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Interfaith Celebrities: New TV Season, Segel and Williams Soar, Mayer and Perry Crash

September 4, 2012

New TV Season

Here are a few new, scripted TV shows premiering in September with a Jewish and/or interfaith connection. (I haven't included new reality series.)

The NBC series, The New Normal, starts on Tuesday, September 11, at 9:30 p.m. Andrew Rannells, 34 (Broadway's The Book of Mormon), and Jewish actor Justin Bartha, 34 (The Hangover), co-star as Bryan and David, a gay Beverly Hills couple. They are both successful in their careers and very much in love. Into their lives comes Goldie (Georgia King, 25), a Midwest waitress who has just moved to Los Angeles with her young daughter and her conservative grandmother (played by Jewish actress Ellen Barkin, 58). Goldie agrees to be the surrogate mother of the guys' baby.

As I noted in a previous column, Barkin's two marriages have ended in divorce. Her first marriage, to Irish Catholic actor Gabriel Byrne, ended amicably and they remain friends. Their two children were raised in their mother's faith. Barkin's second marriage, to Jewish billionaire Ronald Perelman, ended in rancor.

Matthew Perry and the cast of Go On.

Also premiering on September 11 (9 p.m.), is the NBC comedy/drama, Go On. It stars Matthew Perry, 43, as "Ryan King," a sportscaster who joins a grief support group to try to cope with his wife's death. The series focuses on King and the varied members of the group, including the mysterious "Mr. K."

"Mr. K" (played by Jewish actor Brett Gelman, 35) is so weird that the other group members are too afraid to ask him what he's grieving about. Gelman is a stand-up comedian with a long list of sketch show and sitcom guest shots.

The NBC series, Guys with Kids, starts on Wednesday, September 12, at 8:30 p.m. Jamie-Lynn Sigler, 31 (The Sopranos) co-stars as a stay-at-home mom who convinces her husband (Zach Cregger, 31) to take over a lot of the childcare so she can have some "alone time." Her husband's buddies include a divorced father (Jesse Bradford, 33) with custody of his infant child and a married stay-at-home dad (Anthony Anderson, 42) with four kids.

I've profiled Sigler in a past column. Her father is Jewish by birth. Her mother, who was born in Cuba, is a convert to Judaism. Sigler had a bat mitzvah and, in 2009, visited Israel on a Birthright Israel program.

Also on NBC is Revolution, a sci-fi series. The premise is that, suddenly and mysteriously, electric power is no longer available anywhere on Earth. 15 years after this worldwide power failure, people are living in small communities and local militias provide any order that exists. This series was created by Eric Kripke, 38 (Supernatural), who is Jewish.

Iron Man director Jon Favreau, 45, co-produces Revolution (starts Monday, September 17, at 10 p.m.), and directed the pilot episode. As noted in previous columns, Favreau is the son of a Catholic father and a Jewish mother. His mother died when he was 12, and both sides of his family cooperated to fulfill his mother's wish that Jon have a bar mitzvah ceremony when he turned 13.

Also starting on September 17 (9 p.m.) is Mob Doctor, a Fox show. Jordana Spiro, 35 (My Boys on TBS), stars as "Dr. Grace Devlin," a heart surgeon who lives a dual life. She's a top resident at a Chicago hospital who moonlights treating the ailments and bullet wounds of local mafia members. Her brother's gambling debts forced her to make a secret deal with the devil to treat these gangsters.

In 2006, a reporter I trust noted, without any detail, that Spiro was Jewish in an article she wrote for a now defunct website. I re-reported that info in my newspaper column (2006), and that column was cited by a Wikipedia biography article which described Spiro as Jewish. Recently, Wikipedia added a reference to a 2007 Sports Illustrated interview in which Spiro was asked if the information (as of 2007) in her Wikipedia biography was correct, i.e., was she Jewish and single?

Spiro said the Wikipedia article was "correct."

Spiro's new role prompted me to check further. Just a few clues, and some unusual family names, allowed me to piece together most of her story. Her Jewish father, Harry Spiro, Jr., was born in New Orleans in 1924. His father, Harry Spiro, Sr., also a Louisiana native, owned a shoe store. Harry Spiro, Jr. graduated from Tulane University in 1945 and, while still living in New Orleans, became a wealthy real estate developer. In the late 1960s or early 1970s, he met the much younger Brigitte "Cookie" O'Quin, a college student. She grew-up about 75 miles northwest of New Orleans, in rural Evangeline Parish, LA. Her father was a farmer (he died in 2010; as far as I know, her mother is still alive). The O'Quins are a Protestant family.

Harry and Brigitte wed in a civil ceremony in Nevada in 1972. Apparently, they shared a love of art and high-end memorabilia. They moved to New York City in 1972 and Jordana Spiro and her four siblings were born and raised in Manhattan.

Harry and Brigitte Spiro became fairly well known art collectors. As well as collecting, they were active as dealers — buying and selling art and memorabilia. They also donated many historical documents to libraries. Brigitte Spiro is profiled in a 2002 article in The Buffalo Spree.

Jordana Spiro.

Sadly, Harry Spiro, Jr. died in 2001. Brigitte Spiro is still alive. I simply don't know if Jordana Spiro was raised religiously Jewish or was raised secular, but identifies as Jewish when asked.

