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Interfaith Celebrities:Iron Man 2

April 27, 2010

Iron Man Draws 'Em Like a Magnet

Scarlett Johansson Iron Man 2 poster
An Iron Man 2 poster features Scarlett Johansson in her Black Widow costume.

Back in 2008, the release of Iron Man, which became a critical and box office smash, provided me with a lot of material for this column. It was a chance to profile director Jon Favreau, who comes from an interfaith family and was raised in his mother's Jewish faith, and to update readers about Iron Man stars Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are both from interfaith families.

The whole Iron Mancrew has reunited for the sequel, Iron Man 2, which opens on Friday, May 7. The plot: with the world now aware of his dual life as the armored superhero Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) faces pressure from the government, the press and the public to share his technology with the military. Unwilling to let go of his invention, Stark, along with aide Pepper Potts (Paltrow), and James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle), must forge new alliances--and confront powerful enemies. This new sequel also features another Jewish actor from an interfaith family, Scarlett Johansson, playing the ambiguous super-villain/heroine The Black Widow--in a catsuit. The trailer makes the film look like fun.

 

Douglas Family Tragedy

I thought about Robert Downey Jr. when I read the sad news (April 20) that Michael Douglas' son, Cameron Douglas, 31, was sentenced to five years in prison for dealing methamphetamine and cocaine out of a New York hotel room. Reuters reported on the heart-rending scene in the courtroom--Cameron apologized to his family and Michael Douglas was in tears. Cameron admitted to a long-standing addiction to heroin and Michael said Cameron had been struggling with drugs since he was 13.

In 2007, I wrote a long column item about Jewish actor Kirk Douglas, now 94, his wives, children and grandchildren. I noted that Kirk had two sons with his first wife, actress Diana Dill, who is of English Protestant background. One of those two sons was Michael Douglas, who was raised secular and remains secular.

Kirk had two sons with his second wife, Anne Buydens Douglas, who converted to Judaism in 2005. One of those two sons, Eric, also struggled virtually all his life with drug addiction and died of a drug overdose in 2004. None of Kirk's children were raised in any faith, but Eric embraced Judaism during one of his many rehab visits and had a bar mitzvah as an adult. Sadly, whatever solace he got from religion was not enough to keep him sober for good.

A long life is generally a blessing, but it must be very hard for Kirk, Anne and Diana Dill, all of whom are still in good health, to live to see Cameron follow Eric's path.

Robert Downey Jr. has made the most remarkable recovery from the depths of drug addiction of any celebrity I know about. Granted, he never was accused of dealing drugs, but at one point he was so out of control that the judge refused to send him to drug rehab again and Downey had to serve hard time in a California state prison for drug-related offenses. Downey partially credits his current wife, Jewish film producer Susan Levin, with his sobriety since 2001. Downey's example shows that there is always hope.

South Park Bleeped

As you might have read, Comedy Central decided to censor the April 21 episode of its hit animated series, South Park, to bleep out references to the prophet Muhammad after a New York-based radical Islamic site posted threats against South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

As I have noted before, Stone comes from an interfaith family. His mother is Jewish and although he was raised secular, he identifies as Jewish in a cultural sense. You can see an interview with the show's creators on the blog Boing Boing, discussing the Mohammed representation controversy. (Beware because they use strong language--which isn't much of a surprise if you've seen the show.)

How to Succeed or Not in Showbiz

Daniel Radcliffe, 20, the star of the Harry Potter movies, is going to star in a new Broadway revival of the musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." It is set to open sometime next year. "How To" opened in 1962 to glorious reviews, ran for four years and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The songs were by Jewish songwriter Frank Loesser (1910-69), with the story by Jewish playwright Abe Burrows (1910-85).

A 1995 revival, starring Matthew Broderick, now 48, ran for about two years. Like Broderick, Radcliffe is the son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, and like him also identifies as Jewish, but is secular.

It looks like Radcliffe--again like Broderick--is going to make the difficult transition from an adolescent star to a successful adult actor. He's been on Broadway before, starring in "Equus," as I wrote in a recent column.

I thought of Radcliffe when I recently stumbled upon a website devoted to the original Mickey Mouse Club, which first aired 50 years ago. I was surprised to learn that three of the original Mousekeeters had a Jewish background: Judy Harriett, born Judy Spiegelman; Eileen Diamond; and Doreen Tracey. The first two were one season-only performers. Doreen, who was a "star Mousekeeter," had a Jewish father but was raised in her mother's Catholic faith.

These three women, like most former Mousekeeters, did not have much success as adult performers. Diamond, however, has had a long career as an artistic director in good regional theater. There is life after child stardom.

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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