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Interfaith Celebrities: On and Off the Screens, Today and Yesteryear

March 6, 2012

DiCaprio Certainly Is Consistent

Leonardo DiCaprio with Bar Refaeli.

From 2005 to mid-2011, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, 37, who isn't Jewish, had an on-and-off romantic relationship with top Israeli model and Sports Illustrated cover girl Bar Refaeli, 26. There were, of course, the usual false tabloid reports that DiCaprio, who visited Israel and met with Refaeli's family, was going to convert to Judaism. So far as I can tell, there was nothing to these reports other than a tabloid writer seeking to literally create a "hook" for his or her story.

In any event, it looks like "Leo & Bar" are completely over.

A few months ago, a friend mentioned that DiCaprio would probably go out and find another blonde, top Jewish model like Refaeli. Jokingly, I said, "Who would that be?" He replied: Erin Heatherton.

Leonardo DiCaprio with Erin Heatherton.

 

Heatherton, 23, has been a top Victoria's Secret model for the last two years. She was born Erin Bubley and grew up in Skokie, Illinois, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago. She attended a Solomon Schechter Day School (a Conservative Judaism movement day school) for her primary education.

As predicted, in late December, photos of DiCaprio and Heatherton showed up in tabloids. In late January, photos of their Mexican vacation together were all over the internet.

A couple of weeks ago, however, there was a report that DiCaprio exhibited some "bad boy" behavior (seeing another model) during an Australian trip so, right now, it's hard to judge the status of "Leo & Erin."

If DiCaprio, through bad behavior, messes-up this relationship, he may be out of luck. I think he has probably exhausted the available supply of top, blonde, Jewish models.

Westfeldt at the Movies, Shor Lands on TV

Interfaith actress Jennifer Westfeldt, 42, is best known for writing and starring in the comedy/dramas Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira and Abby. Westfeldt is the daughter of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. She was raised in her mother's faith.

Jennifer Westfeldt with Jon Hamm: romantic partners and Friends with Kids co-stars.

Her prior films were about young singles seeking true love. Westfeldt ages her characters a bit with Friends with Kids, a film about the toll that having kids has on the friendships of 30-something couples. Westfeldt adds another "hat" with this film that opens Friday, March 9, 2012: she directed, starred in and wrote it.

The plot: Jason (Adam Scott, 38) and Julie (Westfeldt) are single best friends who want to have kids. However, after seeing the negative effect children seem to have in the lives of other couples, resolve to have a child together, but continue to date other people.

Interfaith actress Maya Rudolph, 39, (Bridesmaids) and Chris O'Dowd, 32, play a couple who are friends with Jason and Julie. Playing another couple who are also friends of Julie and Jason's are Kristen Wiig, 38, and Jon Hamm, 40. Hamm is Westfeldt's real-life romantic partner since 1997 and the star of TV's Mad Men.

Edward Burns, 44, co-stars as a guy who begins dating Julie, and Megan Fox, 25, plays a woman who begins dating Jason.

Shor and Star Return

The ABC series, GCB, premiered on Sunday, March 4. The show follows the lives of five middle-aged Dallas women who were former high school friends. The producer is Darren Star, 50, who is Jewish. GCB is very much in the mode of other shows Star created such as Beverly Hills, 90210 and Sex in the City.

Miriam Shor, 40, plays one of the five women: Cricket Caruth-Reilly, a powerful real estate agent whose husband is, unbeknownst to her, gay. Shor has had starring roles in several short-lived series (Inside Schwartz, Big Day and Swingtown) and maybe GCB will be the hit that has eluded her.

Miriam Shor stars in GCB, which premiered Sunday, March 4, 2012.

Shor, who identifies as Jewish, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. Her parents split up when she was young and she grew up alternately living with her father in the Detroit suburbs and with her mother in Italy. She speaks fluent Yiddish and Italian.

Shor's GCB co-stars include Mark Delkin (as Shor's husband), Leslie Bibb, Marisol Nichols, Jennifer Aspen and Kristen Chenoweth. Annie Potts (Designing Women) will appear often as Bibb's mother.

In a recent interview, Shor mentioned that she has a young daughter as well as a husband.

Unsung Hero of Israeli Cinema and a 100-Year-Old Operetta Star

Now and again, I try to clue you into some interfaith celebrities that aren't likely to appear in People magazine. Here are two of them:

Richard Boone

The Israeli film and TV industry has really come into its own. We are no longer surprised about the high quality of Israeli feature films (which include several Oscar nominees, like the 2012 best foreign film nominee, Footnote).

A few recent American TV series were based on original Israeli TV series (including Homeland) and more such adaptations are on the way.

Richard Boone was best known for his roles in Westerns.

Back in the 1960s and '70s, actor Richard Boone (1917-1981) traveled to Israel at least eight times to help the members of the then-infant Israeli film industry. He also starred in the first film made in Israel that was set in a location other than Israel. It was entitled Madron (1970) and it was set in the American West in the 1800s. Believe it or not, Israeli actors played American Indians.

When he was in the States, Boone was a stalwart of Israel bond campaigns.

In 1979, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin presented an award to nine Americans, in different fields, who made a unique contribution to the rebirth of a Jewish state. Boone's award was for his contribution to Israeli cinema.

Yes, this Richard Boone was the same actor who starred in the huge 1950s and '60s hit Western TV show, Have Gun Will Travel, AKA Paladin. Boone's film, TV and stage credits go way beyond Paladin and he was a highly respected, classically trained actor.

Born into an affluent Southern California family, Boone was the son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. His father was a descendant of a brother of Daniel Boone, the famous pioneer of early America. Like Daniel Boone, Richard Boone had a heroic side: he had an outstanding combat record in the Navy during WWII.

Boone was never religious and never really talked to the press about his "Jewish side." But his deeds showed where his heart was.

It is still something of a "secret" that Boone's mother was Jewish and this fact, and the fact of his yeoman work in building up the Israeli film industry, is not even mentioned in a very lengthy Wikipedia biography. However, years ago, a source I completely trust told me some details of his interfaith parentage and non-religious upbringing.

Have Gun Will Travel, AKA Paladin, had a great theme song.

Moreover, it's now easy to consult census records that confirm what I learned years ago: in 1896, his mother was born Lillie Cecile Beckerman in New York. Her parents were born in Russia and were Yiddish speakers. By 1920, she was in Los Angeles and married to Kirk Boone, a young man who eventually became a prominent corporate lawyer. Not that long before her marriage, Richard Boone's mother dropped her first name in favor of her middle name and was known for most of her life as Cecile Boone.

Both of Richard Boone's parents lived long enough to see their son become an acting success. His father died in 1957 and his mother passed away in 1975.

By the way, if you have never seen Paladin — check out some episodes on YouTube. Paladin (played by Boone) was the "coolest" Western hero of his day. The scripts were uneven, but Boone's cool persona and acting talent made the show really memorable.

The Operetta Singer

Marta Eggerth's career spanned a few decades.

In the interest of brevity, I will simply note that early last month, the Huffington Post posted a terrific article about Marta Eggerth, a Hungarian-born operetta singer who will celebrate her 100th birthday in April. I urge you to read it.

I didn't know about this singer before reading this article. Kudos to the author! He does a terrific job of explaining who she is, all about her fame, and he includes a clip of her singing.

Eggerth was a "biggie" in her heyday, as was her late husband, Polish tenor Jan Kiepura.

The article explains that both Eggerth and Kiepura had Jewish mothers. They had to flee Austria for America in 1938, just before the Nazis marched in. They both had careers of some note in America, but nothing at the level of their European success.

A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino.

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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