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Interfaith Celebrities: Rock and Roll, Beauty, and More

May 7, 2013

Some of this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Class of 2013

The 2013 induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was held on April 18 and, on Saturday, May 18, at 9 p.m., HBO will broadcast ceremony highlights. There will be many encore showings and it will be available on HBO's on-demand service. Some ceremony excerpts can be viewed, for free, on the HBO website.

The performer inductees this year are: the late Donna Summer, the members of the all-female rock group HeartRush, the members of the rap group Public Enemy, the late African American bluesman Albert King, and singer-songwriter Randy Newman.

Producers Lou Adler and Quincy Jones were inducted as non-performers. They were named winners of this year's Ahmet Ertegun Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The Jewish inductees this year are Newman, 69, Adler, 69, and Geddy Lee, 59, Rush's lead vocalist and bassist.

Back in 2011, when Newman was nominated for the 20th time for an Oscar® for best song or best score (he's won twice), I wrote this:

Newman's uncles were famous film music composers Alfred, Lionel, and Emil Newman. His father, a physician, was the only one of the Newman brothers who didn't go into music. He was also the only one of the brothers to marry a Jewish woman. It is my understanding that Randy's first cousins, David and Thomas Newman, also famous film composers, were raised in their mother's Christian faith. Randy, himself, is secular. His brother, a physician, is a practicing Jew.

From the mid-1960s until 1981, when he mostly went into film composing work, Newman was known for writing, singing, and recording his own solo albums which tended to feature two types of songs: poignant comments on the human condition, and songs with a pronounced socio-political bent that were sometimes satirical.

In the former category, I'd include "I Think Its Going to Rain Today," which has been covered by a who's who of famous singers. Perhaps best known is Bette Midler's version, which is very good. Probably because it is new to me, I now really like Barbra Streisand's version, which was released in 2012 as part of a CD ("Release Me") made up of less than perfect outtakes from Streisand's past albums. This version was recorded in one take back in 1965 and Newman, himself, plays piano behind Streisand.

His socio-political songs include his only hit, "Short People," a satire on the stupidity of prejudice. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, a song Newman wrote in 1974, about a 1927 flood, "Louisiana 1927," almost became the theme song for Katrina benefits. The song was on a Newman album, "Good Old Boys," which explored the history and culture of the South. Newman's mother was a Louisiana native and the region holds a special interest for him.

Here's a really good version of "Louisiana 1927" that New Orleans native Aaron Neville (with singer India.Arie) performed at the NAACP Image Awards in 2006. It begins at about the two-minute mark. It's introduced by Julian Bond, who references another great song written by a Jewish songwriter, "The City of New Orleans," by the late Steve Goodman.

Newman has been married twice and has five children. My educated guess is that neither of his wives are Jewish. In 1995, People magazine did an in-depth article about his family life.

Adler's full biography is on the Hall site and it is a long one, befitting someone who has been an important figure in the music business since the early 1960s. Here are a few highlights: His record company discovered The Mamas and the Papas. He was a mentor to Jewish singer-songwriter Carole King, 71, who sang a song in his honor at the ceremony. He produced the great 1967 Monterey Pop festival, which showcased the incredibly talented new faces in rock music, like Jimi Hendrix, and all proceeds went to charity. On top of all this, Adler had the great sense (and great luck) to buy up the rights to the stage version of The Rocky Horror Show and turn it into a movie (1975's The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that never stops playing in some theaters.

Adler, who I believe is secular, has fathered six sons and has been married three times. His first wife was actress/singer Shelley Fabares, now 69, who co-starred on the 1960s sitcom, The Donna Reed Show and the 1990s sitcom, Coach, She isn't Jewish.

His second wife was actress Britt Ekland, now 70, a (non-Jewish) native of Sweden. In 1992, he wed Page Hannah, now 49, and he has three sons with her. They are still married. Hannah, a former actress, is the sister of actress Darryl Hannah, 52.

As I noted in a prior profile of Darryl, Page and Darryl grew up in a blended household that included her Jewish stepfather's (Jewish) daughters from a previous marriage. Darryl was very close to her (practicing) Jewish stepfather and, I'm informed, thinks of herself as Jewish, although I doubt she has formally converted. I simply don't know what religion, if any, is practiced in the Adler home. However, I suspect Page knows as much as Lou about how to celebrate a Passover seder.

Rush, a three-man Canadian band, is something of an icon for devotees of progressive rock and there's been much grumbling about the band's wait to get into the Hall. Lee was born Gary Lee Weinrib, the son of two concentration camp survivors. Back in 2004, JWeekly, the San Francisco area Jewish paper, published a profile of Lee which detailed his parents' story and how, in 1995, he accompanied his mother on her trip to Germany to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen camp. It's a really good piece.

Lee, as the piece says, defines himself as a cultural Jew and his Jewish ties seem limited to "things" like referencing his parents' experience in a couple of Rush songs.

Quincy Jones, another Hall inductee, has been frequently mentioned in this column because he is the father of actress Rashida Jones, 37, who was raised in her mother's Jewish faith.

Interfaith singer John Mayer, 35, was the celebrity guest "inductor" for Albert King and played at the ceremony.

