograph of Star on the museum website.)
Deadwood series creator-writer DAVID MILCH, who also co-created "NYPD Blue" and "Hill Street Blues," told the Journal that he has discussed Star's Jewish background with John Hawkes, the non-Jewish actor who plays Star. While Star's actual personality isn't that well know, some educated guesses can be made. Hawkes told the Journal that he agreed with Milch that Sol's Jewish background made it likely that Star would have been an even-tempered guy anxious to fit in. Hawkes said the he and Milch have discussed the idea that Jews "tend be more aware of their surroundings and the importance of fitting in." As Hawkes put it, "His [Star's] survival skills are high...He sees the big picture. He knows it is smarter to live to fight another day."
In March's Modern Maturity, BILLY CRYSTAL relates that Louis Armstrong came to a seder at Crystal's childhood home. He was a guest of Crystal's uncle, the famous music producer MILT GABLE. Armstrong, of course, was noted for his very raspy voice. Crystal's grandmother came up to Armstrong and said, "Louis, have you ever tried just clearing your throat, just coughing it up?"
Well, I guess New York Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG celebrated Passover with his 95-year-old mother. He is reported to have bought her a seder plate when he was in Jerusalem last year on a morale-boosting visit.
Credit CAMRYN MANHEIM, the star of TV's "The Practice," with the first reported usage of the term "power seder." She told the Boston Globe last year that she invited young director ELI ROTH ("Cabin Fever") to a "power seder" at her house shortly after he moved to L.A. in 1999. Roth met several people at the seder who hardly could be called major players, but they did end up collaborating with him on professional projects.
The recent DVD release of "Schindler's List" made me recall a STEVEN SPIELBERG Passover story. Shortly after the film came out, Spielberg told Inside Film magazine: "Many of [the young German actors playing Nazis] ... would confess to me that their parents were involved in the war, in the military and often they would just say to me, 'Thank you for letting me resolve my secrets by playing in your movie.' The most moving thing that happened for me was on Passover. We had Passover at the hotel and all the young German actors ... came in with yarmulkes and Haggadahs and sat with the Israeli actors and took part in the Passover service. I wept like a baby."
Just before Passover, ROSEANNE BARR and JOAN RIVERS mentioned two very different menus for their upcoming Passover seders. Roseanne does the voice of a cow in the new Disney animated film "Home on the Range." She told Zap2it.com that she often visited dairy farms while growing up in Utah. Roseanne added, with a laugh, "I thought it was very honorable to play a cow, especially one with such good intentions. To play this role, I was fortunately able to connect with, what do you call it, my inner cow." However, playing an animal, she noted, has not turned her into a veggie, "I do the Passover thing, with the lamb and all that stuff."
Meanwhile, Rivers is featured in a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) press release so bizarre that we have to quote it: "Can we talk about what you're having for Passover dinner? Joan Rivers has a suggestion: faux pork! Just in time for the seder supper, Rivers ... has recorded a new message for PETA's toll-free veggie hotline ... extolling the virtues of passing over the pork and going with the faux. Says Rivers, 'This year, you can pig out at Passover you can put some pork on your fork, and it's kosher! I'm not talking about eating a dead pig yuck! I'm talking about fakin' bacon, pseudo-sausage, pigless pork chops. ... And besides, eating kosher faux pork lets you pig out without porking up.' "Callers to the hotline are asked to leave their name and address for a free 'Passover the Pork' pack that contains information on where to buy faux pork and other mock meats ..." (It's all on the peta.org Web site.) PETA, you may recall, has also made "tasteful" ads comparing the slaughter of animals to the Holocaust. It is just grotesque to consider even mock pork as appropriate for Passover. PETA and Rivers demonstrate the intelligence/sensitivity of a horse ... radish.
Last fall, this column noted that Jewish author JENNIFER WEINER's best-selling first novel, "Good in Bed," about a young Jewish woman's romantic and career adventures, may be turned into an HBO series. As we previously noted, "Good in Bed," is not nearly as racy as the title might lead you to believe. It refers to an incident early in the novel when the heroine's long-term ex-boyfriend mortifies her by describing her in his newspaper column as heavy, "but good in bed."
Weiner's second novel, "In Her Shoes," is now filming. We caught up with author in early April and she graciously consented to an interview.
"Shoes" is the story of two very different twentysomething Jewish sisters. One is heavy-set (like the heroine of "Good in Bed") and successful. The other is thin and beautiful, but her personal life and career are a mess. Both novels end on a happy note, with the heavy-set character finding the Jewish mensch of her dreams.
Cameron Diaz plays the wild sister in "In Her Shoes." Weiner told me that she pointed out to the studio that Diaz doesn't "look Jewish." The solution was to make the sisters "half Jewish" on their father's side. (Shirley Maclaine is playing their maternal grandmother.)
Australian actress Toni Collette, best known for "Muriel's Wedding," plays "Rose," the heavy-set sister. Collette, like Diaz, isn't Jewish in real life. However, as Ms. Weiner puts it, "she's A., an astonishing actress, and B., one of the few actresses who IS willing to gain weight for a role. She did gain weight to play Rose...and the studio paid for her personal trainer so that she could lose it once filming was over!"
So far, Weiner has met one "Shoes" cast member: Jewish actor MARC FEUERSTEIN, who plays the Jewish mensch boyfriend. By coincidence, both are Princeton graduates. She has visited the set, and says, "They are doing an amazing job."
As one might expect, not everything in the book is in the film. However, Weiner told me, "The bones of the book its heart and soul, its themes and even some of my dialogue is very much intact." Weiner added that the Jewish wedding at the end of "Shoes" will be "performed by an actual rabbi."
I asked Weiner about life imitating art, in that the heroine of "Good in Bed," like Weiner, becomes a sucessful writer for Hollywood. She responded: "Sometimes I feel like it's life repeating art, and sometimes, in my
delusions-of-grandeur moments, I imagine that I actually managed to write what my own future would become the house, the wonderful [Jewish] husband, the baby girl, the Hollywood deals. What's surprising is how little my life has really changed. My bank account has changed, but as far as the day to day-ness of my life grocery shopping, walking the baby, walking the dog there's not a lot that's different. My friends are still my friends, my family still makes fun of me, it's all very normal, and very nice."
"Shoes" comes out in 2005. Meanwhile, the HBO project is still alive, but Weiner is not allowed to talk about it.
As an editorial note, we described Weiner's first two novels to a Jewish friend this way: they are not high art nor are they probably for the most traditional sections of the Jewish community. However, they are very good reads with a lot of dialogue that rings very true. They are about families that are quite Jewish in their cultural and religious background and are conscious of their Jewishness. Nonetheless, one certainly doesn't have to be Jewish to relate to these stories of a young adult woman's relationships with her peers, her colleagues, and with her family. They are often very funny, especially when the novels' respective heroines gets off comeback lines we only wish we were clever enough to come up with in real life.
(Best selling novelist Jennifer Weiner maintains a great web site at www.Jenniferweiner.com and you can read the first chapters of her novels on the site.)