Starting on Monday, September 24 (8:30 p.m.) is the CBS series, Partners. The series was created by, and is based on the lives of the Jewish writer/producers of Will and Grace, David Kohan, 48, and Max Mutchnik, 47.

Jewish actor David Krumholtz, 34 (Num3ers), plays "Joe", an architect who, like Kohan, is straight. His business partner and best friend, "Louis" (Michael Urie, 32), is gay (like Mutchnick). Their great friendship and business relationship is challenged when Joe gets engaged and Louis begins dating a hunky guy.

The ABC series, The Neighbors, centers on "Marty" (Lenny Venito) and "Debbie Weaver" (Jewish actress Jamie Gertz, 46), a nice couple who buy a home in an exclusive, gated community. They find out that all their neighbors are space aliens who have been stationed on Earth for ten years, disguised as humans, while they await instructions from their home planet. The Weavers are the first humans the aliens really get to know.

The Weavers and the aliens discover they have many differences. For example, the aliens get nourishment through reading and, when they cry, green goo comes out of their ears. However, the Weavers and the aliens also learn they have much in common — like marriage and child- rearing problems. (It starts Wednesday. September 26, 8:30 p.m.)

Gertz, who is best known as a co-star of the long-running sitcom Still Standing (2002-2006), has been acting since she was a teen. Her first major role was on the smart sitcom Square Pegs (1982-1983) playing chipper girl, "Muffy Tepperman." Her co-star was interfaith actress Sarah Jessica Parker, now 47.

Gertz never had a big star breakthrough role, but has worked pretty steadily over the past thirty years in TV and films. During most of the 1990s, she deliberately limited her work so she could raise the three sons she and her husband had in 1992, 1995, and 1998. She took the Still Standing role because the show was filmed near her Beverly Hills home and the acting work was "9-5".

Gertz, who is a practicing Jew, certainly doesn't have to work. Her husband, Anthony Ressler, who is Jewish, too, is a wealthy businessman. But that's only part of the story. In late 2011, Gertz and her husband were named the biggest philanthropic givers (in 2010) of any people in show business or professional sports. They gave away over ten million dollars.

As well as giving to medical and arts charities, they help support 18 public charter schools for low income students. One such school, the Gertz-Ressler Academy, is now rated one of the best high schools in California.

On the fun side, Gertz and Ressler are part owners of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.

Interfaith Romance Notes

Michelle Williams and Jason Segel take her daughter, Matilda Ledger, to the Bronx Zoo on August 31.

"They seem like a nice couple."

So said a raft of people commenting on the People magazine site about the romance of actor Jason Segel, 32, and actress Michelle Williams, 31.

As I have written before, Segel is a personal favorite of mine. The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, he was raised Jewish and he has eloquently described the dilemmas that an interfaith background sometimes presents.

As for Williams, I can see why she would be attracted to Segel. They have in common a similar career path. Both actors started working at very young ages, and built up their resumes via supporting TV roles and low budget movies before they finally got lucky and broke through in films that nobody expected to be big hits. For Segel, it was Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall; and for Williams, Brokeback Mountain.

Moreover, Segel and Williams (who was raised Protestant) seem to be smarter and more introspective than most big name Hollywood actors.

My guess is that Williams also likes Segel because he is a genuinely funny guy. One can only imagine the torture she went through when Heath Ledger, her former romantic partner, and the father of her daughter, died of an overdose in 2008. She was besieged by the paparazzi as she tried to mourn.

Segel, for his part, may have discovered by now that Williams knows a lot about Jewish religious customs. Williams picked up this knowledge when she played a young, English, Jewish woman in Me Without You (2001). This indie film gem tracked the friendship of two English women from the age of 12 (1973) until they are 21 (1982). Williams' character comes from an observant Jewish home, while her best friend (played by Anna Friel, 36) is not Jewish.

The director/writer of the film, Sandra Goldbacher, 52, is the daughter of an English Jewish father and a Scottish Protestant mother who converted to Judaism. Goldbacher is a practicing Jew, and when Me Without You came out, she told the press that she invited Williams and Friel to her home to observe Jewish Sabbath customs so they would understand what was happening in the film scenes in which Williams' character's family celebrates the Sabbath, with Friel's character also sometimes present.

While Williams and Segel seem to be going strong, I cannot say the same about the romance of interfaith singer John Mayer, 34, and singer Katy Perry, 27. It lasted, at most, two months and ended sometime in late August.

Mayer, the secular son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, has had a string of mostly short-lived romances with famous women. He has admitted to embarrassing himself by talking too candidly about some of these romances.

Katy Perry is certainly not Jewish. Her parents are evangelical Christian ministers and Perry was first a gospel singer. Notwithstanding this strong Christian background, I think Perry is a fine example of my current belief that there are very few American celebrities without a Jewish connection somewhere in their family background. Perry's late uncle was the fairly famous film director Frank Perry (1930-1995). He and Katy's mother were half-siblings. Frank Perry was married three times. His first two wives were Jewish. His first wife, Eleanor Rosenfeld Perry (1914-71), was Frank's creative partner. She co-wrote his first big hit, David and Lisa (1961). His second wife, Barbara Lublin Goldsmith is a well-known author and philanthropist.

Eleanor Perry died before Katy was born. But for the first six years of her life, budding gospel singer Katy Perry had a Jewish aunt (Goldsmith).

Next time: Emmy Nominations

An international program that sends thousands of young Jews to Israel each year for free. 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 "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar 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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