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Interfaith Celebrities: An Ensemble Film for the New Year, Mayim Bialik and Favorite Holiday Movies

December 6, 2011

Something Schmaltzy and More

New Year's Eve, a film directed by Garry Marshall, 77, is very much like his 2010 hit, Valentine's Day, which was killed by critics, but did well at the box office. Like Valentine's Day, it features interspersed stories of couples and singles seeking romance on a holiday. The film opens on Friday, December 9.

The huge cast includes Sarah Jessica Parker, 46, and Lea Michele, 25. Based on clips from the trailer, it looks like Michele (Glee) belts out a song to the Times Square crowd.

Parker and Michele are the daughters of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers.

Garry Marshall, director of New Year's Eve, on the set with extras.

Marshall, born Garry Masciarelli, is a native New Yorker, with an accent and persona that leads many people to assume he is Jewish. Actually, like a lot of other entertainment figures about whom the same assumption is made, he is partially of Italian Catholic ancestry on his father's side. His mother was of Scottish and English descent and Marshall was raised in two Protestant denominations. He has been secular as an adult.

Marshall has had a very lengthy show-biz career as a writer, producer, director and occasional actor. He has certainly made some good films. Two of my favorites are The Flamingo Kid (1984) and Runaway Bride (1999). He is probably most famous for directing Pretty Woman (1990) and creating TV's Happy Days.

His sister, actress/director Penny Marshall, 69, who went to Jewish summer camps, was once married (1971-1981) to Jewish actor/director Rob Reiner. Reiner adopted her child from a previous marriage, actress Tracy Reiner, now 47.

Penny Marshall seems to have become a devout Christian within the last 10 years, although I haven't seen her talk about her current beliefs. I say this based on the fact that in every interview she has given in the last decade, she is photographed or filmed wearing a very large cross on a necklace. Her autobiography is set to come out next fall and I expect she will explain her religious beliefs in that memoir.

Garry's son, director Scott Marshall, 42, is married to a Jewish woman. In 2006, he directed the fairly funny and touching film, Keeping Up with the Steins, about a multi-generational Jewish family that had some conflicts. The plot centers around the upcoming bar mitzvah of a young family member.

Garry Marshall played the bar mitzvah boy's hippie (Jewish) grandfather. Darryl Hannah, 51, who was raised in real life by her Jewish stepfather, played Marshall's much younger romantic partner.

Marshall, father and son, discussed the film and their many "Jewish connections" with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles in 2006.

Spiritual Sustenance

Mayim Bialik with her husband, Michael Stone.

Jewish actress Mayim Bialik, 35 (TV's Blossom; Amy Fowler on TV's The Big Bang Theory), will teach a live online class on Wednesday, December 14, at 9 p.m. EST, entitled: "Eight Ways to Connect to G-d through Food: A Personal Journey." She'll discuss how she combined her experiences with food with her journey to observant Judaism. The class is open to all women and girls, but space is limited. Sign-up for the class, or watch a recording later by clicking on the name of the class above.

On The Big Bang Theory, Bialik plays a neurobiologist who is the (non-romantic) girlfriend of lead character Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). In real life, Bialik earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2008.

Bialik, who is a Conservative Jew, has been married to Michael Stone since 2003 and they have two sons together.

Bialik blogs for the website Kveller.com and in the last few years, she has authored two very well written blog articles about her husband and mother-in-law's respective decisions to convert to Judaism. Both were formerly Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

TCM December Highlights

The Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable channel has just run a short program highlighting its offerings for the month of December. One such highlight is a brand-new documentary about the most memorable Christmas films entitled "A Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas." The documentary airs tonight, Tuesday, December 6, at 8 p.m., with an encore showing at 11 p.m., on the 6th, and at 5:30 a.m. on the 7th. If you miss these showings, there's one more on Tuesday, December 20, at 10 p.m.

Before you watch this documentary, you may want to read my on-site article, "My Top Five Christmas Movies with Major Jewish Connections." It may give you a little different and ecumenical angle about some of the films featured in the TCM documentary.

I know many of you have read my annually updated article, "Jews Who Wrote Christmas Songs," and another update will appear on InterfaithFamily.com later this month. One of the most popular Christmas songs of all-time — and a song which appears in my article each year — is "Silver Bells," written by the Jewish songwriting team of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston.

Winona Ryder hosts favorite holiday movies on TCM.

The song was written for the very funny Bob Hope comedy, The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and Hope sings the song in the film. (He plays a shady race track "tout" who is given a short period, ending on Christmas Eve, to pay back $10,000 to a fearsome gangster, or "else.") TCM will air The Lemon Drop Kid on Tuesday, December 13, at 8 p.m.

Each month, a famous person is selected as TCM's "guest programmer." The guest gets to select four films from the TCM film library that particularly appeal to the guest. The four selected films are shown, in sequence, one night during the month. Each film is introduced by the guest celeb and the TCM host asks them why they liked the film.

This month's guest programmer is actress Winona Ryder, 40. Ryder, who was profiled in this column, is of interfaith background.

She will appear as TCM's guest programmer on Wednesday, December 21. The four films she selected will run from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. the next morning. All four happen to be favorites of mine, too, and I recommend that you DVR them (with Ryder's intro commentary) if you can.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah."

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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