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Interfaith Celebrities: The Brat Pack

Summer 2008

Leaders of the Pack

Over the years, many people have asked me about the group of young actors who became famous in the mid-'80s as the "Brat Pack." The Brat Pack actors burst into the consciousness of late baby boomers and Gen X'ers with a series of films about teen and young adult angst just at the time the audiences for these films was going through their own young adult angst. A lot of people now in their 40s have matched their own aging and the progress of their own careers against these actors--somewhat like watching the progress of your high school classmates via periodic class reunions.

A lot of Jews who are around the same age as the Brat Pack actors are curious whether they have one more thing in common with some of the Brat Pack actors--whether the actors are Jewish, too.

Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe: still not Jewish, still handsome. Reuters/Phil Kline.
Many of the Jewish women who asked me about the Brat Pack were hoping that Rob Lowe, now 44, was Jewish. Lowe was the most physically beautiful of all the Brat Pack actors--male or female. (Demi Moore came close--but she has reportedly had cosmetic surgery.) Lowe is often a Jewish name and if he were Jewish--well, I guess he would have been the hottest male Jewish movie star since Tony Curtis.

It was my sad duty to tell my readers that Lowe isn't Jewish. He was born and raised an Episcopalian in Ohio. However, because of the reader interest in Lowe, I always kept an eye on Lowe's career and I've come to admire his ability to maintain a fairly successful acting career over two decades, in spite of a major sex scandal in 1988.

Lowe's career was jump-started when he co-starred in three of the early successful Brat Pack films--The Outsiders (1983), St. Elmo's Fire (1985), and About Last Night (1986). Then, in 1988, two sex tape videos surfaced--one of Lowe having sex with two young women in Atlanta (one of whom was underage, but she lied to Lowe about her age)--and another of Lowe having a threesome with two women in Paris. At that time sex tapes were scandalous, and Lowe's acting career went into a tailspin. He sought treatment for sex and alcohol addiction.

But Lowe didn't fade into oblivion. He worked in fairly modest projects throughout the '80s and early '90s. In 1999, he got a big break and snared a co-starring role in the hit TV show "The West Wing." He earned an Emmy in this role and regained the status of a fairly important actor. In 2007, luck smiled on Lowe again when he was cast as a guest star on the hit ABC series "Brothers and Sisters." His guest appearances sent the show's ratings soaring and he was made a series regular.

Now comes news that Lowe's black cloud has returned--Lowe and his wife, former make-up artist Sheryl Berkoff, have just gone to court in what many media outlets are calling a "pre-emptive" strike. They have sued two women whom they formerly employed as nannies in their household. They have also sued a chef who used to work for Lowe and his wife. All three former employees have been accused of breaking confidentiality agreements they signed. All are accused of saying malicious and false things about Lowe and Berkoff.

Most seriously, one former nanny is accused of falsely claiming that Lowe sexually harassed her and falsely claiming she had a sexual relationship with Lowe. Lowe alleges that this nanny, in effect, was trying to blackmail him into paying hush money or she would make her allegations public.

Last week, in an interview about his lawsuits, Lowe told the press: "My two boys are Jewish, by way of my wife. The other day I asked their rabbi for advice. She [the rabbi] said: 'People see threats for what they are, just as they see truth for what it is.' I hope that's true. I don't want to live in a world of glass."

Berkoff, now 47, and Lowe met in 1983 when Berkoff was then dating Lowe's friend and fellow Brat Pack actor Emilio Estevez (the son of actor Martin Sheen and the brother of actor Charlie Sheen). They married in 1991 and have two sons, 13 and 14.

Estevez, who was in the seminal Brat Pack film, The Breakfast Club (1985), was married to dancer/singer/"American Idol" judge Paula Abdul from 1992 to 1994. Abdul is Jewish and Estevez was raised a Catholic. (Abdul was later married to a Jewish clothing company executive. That marriage also lasted only a couple of years.)

Also in The Breakfast Club were the "core" Brat-Packers Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald. Nelson, now 48, is the only Brat Pack actor who was raised Jewish. He grew up in a religious Jewish home in Portland, Maine. Though he trained in the prestigious Stella Adler studio, his career has not been stellar.

Sheedy, now 45, is the daughter of an Irish Catholic father and a Jewish mother. My sources tell me she was raised Catholic, but as an adult has identified as a Buddhist. One major highlight in Sheedy's otherwise lackluster film career is the movie High Art (1998) in which Sheedy played a famous photographer who is the American-born daughter of cultured German Jewish refugees. Sheedy got great notices for that flick.

Hall has no Jewish ties I am aware of. Nor does Ringwald, although many people have asked me about her over the years. Ringwald played a religious Jewish woman in an off-Broadway play a couple of years ago and she told the press that many, many people have asked her if she was Jewish since she began acting.

Moore, another core "Brat Packer," has long been a devout follower of the Kabbalah Centre--as is her husband, Ashton Kutcher, and many other celebrities who are not Jewish.

Really Jewish (now) is Mare Winningham, 48, who is often not counted as a Brat Packer, although she had a starring role in St. Elmo's Fire, another seminal Brat Pack film that also featured Lowe and Moore. Winningham converted to Judaism in 2003 and is a devout practicing Jew.

