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Interfaith Celebrities: W. and Other Cowboy Movies

No Fiscal Crisis for Banks

Oct. 28, 2008--It's a busy month for actress Elizabeth Banks, a Jew by choice whom I profiled in this column. On Oct. 17, the film W., a biopic on the life of President George W. Bush, opened to fairly good reviews and respectable box office. Banks co-starred as Laura Bush, the President's wife.

elizabeth banks
Elizabeth Banks at the premiere of Zack and Miri Make a Porno earlier this month in Los Angeles. It was difficult to select a photo of her, because she looks so glamorous in every one. Photo: Reuters/Phil McCarten.

On Oct. 31, Zack and Miri Make a Porno will open in theaters. It's a romantic comedy about lifelong platonic friends Zack (played by Jewish actor Seth Rogen) and Miri (Banks). They look to solve their respective money problems by making an adult film together. As they make the movie, however, Zack and Miri discover they might want to be more than friends.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is directed by Kevin Smith of Clerks fame. W. is directed by the Oliver Stone, whose late father was a secular American Jew. His mother, who was French, was a Catholic. Oliver Stone was raised secular. However, he seems to be a quite serious Buddhist as an adult.

Idaho Jewish Cowboy

Veteran actor Scott Glenn has a juicy role in W. as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld. He also has a smallish, but critical role in the new Richard Gere/Diana Lane drama, Nights in Rodanthe, as a grieving widower. (Rodanthe opened late last month to mostly bad reviews.)

A recent Los Angeles Times profile lays out some of most memorable roles of Glenn's career:

Over the last three decades, the 67-year-old Glenn has built up a résumé most performers would envy. The memorable gallery of eclectic characters he has created includes the tequila-loving rodeo performer Wes in 1980's Urban Cowboy, stalwart astronaut Alan Shepard in 1983's The Right Stuff, Cmdr. Bart Mancuso in 1990's The Hunt for Red October and FBI agent Jack Crawford in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.

Glenn was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and grew up in a middle-class home. His parents weren't Jewish (I am not sure what faith they were.) His ancestry is Irish and Native American. He overcame a series of serious childhood illnesses with a rigorous physical training regimen. After a year of college, he joined the Marine Corps in the early '60s and served for three years. He then worked for a brief time as a journalist, but taking acting classes convinced him to give an acting career a try and he went to New York City in 1965.

In New York, Glenn worked in the theater and met and married artist Carol Schwartz, who is Jewish. Glenn converted to Judaism upon marrying her in 1967.

I learned about Glenn's conversion around 2000. A friend told me he vaguely recalled reading that Glenn had become Jewish from a profile of the actor in an early 1980s issue of People magazine. I was a bit skeptical, but I checked People back issues and my friend's memory was correct. Then, in 2002, I saw an Idaho newspaper piece about Glenn and his wife hosting a reception at their Idaho home for Elie Wiesel, the famous Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Glenn referred to Wiesel as a hero of his in this article. The article made more sense to me because I knew that Glenn was Jewish.

Well, back to Glenn's rather extraordinary acting career odyssey. In 1970, he went to Hollywood, but only got bit acting parts for eight years. In 1978, Glenn and his wife took a vacation in Idaho and decided to leave Los Angeles for good and settle there with their daughters, Rio and Dakota.

As Glenn puts it:

My plan was to get a job as a bartender and apprentice myself out as a cross-country ski guide for hunting and fishing and do Shakespeare in the park in Boise during the summer until the kids were older. Then we would go back to New York.

Glenn did work all these jobs for two years, but then a lucky thing happened. An old friend, director Jim Bridges, cast him in Urban Cowboy (1980). Glenn got great reviews for his performance and he has worked in film and TV pretty steadily since. But he and Carol fell in love with Idaho and still live there. Glenn flies, as he put it, "wherever" to do his film and TV work.

While he hasn't achieved stardom, Glenn's peers know how good he can be. Oliver Stone just told the Los Angeles Times:

[I] singled out Glenn for the role because [I] needed an actor with an unwavering presence. Don Rumsfeld is a strong man, a stubborn man. Scott has the same kind of--what can I call it?--flinty authenticity of the Midwest that Don Rumsfeld carries. I love his performance. It is idiosyncratic. It's Scott at his best.

One of my favorite Glenn movies is the 1985 Western, Silverado. It is a really good movie that is shown just about every month on AMC and can easily be rented. Most of Silverado's principal actors and its director/screenwriter represent an amazingly wide spectrum of Jewish backgrounds.

Scott Glenn and his wife Carol Schwartz at a premiere of the movie Freedom Writers. Photo: Reuters/Phil McCarten.

Glenn, who co-stars as a good guy cowboy, is, as I said, a convert to Judaism. His character is sweet on a young woman crossing the plains in a wagon train. The young woman is played by Rosanna Arquette, whose late mother was Jewish. Arquette, like her actor siblings, Patricia and David, was raised with some Jewish religious background. Their father, a Christian by birth, converted to Islam when the Arquette siblings were small children. So they were exposed to Islam, too.

Kevin Kline plays a gambler/gunman who eventually turns out to be a good guy and becomes an ally of Glenn's. Kline, who was raised in a St. Louis suburb, is the son of a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother. He was raised Catholic but describes himself on the fence between Judaism and Catholicism as an adult.

Jeff Goldblum, who is Jewish, plays another gambler whom we find out is really an evil wretch. Goldblum, who was raised religiously Jewish, but hasn't practiced as an adult, seems to be re-connecting with his Jewish background as of late. His first "Jewish" movie is Adam Resurrected, a film about a Holocaust survivor that was made on location in Israel and will open later this year.

Finally, if you check the film's credits you'll find out that Jon and Jake Kasdan, both now directors of major films, appeared as child actors in small parts in Silverado. Their father, Silverado director/screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, got the financing to make a Western because he was just coming off two of the biggest hits of his career, Body Heat and The Big Chill. The elder Kasdan is Jewish, as is his wife, Meg Kasdan, the mother of Jon and Jake.

Both Lawrence and Meg Kasdan are active in the Society for Humanistic Judaism, which describes itself as "a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life." As I said, quite a rich vein of Jewish backgrounds in Silverado.

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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