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Interfaith Celebrities: Les Mis?rables'; the Golden Globe Awards; and Paul Simon

January 8, 2013

Check Out the Song List

The holidays are over, but maybe you missed, and would like to read, my annual article for InterfaithFamily, "The Jews who Wrote Christmas Songs," (2012 version).

I think it's one my better annual revisions — partially because it include some songs that have not previously appeared on lists of the most popular holiday songs as compiled by ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers) and Billboard magazine. It also includes, for the first time, some music videos.

When you click over, you'll discover links to other feature pieces about Christmas I've written for InterfaithFamily, including one on the Jewish creators of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and another on Christmas movies with a big Jewish connection.

Perhaps you will be intrigued to learn more about the songwriters behind the following statistics: in 2012, 6 out of 10 of the most popular holiday or Christmas songs, according to ASCAP, which monitors radio airplay, were penned by Jewish songwriters. Likewise, 10 out of the top 25 holiday songs on the Billboard 2012 list were written or co-written by Jewish songwriters.

Hathaway's Marriage, Married Life, and the Mini-Misery Crisis Caused by Les Misérables

Opening in theaters last Christmas day, and still going strong, is Les Misérables. It is, of course, the film adaptation of the enormous musical stage hit based on the famous Victor Hugo novel.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Misérables.

The original French musical was written by two French Jews (Claude-Michel Schönberg, 67, music; and Alain Boubil, 71, lyrics) and the English lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer, 87, a South African-born, English Jew. The trio wrote one new song for this film version, Suddenly.

The film stars Anne Hathaway, 30, Russell Crowe, 48, Amanda Seyfried, 27, and Hugh Jackman, 44. Jewish actor Sacha Baron Cohen, 41, has a supporting role (Monsieur Thénardier, a thief).

Last July, I did a long column profile of Hathaway and her then-fiancé, actor and jewelry designer Adam Shulman, 31. I covered Hathaway's career, religious background, and relayed as much as knew about Shulman's Jewish family background.

On Sept. 29, 2012, Hathaway and Shulman wed in a ceremony that they tried to keep as private as possible. Initial reports in what I would call "the lesser tabloid press" described it, without qualification, as a "Jewish wedding."

However, on October 15, People magazine reported that a priest and a rabbi co-officiated at the nuptials.

Michelle Tauber of People, wrote, in part:

But neither the dazzling sunset view nor the sky-scraping redwood tree under which the wedding party gathered could upstage the bride, who walked down the aisle on the arm of her father, Gerald. Resplendent in a custom Valentino tulle gown with a pink-tinged train and a wide headband and veil, "she looked like a fairy-tale princess," says an observer. Taking her place under the Jewish wedding canopy, or chuppah, she and Shulman exchanged vows they wrote themselves-each handing their own to the other to read-and Kwiat rings. They also recited Hebrew vows during the ceremony, which was officiated by both a priest and a rabbi. "It was a very soulful, romantic ceremony," says a friend. "You could tell they had put a lot of thought into making it their own.

People is usually right about wedding details, but not always. Assuming their reportage is correct, it was almost certainly an Episcopal priest who co-presided. As I said in my July, 2012 profile, Hathaway and her family broke sharply with the Catholic Church over their teachings about gay persons. They did so after the family learned that one of Hathaway's two brothers is gay. As I wrote, the Hathaway family briefly joined the Episcopal Church, but didn't remain members.

Newlyweds Anne Hathaway and Adam Shulman on vacation in Switzerland earlier this month.

Still, I could easily see Hathaway, who described herself as a non-denominational Christian a couple of years ago, having an Episcopal priest at her wedding.

The few photos of the wedding the couple released were sold to People and the proceeds donated to gay rights groups.

In the January, 2013 issue of Glamour, Hathaway doesn't address any religious issues, but she does talk about her marriage. About her new husband, she says "he is intelligent and kind and my best friend." While acknowledging marriage is difficult, she says it can succeed if, in effect, you work at it. In support, she mentions that her parents have been married for over 30 years and Shulman's for over 40 years.

