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Interfaith Celebrities: Amanda Bynes Un-Retires at 24, Rich Rags Mel

Amanda Bynes Walks Away—and Comes Back

Back in 2007, I had the pleasure of interviewing interfaith actress Amanda Bynes, now 24. I genuinely liked her and hoped she would achieve all the career success she wanted.

The interview came out just as the movie version of the musical Hairspray was about to hit the theaters. The film wasn't a blockbuster, but it did quite well at the box office. The movie got pretty good reviews and Bynes got good notices for her performance.

Amanda Bynes
After a rough career patch, Amanda Bynes recently tweeted her retirement--and her un-retirement four days later. REUTERS/Peter Foley

However, since Hairspray, Bynes' career has stalled. Still, I was surprised on June 19 when she tweeted that she had decided to retire from her acting career because she "no longer enjoyed it as much as she did."

The novelty of retiring via Twitter was followed up four days later with the first Twitter "un-retirement." Bynes' tweeted two words: "I've Unretired."

Cynics have said that that Bynes retired and un-retired simply to get publicity for herself, and for her upcoming movie, Easy A, a comedy opening September 17. Set on a college campus, the movie is loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and stars Emma Stone, Bynes and the Jewish Lisa Kudrow of Friends fame.

I don't think Bynes was being cynical or calculating. I think she was probably having an emotionally low day, aided and abetted by the remarkable ease of tweeting.

Bynes was an adolescent TV star (All That, The Amanda Show) with a couple of teen-oriented hits (She's the Man, What a Girl Wants) to her credit. To make the transition to a lasting career, she needs to be lucky and smart enough to find vehicles that showcase her maturing talent and/or turn a profit.

Sydney White, her 2007 follow-up to Hairspray, was not a great success, and a TV series pilot that Bynes did in 2009 was not picked up. Earlier this year the planned sequel to Hairspray was shelved.

On top of all this, a clothing line she designed was pulled out of the stores when the company making her line, and many others, went bankrupt in 2008. Earlier this year, Bynes posed for Maxim magazine—time will tell whether that was a good, bad or neutral career move.

I wish her well. The director of Sydney White, Joe Nussbaum, the son of a friend of mine, told me that Bynes is genuinely funny and bright "in real life" and nothing I've seen contradicts that. She just needs the right film or TV vehicle to really showcase those gifts again.

And in the odd circumstances of her "retirement," she doesn't hold a candle to fellow interfaith thesp Joaquin Phoenix, who may or may not have retired from acting to become a really bad rapper.

Jim Moret
Like Amanda Bynes, Jim Moret faced a career dry spell, and it almost ruined him. Now back on TV, he's written a book about his suicidal depression. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Gidget's Boyfriend's Comeback Kid

Recently, I saw Inside Edition chief correspondent Jim Moret do an intelligent commentary about Lindsay Lohan for MSNBC. Curious, I googled Moret, 53, and was surprised to learn that he was the son of James Darren, the '50s/'60s heartthrob singer/actor who played Gidget's love interest in the original Gidget (1959).

I found out a lot more: Jim's Jewish mother, Gloria, was the Philadelphia high school sweetheart of Darren, who is of Italian Catholic background. (Darren, now 74, was born James Ercolani.) Gloria and James Darren eloped when they were 18, in 1955.

In 1983, Darren was profiled by People magazine in connection with his co-starring role in the police series, T. J. Hooker. His co-star, by the way, was Jewish actor William Shatner.

Darren told People about his first marriage:

As a teenager in Philly, his sweetheart was Gloria Terlitzky, whose father objected to a Catholic boy romancing a Jewish girl. "When I dated her," James says, "I used the name Jay because I thought it sounded Jewish. I actually pretended I was Jewish." The couple subsequently eloped. Darren's son from that marriage, James Moret, 26, a Century City lawyer, chose to adopt his stepfather's name and his mother's Jewish faith. "To me, religion is the least important thing in relationships," says Darren, still a practicing Catholic. "It causes trouble—wars and conflicts."

The couple divorced in 1959. Jim (James) was adopted by his stepfather, Jerry Moret (who I am virtually sure is Jewish). This happened when he was 13. In the '80s, James Darren told an interviewer that consenting to Jim's adoption was "the stupidest thing he had ever done."

Darren said this about the adoption when he and Jim Moret were estranged. Since then they have reconciled and are now quite friendly. So much so that Jim Moret now says that he considers both Jerry Moret and James Darren to be his "dads."

Jim Moret was a Southern California entertainment lawyer when he joined CNN in the early '90s as the host of Showbiz Today. In 1994, he was CNN chief correspondent at the O.J. Simpson trial.

Last January, Jim's memoir, The Last Day of My Life, came out. It describes how he overcame suicidal depression in 2007. The source of his depression dates back to 2001, when he had declined a CNN request that he uproot his family and transfer from Los Angeles to CNN's headquarters in Atlanta.

He couldn't find much other work and fell deep into debt. Like millions of other Americans, his finances went from bad to worse as his house declined in value and his mortgage fell underwater. He and his wife even separated for a brief time.

But he talked to himself--and without formal therapy--managed to find a new, upbeat approach to life.

In 2009, Moret and his (Jewish) wife, Keri, celebrated their 20th anniversary by renewing their vows in a second Jewish wedding. They have three children, two boys and a girl.

Mad Mel, in Brief

Mel Gibson has made headlines with another hateful, bigoted rant, this time directed against his ex-girlfriend. Interfaith performers Pink, Robert Downey Jr. and Rob Schneider have all commented on his general lousiness, so I don't have much to add.

But I just wanted to share with you a typically brilliant column from The New York Times' Jewish columnist Frank Rich. In my opinion, it's the best commentary on Gibson since the scandal broke, providing cultural and historical context for the various Gibson controversies.

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News, the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the Detroit Jewish News, and the New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant "oldies but goodies") will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L'Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties).

The author welcomes questions and celebrity "tips," especially about people you personally know. Write him at middleoftheroad1@aol.com. And feel free to comment below.

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