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Interfaith Celebrities: Cowboys and Aliens, Amy Winehouse in Memoriam

August 2, 2011

Cowboys, Aliens, and Christmas in July

Opening last Friday, July 29, was the sci-fi thriller, Cowboys & Aliens.

In it, Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig, 43), a loner, wakes up in 1873 with no memory of anything. He wanders into an Arizona desert town controlled by Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford, 69). At first everybody dislikes Lonergan, but things change when space aliens attack the town. He starts to recover his memory and seems to recall a "secret" way to fight the aliens. He's aided by a beautiful woman (Olivia Wilde, 27) as he pulls together a coalition of cowboys, townsfolk, and Apache warriors to battle the outer space baddies.

As noted in a previous column, Ford is the secular son of an Irish Catholic father and a Jewish mother. (His parents are both now deceased.)

The reviews I saw of the film (as I write this) were mixed to bad. I hope, nonetheless, that the film is a box-office hit for Ford's sake. He has had a hard time finding a hit in recent years. There is a very informative profile of Ford in the July/August issue of AARP Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

"I love acting probably more than I did before," Ford says. "I like working and problem-solving with people on a story." But the transition from having his pick of plum action roles to finding intriguing character parts for a man his age has been tough. The failure of last year's Morning Glory &mdash a comedy co-starring Diane Keaton in which his vain and aging news-anchor character joins a morning show &mdash hit Ford especially hard, according to his friends and business associates. "I just want to make good movies that people want to go see," he says. "I hate making movies that people don't go to."

Ford is eager for people to see his new film, Cowboys & Aliens, an unlikely hybrid of a western and an alien-invasion movie that he's hoping will be a hit. He was thrilled to grow some stubble for the movie, put on a dirty hat, and gallop across the glorious New Mexico range. "Nothing better," he says, laughing.

Cowboys is directed by sometime actor Jon Favreau, 44 (Iron Man). Like Ford, Favreau is of interfaith background and he's been profiled in this column before.

Favreau is the son of an Italian Catholic father and a Jewish mother. Unlike Ford, who was raised without religion, Favreau was raised in his mother's faith. As I once wrote, Favreau's mother died when he was 12 and both sides of his family cooperated so Jon could have a bar mitzvah (his mother's wish) when he was 13. Favreau is married to a Jewish doctor and is a practicing Jew.

Favreau was also the director of Elf, the big hit 2003 Christmas movie. Just after that film opened, Favreau discussed his childhood Christmases after his mother died &mdash how he spent a traditional Christmas Eve with his father's Italian Catholic family and how on Christmas day he would visit with his Jewish grandparents, eating bagels and lox for breakfast

In an appearance at last month's Comic-Con convention in San Diego, Favreau talked more Christmas and somehow reasonably tied up his childhood Christmases with the release of Cowboys. Movieline.com reports:

…And then, Favreau dropped a sweet anecdote comparing Cowboys & Aliens to Christmas, poking fun at the fact that, partly thanks to his own secrecy surrounding the film's marketing campaign, fairly little is known about the July 29 release compared to other studio tent poles.

"When I was little, Christmas was a big deal in my house. I'm half Catholic, half-Jewish, and my Jewish grandfather grew up in the Depression and he loved Christmas. I remember I was a pretty spoiled kid; anything I saw on Saturday morning cartoons advertised, I said, 'I want that, I want that, I want that.' And I was an only child, God bless my parents and my grandparents — I got all the presents. see them all wrapped up and I knew what all the presents were, because I'd asked for them. I could tell by the size of the box and the wrapping paper.

But there was one box that my grandfather would put out there, and it wasn't something I asked for, I didn't know what the hell it was. He would say, 'It's from Santa.' I used to get mad; I knew there was no Santa, and I didn't know what the box was. I would shake the box, and I would look at the box. Finally Christmas would come around and I would unwrap all the presents and finally they'd give me that box.

My grandfather passed away, God bless him, but he'd always find something that I didn't know that I asked for, you know? So this summer, we've had a lot of Christmas presents, and you've unwrapped them all and there have been a lot of good movies this year. But there's one that everybody's been shaking the box, and reading the label, and they say, 'From Santa?! Cowboys & Aliens, what is this?!'

Well, you're the first people to unwrap the present. We hope you enjoy it, and thank you for being there for me. I couldn't be right here without you guys."

On Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse, the famous British Jewish singer who died on July 23, age 27, was the subject of a couple of past items in this column.

In a June, 2007 column, I gave her basic biography and discussed her May, 2007 marriage to Blake Fiedler-Civil, who isn't Jewish. (The troubled marriage ended in 2009.) In retrospect, I can see that I put too optimistic of a gloss on her on-going problems with drugs and alcohol.

In a February, 2008 column, I wrote about Winehouse's many Grammy nominations and discussed Winehouse's "trainwreck" use of drugs. I also noted that Winehouse's music producer, Mark Ronson, a British Jew, was Grammy nominated for his work on her album and for his work on another album by British singer Lily Allen. (Ronson's sister, Samantha Ronson, a club DJ, was long romantically involved with non-Jewish actress Lindsay Lohan.)

As I re-read this column item, today, I was particularly saddened by one line I wrote in 2008:

"Ronson recently mentioned that he and Winehouse want to make a holiday album with Hanukkah and Christmas songs. Winehouse, he said, plans to write some original Hanukkah tunes."

This holiday album was never made and we never found out if Winehouse could write a "cool" contemporary Hanukkah tune.

As I read this line, I flashed on the televised image of Mark Ronson removing his yarmulke as he exited Winehouse's Jewish funeral, which was held last week.

No doubt, not making this holiday album was but one of the many things that close friends, like Ronson, regret as they now mourn Winehouse.

I often thought that it would be a miracle if Winehouse lived a long life. She never seemed to stay clean for more than a couple of weeks after leaving rehab. Still, when the end came, I wished that she had beaten the odds and, like interfaith actor Robert Downey, Jr., had pulled herself out of the abyss at the last minute and gotten clean for good.

In the midst of all the commentary about Winehouse's death, one item I read stood out in my mind. It s an article about Winehouse by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who specializes in treating Jewish addicts. I don't know if he has the answer for everyone, but if reading this article helps someone, that would be great.

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." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

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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