Last month, Hathaway talked to talk show host Chelsea Handler, herself interfaith, about a moment in her relationship with Shulman when she sent him away for their own good. But she prefaced this anecdote with the "good news." She told Handler how much she loved her husband. Handler replied that she had met Shulman and that she liked him very much.

Then Hathaway told Handler that Shulman traveled with her last March to the Les Misérables filming location in England and they settled into a nice hotel. But not long after, the actress said, she picked a fight with Shulman over "nothing."

Right away, she said, she regretted picking the fight, and realized it had nothing to do with Shulman, but everything to do with the role she was playing.

Her mood, she said, was influenced by the tragic nature of her character, and, on top of that, the part required that she first gain some weight and then quickly lose a lot of weight.

Hathaway added that she knew she was going to be miserable to live with until filming ended. So, she asked Shulman to return to the States until filming was over and that he did.

It seems to have been the right move, in light of subsequent happy events.

The 2013 Golden Globe® Awards: Jewish/Interfaith Nominees — and a Few "Honorable Mentions"

The Golden Globe® Awards ceremony will be broadcast on NBC on Sunday, January 13, at 8 p.m. EST and 5 p.m. PST.

Here are the Jewish and interfaith nominees that I am sure about. Unless otherwise noted, the nominee is the child of two Jewish parents.

Film Acting Categories

Phoenix and Day-Lewis are sons of Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers.

  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama:
    Rachel Weisz, 42, The Deep Blue Sea

Weisz's father is Jewish. Her mother's father was Jewish. Her mother's mother was probably not Jewish. While Weisz has been vague over the years, my strong sense is her mother doesn't identify as Jewish.

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical:
    Jack Black, 43, Bernie

Black's mother is Jewish and he was raised Jewish. His father converted to Judaism around the time he wed Black's mother. His father, Black once said, ceased practicing any faith after he split up with Black's mother.

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture:
    Alan Arkin, 78, Argo
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
    Helen Hunt, 49, The Sessions

Hunt is the daughter of three non-Jewish grandparents of English ancestry. Her paternal grandmother was of German Jewish ancestry. My sense is that Hunt has more than dabbled, as an adult, in the practice of Buddhism.

Hunt is nominated for playing sex therapist Cheryl Cohen-Greene, 67, in The Sessions. Cohen-Greene is a convert to Judaism.

Film Directing

  • Best Director — Motion Picture:
    Steven Spielberg, 66, Lincoln


Film Screenplay

  • Best Screenplay — Motion Picture:
    Tony Kushner, 56, Lincoln
    David O. Russell, 54, Silver Linings Playbook
    Mark Boal, 39, Zero Dark Thirty

Russell is the son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.

Film Song

  • Best Original Song — Motion Picture
    "Suddenly" from Les Misérables — Claude-Michel Schönberg, 67, and Alain Boubil, 71, and Herbert Kretzmer, 87


TV Categories

  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama:
    Julianna Margulies, 46, The Good Wife.

Margulies, who identifies as Jewish, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Jewish mother who converted to Christianity.

Fun fact: Julianna's father, Paul Margulies, is a retired advertising copywriter. He wrote several famous television ads including the Alka-Seltzer ads that featured the famous "plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is" jingle. The original, enormously well-received ads featuring his jingle ran from 1975-1980. However, flagging sales has lead Bayer, the owner of Alka-Seltzer, to very recently revive this jingle and have cartoon character "Speedy Alka-Seltzer" sing the jingle at the end of their ads.

  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical:
    Lena Dunham, 26, Girls

Dunham is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father.

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television:
    Max Greenfield, 32, New Girl
    Mandy Patinkin, 60, Homeland


Best Films

  • Best Animated Feature Film:
    Hotel Transylvania — co-written by Robert Smigel, 52, and directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, 42

As you might guess, Tartakovsky was born in the former Soviet Union. He came to the United States when he was seven years old.

Separate awards are made for best drama film and best film, comedy or musical. The award goes to producers. I'm sure these films have a Jewish producer:

  • Best Motion Picture — Drama:
    LincolnSteven Spielberg
    ArgoGrant Heslov
    Zero Dark ThirtyMark Boal
  • Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical:
    Les MisérablesEric Fellner
    Moonrise KingdomScott Rudin

Fun Fact: The newcomer co-star of Moonrise Kingdom, actor Jared Gilman, 13, recently celebrated his bar mitzvah.