Our Royal Family

Caroline Kennedy, the only surviving member of President Kennedy's immediate family, has lived a life of public service and has avoided any hint of the scandals that have plagued so many other members of the extended Kennedy clan. She's mostly shunned the limelight and while certainly not a recluse, has rarely appeared at overtly political functions.

However, earlier this year, Caroline very publicly joined her uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Because Caroline had not used her celebrity power in a political campaign before, her endorsement of Obama seems to have carried more weight than most celebrity political endorsements.

I recently came across the biography American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy. It was published last year and will soon be out in paperbook. The author is C. David Heymann, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

Heymann has a track record of credibility and his book is carefully researched biography that contrasts with so many shoddy Kennedy biographies that have relied on material from dubious sources.

I was most curious about what Heymann had to say about Edwin Schlossberg, Caroline Kennedy's Jewish husband. I knew little about him beyond the fact that he is Jewish, that he has been married to Caroline since 1986, and that his three children with Caroline were raised in their mother's Catholic faith.

Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and husband Edwin
Edwin Schlossberg stands behind Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg at a recent Kennedy Library function. Reuters/Lisa Hornak

I have received an incredible number of inquiries over the years about Schlossberg. I am not star-struck by the Kennedys--but I do recognize a good source when I see it and it seems to me that Heymann's book is just about the best source we will ever have on Schlossberg's background and his marriage to Caroline Kennedy.

Even though Schlossberg, 62, is kind of an odd duck who rubs a lot of people the wrong way, he and Caroline, 50, have had a very successful marriage. Periodic reports of their break-up are nothing more than fabricated gossip pieces. For example, if Kennedy and Schlossberg sell one of their several residences, some gossip columnist will inevitably invent a story of an impending break-up.

Because Schlossberg married into the very Catholic Kennedy family, I had assumed that he had little Jewish religious background, but I was wrong. Heymann writes that Schlossberg was raised in a "devout Orthodox Jewish family" that belonged to a modern Orthodox synagoue in Manhattan. He attended Hebrew School and had a bar mitzvah ceremony.

Schlossberg's great-grandparents were all Eastern European Jewish immigrants. The Schlosberg family became affluent in his father's generation. Schlossberg's father, Alfred, founded a sucessful textile firm and became wealthy--although his wealth was nowhere near that of the Kennedy family. Alfred served as president of his synagogue, supported Jewish causes, and was rich enough to send Edwin to fancy private schools. Edwin got his undergraduate degree from Columbia in 1967 and got a doctorate in science and literature from Columbia in 1971.

Heymann seems genuinely conflicted about whether Schlossberg has any real talent. Probably supported by his parents, Schlossberg floundered for years as an avant garde artist/writer who moved in artsy New York City circles but got little respect. In the late '70s, he founded a design firm. Heymann says that Schlossberg's interactive, educational museum piece--his most important design works--were interesting, but they weren't setting the world on fire. Schlossberg probably would have remained a modestly successful designer had he not met Caroline Kennedy in the mid-'80s.

After their marriage commissions poured in to Schlossberg's firm. Heymann finally concludes that Schlossberg has some real talent, because nobody gets so many design jobs based on being married to a Kennedy alone. Nevertheless, no one is calling Edwin Schlossberg a first rank artist or a great designer.

Heymann calls Schlossberg Caroline's little rebellion: "He was so different from the Kennedy cousins. He was artsy, intellectual and Jewish."

Jackie Kennedy, whom Caroline most listened to, had no objection to Caroline marrying a Jewish man. That's not surprising since Jackie was romantically involved with Jewish business Maurice Templesman from the early '80s until her death in 1994. Jackie's sister, Lee Radziwill, married Jewish film director Herbert Ross in 1988. Ross and Radizwill divorced just before Ross' death in 2001.

Heymann says that the very aged Rose Kennedy told a friend, after Caroline got engaged, that she [Rose] wondered what the Kennedy women "saw in Jewish men that they were unable to find in men of their own faith."

Schlossberg signed a pre-marital financial agreement and he agreed to raise any children in Caroline's faith. The wedding was held in a Catholic church and the only concession to the bridegroom's faith, as Heymann puts it, was that a formal nupital mass was omitted.

In 1988, the couple's first child, Rose Kennedy Schlossberg, was born, and she was baptized at a Manhattan church. Heymann found a business associate of Alfred Schlossberg who said that Alfred turned to the associate at the time of the baptism and said, "Can you imagine a grandchild of mine being baptized, I can't." Caroline and Edwin Schlossberg have three children: Rose, Tatina Schlossberg, who was born in 1990 and John Bouvier Kennedy Schlossberg, who was born in 1993.

The harshest comment about Edwin Schlossberg and religion came from film producer Susan Pollock. She is a relative of Edwin's and has dined now and again with Edwin and Caroline. Pollack told Heymann that she believed Ed actually converted to Catholicism to marry Caroline and "I know he [Ed] takes Holy Communion which means he would have to convert? On a personal level, I have never particularly liked Ed. He's haughty and dull. He's very intelligent, but what does he do with it? His disavowal of Judaism must have hurt his parents."

One gets the sense that nobody likes Edwin Schlossberg that much except for Caroline Kennedy, although many people don't share the view of him as haughty--others describe him as polite and kind. Heymann also describes Schlossberg as a supportive and faithful husband and an attentive father.

John F. Kennedy, Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999, was very close to his sister. According to Heymann, John didn't like Schlossberg-- but he avoided any overt friction for the sake of his sister.

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." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." 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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