From Jones to Rush to Segel to Collins

In keeping with my belief that everybody in entertainment has far less than six degrees of separation, here are some jumps from the previous column item: Rashida Jones co-starred in the hit film I Love You Man as the fiancée of a guy (Paul Rudd) who is totally into Rush. He finds his "bro-mance" with another Rush fanatic, played by interfaith actor Jason Segel, 33. Together they go into Segel's "man cave" and play Rush songs.

Courtesy of Harvard-Westlake School, via Sports Illustrated.

In my longest column profile of Segel, I mentioned that he was on a championship Los Angeles area high school basketball team. Well, last week, Sports Illustrated dug out the fact that Segel played on that team with Jason Collins, 34 (and his twin brother, Jarron). Jason Collins became famous in the last two weeks as the first male player in a major professional team sport (basketball) to come out as gay.

Ah, the Politics of Beauty

In the past, I've received some negative comments about column items noting the Jewish and interfaith actresses and models who appeared in the respective annual Maxim and People magazine issues featuring the "world's most beautiful women."

I suspect that People, whose readership is heavily female, received similar blowback about the sexist aspect of such lists.

So, this year, People has virtually eliminated the cheesy elements (a lot of women in skimpy outfits) and has crafted a "beautiful" issue (April 14) that has much more in common with a feature in Women's Health Magazine than with a bevy of beauties spread in a men's magazine, like Maxim.

The People issue is now mostly about looking as good as you can, and being healthy, at any age. It even includes a page of regular (non-famous) women who exemplify these ideals.

People's selection of interfaith actress Gwyneth Paltrow, 40, who takes incredible care of herself, as the "most beautiful woman in the world," fits right into this editorial change.

By entertainment industry standards, and by the standards of men's magazines, Paltrow is relatively old and People probably would not picked her as their "most beautiful woman" a decade ago.

However, by selecting her, People is putting aside outdated standards of beauty and singling her out as a role model for men and women of all ages.

Sure, Paltrow was blessed with good looks, but not that many people so blessed, in entertainment or not, have maintained their physical appearance so well. On top of all this, Paltrow has sought to help us all maintain that "healthy glowing look" through diet and exercise advice on her website and by writing two healthy cooking books.

The same People issue includes an article entitled "Real Beauty at Every Age." Again, there are no revealing photos: just headshots of famous women, including those in their 60s.

Appearing in that article are Hailee Steinfeld, 16, Mila Kunis, 29, and Chelsea Handler, 38.

All these women have previously been profiled in this column. Steinfeld and Handler are the daughters of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Handler was raised Jewish and identifies as Jewish. I don't know how Steinfeld, who burst on the scene with her Oscar®-nominated performance in True Grit (2010), identifies in a religious sense.

Kunis, as I've noted before is the child of two Jewish parents. For about a year now, she has been romantically involved with non-Jewish actor Ashton Kutcher.

Two more interfaith actresses appear in this People issue, and the context in which they appear fits into the changes in the issue described above.

Emmy Rossum, 26 (Shameless), and Rashida Jones appear in period costume appropriate to early 19th century England. They are wearing these costumes as part of a mostly pictorial article celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of the famous proto-feminist novel Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. It's not an article about pretty women in dresses. It's an article that features pretty women dressed like the strong women characters in Austen's novel.

Rossum, as I have noted before, is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father.

Items Riffing on Paltrow

Paltrow was raised in the Jewish faith of her late father, director Bruce Paltrow. Her mother, non-Jewish actress Blythe Danner, 70, will appear, with interfaith actress Sarah Jessica Parker, 48, in a play to open on Broadway next November. They will play a mother and a daughter. (Parker is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.)

The play, which is entitled The Commons of Pensacola, was written by interfaith actress Amanda Peet, 41. It is Peet's first play.

Peet, who has been featured in this column before, is the daughter of a Quaker father and a Jewish mother. She married her Jewish husband, David Benioff, 42, in a Jewish ceremony held at the Quaker school she attended for her primary and secondary education. I am sure that many of you know that Peet has appeared in several episodes of The Good Wife this season as a former military lawyer who has joined the Chicago District Attorney's office (actually called the States' Attorney in Illinois).

I think it's reasonable to assume that Peet asked Benioff for writing tips. He is an acclaimed novelist and screenwriter. He's riding a career high now as the creator and head writer of the hit HBO show, Game of Thrones.

Last Friday, May 3, Iron Man 3, co-starring Paltrow, opened in theaters in the United States. It is expected to be another blockbuster. Interfaith actor Robert Downey, Jr. returns as Tony Stark/Iron Man. As the film opens, he is in quite a funk and this causes friction with his girlfriend and business associate Pepper Potts (Paltrow). But he snaps out of it when his bodyguard and friend, Happy Hogan (interfaith actor Jon Favreau, 46), joins many others as a victim of a series of terrorist bombing attacks. These attacks are engineered by the evil Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley).

Favreau, who directed the first two Iron Man films, did not direct this one, which is in 3-D.

Iron Man was, of course, originally a Marvel Comic, co-created by Stan Lee, who is Jewish. The Mandarin character was created by Lee, now 90, for a 1964 comic book.

The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.

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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