Best TV Series

As with film, the respective awards for best TV drama and best TV comedy go to the series' principal producers.

  • Best Television Series — Drama:
    HomelandHoward Gordon
    The NewsroomAaron Sorkin and Scott Rudin
  • Best Television Series — Comedy or Musical:
    Big Bang TheoryChuck Lorre
    EpisodesDavid Crane
    GirlsLena Dunham, Judd Apatow, and Jennifer Konner
    Modern FamilySteve Levitan

Sorkin, Lorre, Crane, Dunham, and Levitan are also credited with being the creator or co-creators of the above series and have written for these shows.

"Honorable Mentions"

Ewan McGregor, 41, a Best Perfrormance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical nominee (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), has a Jewish wife and his children are being raised Jewish.

Likewise, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture actor Christoph Waltz, 56 (Django Unchained) has a Jewish ex-wife and, at last report, a son studying to be a rabbi.

Jon Hamm, 41, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Drama (Mad Men), has been the life partner of actress/filmmaker Jennifer Westfeldt, 42, since 1997. Westfeldt, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, identifies as Jewish.

Nicole Kidman, who isn't Jewish, is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series of Motion Picture Made for Television for playing famous interfaith journalist Margaret Gellhorn in Hemingway and Gellhorn.

Two Headline Tragedies, One Singer

On December 19, Jewish singer Paul Simon, 71, sang at the church funeral of Victoria Soto, 27, a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who died trying to protect her students from rifle fire during the Newtown, CT shooting.

The New York Times reported:

After the eulogy, a song was offered by a familiar voice: Paul Simon, who performed "The Sound of Silence," the haunting words capturing the nightmarish nature of how Ms. Soto died and the emptiness her death left behind. A representative for Mr. Simon said, "The Sotos and Simons met through Vicki's mother and Paul's sister-in-law, both nurses."

The New York Daily News reported that Simon played The Sound of Silence because he was informed that it was Soto's favorite tune.

The Sound of Silence first appeared on Simon and Garfunkel's debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. The album, which was released in October, 1964, included a less famous song, He Was My Brother. It was dedicated to, and is about, Andrew Goodman, a Jewish guy who became Simon's friend when they both went to Queens College in New York City.

In early June 1964, Goodman, 20, traveled south to participate in "Freedom Summer," a coordinated effort by civil rights groups to register long disenfranchised black voters. In Mississippi, he met up with Michael Schwerner, 24, another New York-raised, Jewish, civil rights activist, and, with James Chaney, 21, an African American activist from Mississippi.

On June 21, while investigating the burning of a black church by racists, the three were arrested on a traffic violation and briefly held in jail. The deputy sheriff who detained them called a Ku Klux Klan leader and, not long after, the three were waylaid on a back road and murdered by Klan members.

Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney quickly became, and remain, stellar examples of interfaith and interracial cooperation and sacrifice in pursuit of a noble goal.

Their murder helped galvanize public support for President Lyndon B. Johnson's ultimately successful effort to pass the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had long been stalled in Congress. No doubt, President Obama hopes that the Newtown events will, likewise, induce Congress to pass gun safety legislation.

As I have noted before in this column, Simon has been married three times. His present wife, singer Edie Brickell, 46, is probably the sister of the nurse, referred to above, who is friends with Vicki Soto's mother.

Based on an obituary of Brickell's father, I believe Edie's sister's name is "Cassie." However, her name was not in the articles on Simon's appearance at the Soto funeral and there's a remote possibility the sister-in-law referred to is the wife of Paul's only sibling, Eddie Simon.

Edie Brickell, who isn't Jewish, has been married to Paul Simon since 1992 and she's the mother of Simon's three youngest children. The couple has long lived in New Canaan, Connecticut, which is about 35 miles from Newtown.

Previously, Simon was married (1983-1984) to interfaith actress Carrie Fisher, now 56, and before that to Peggy Harper, now 73. Harper, who also isn't Jewish, was married to Simon from 1969-1975 and is the mother of singer/songwriter Harper Simon, 40.

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." Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
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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