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Interfaith Celebrities: Tony Award Nominees 2010

June 8, 2010 

Tony Time

The Tony Awards for excellence in the Broadway theater are being presented on CBS on Sunday, June 13 (Live 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. The Tonys are shown on tape delay on the West Coast; starting at 8 p.m.).

As previously detailed in this column, actor Liev Schreiber, 42, is nominated for best leading actor in a play (a revival of "A View from the Bridge," written by Jewish

Scarlett Johansson in View From a Bridge
Scarlett Johansson takes a curtain call at a performance of "A View From the Bridge." Photo: Reuters/Jessica Renaldi.

playwright Arthur Miller). Schreiber's co-stars in "Bridge," Scarlett Johansson, 25, and Jessica Hecht, 44, vie for the Tony for best featured actress in a play.

Hecht is the child of two Jewish parents. Johansson and Schreiber, who identify as Jewish, have Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. hers and non-Jewish fathers).

Jewish actress Linda Lavin, 72, is nominated for best leading actress in a play (a revival of "Collected Stories," written by Jewish playwright Donald Margulies). Many of you will remember Lavin as the actress who played the title role in the long-running TV series, Alice, about a diner waitress.

In "Collected Stories," Lavin plays Ruth Steiner, a feisty Jewish writer. Steiner gradually forms almost a mother-daughter bond with her young assistant, an aspiring writer played by Sarah Paulson.

The relationship ends on a sour note when the assistant "appropriates" Steiner's long-ago romance with Jewish poet Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966) and uses that romance as the basis of her own novel. (Schwartz was a real-life famous poet. Ruth Steiner, however, is entirely fictional.)

Margulies' new play, "Time Stands Still," about the Iraq war, is Tony-nominated for best original play.

Nominated for best original score is the musical "Memphis." It centers on the romance between a white DJ and a black singer in 1950s Memphis, when the city was racially segregated.

David Bryan, 48, born David Bryan Rashbaum, wrote the music for "Memphis" and shares the Tony nomination for best score with the show's lyricist. Bryan is most famous as a founding member of the rock band Bon Jovi and he has been their keyboardist since the band began in the 1980s.

Bryan, who is Jewish, still belongs to the Edison, New Jersey Reform Jewish temple that he grew up attending with his parents. He often blows the temple's shofar (ram's horn) on the Jewish High Holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

In 1990, Bryan married his high school sweetheart, April McLean (not to be confused with a pop singer of the same name).

I suspect that McLean isn't Jewish—but she is a very private person so I was not able to confirm this. David and April's three children (twin boys and a girl) had their bar/bat mitzvahs at the Edison synagogue. Sadly, the couple broke up in 2004.

Marian Seldes, who is still working at 81, will receive a lifetime achievement Tony. An aristocratic looking woman, Seldes is the daughter of a Jewish father and a WASP mother. Her father, Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970) was a quite famous cultural critic in his day. He also adapted classics for the Broadway stage and was the first director of CBS TV news. Her mother, Alice "Amanda" Wadhams Hall, came from a prominent "blue-blood" WASP family and was raised an Episcopalian.

Mostly a top stage actress, Seldes has appeared in a relative handful of films. However, she has done more film work during the last decade. In 2003, she played the somewhat snooty college president in Mona Lisa Smile, a film which co-starred interfaith actress Maggie Gyllenhaal as one of the few Jewish students at Wellesley College in the 1950s. Seldes also played a kindly Julliard music professor in August Rush (2007), a film about a musical child prodigy.

Jonathan Bornstein
Defender Jonathan Bornstein of the US World Cup team. Photo: Reuters/Ho New.

Seldes' first husband was writer and TV producer Julian Claman, who was Jewish. He was the father of her only child, Katherine. Claman died of a sudden heart attack in 1961 after eight years of marriage. In 1990, Seldes married famous novelist and screenwriter Garson Kanin (1912-1999), who was Jewish. She is his widow.

Kanin's first wife was actress/writer Ruth Gordon (1896-1985), who wasn't Jewish. Most people now know Ruth Gordon from her co-starring role in the cult film classic, Harold and Maude (1971). But she had altogether amazing career as a stage actress and writer. She and Kanin, together, wrote two of the best Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies, Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike. Both films were Oscar-nominated for best screenplay.

The World Cup

The month-long Soccer World Cup tournament begins in South Africa this Friday. The United States National Team, ranked 14th in the world, is one of 32 countries that played well enough in preliminary rounds to make it to the Cup. The United States is in a group of four countries that play their first three games against each other. The two teams in the group that have the most points after the three games advance to the next round (a team gets three points for a win; one point for a tie). The U.S. plays #9 ranked England in its first match on June 12 (ABC, 2 p.m.). It plays Slovenia on June 18 (ESPN, 9:30 a.m.), and Algeria on June 23 (ESPN, 9:30 a.m.)

The American squad includes Jonathan Bornstein, 25, a defender, and Benny Feilhaber, 25, a mid-fielder.

Feilhaber has a truly international background: born in Brazil of Austrian Jewish parents, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 6. He played college ball for UCLA and was named to the United States National Soccer team in 2007. He now plays for a Danish professional team when not playing for the US National Team.

Bornstein's father is an American Jew, while his mother is of Mexican Catholic background. He was raised secular. He was, however, exposed to his parents' respective national and ethnic cultures. In 2005, Bornstein traveled to Israel to play for the American soccer team at the Maccabiah Games. The Games, held every four years, bring together Jewish athletes from around the world to compete in Israel.

Bornstein plays professional soccer for Chivas USA, a Los Angeles based team that is a member of the Major League Soccer pro league.

Might be a Guilty Pleasure

"Real Housewife of New York" Bethenny Frankel, 39, has pulled off a reality show "triple crown," which might have pleased her late father, Robert Frankel, a famous trainer of race horses.

On March 28, she wed her boyfriend of a year, businessman Jason Hoppy (not Jewish) On May 8, she gave birth to their daughter and on June 10, her new spin-off show, Bethenny Getting Married? premieres on Bravo at 10PM. The first show features footage of her nuptials, which one source described as a "traditional Jewish wedding." Subsequent episodes will be about her family life with her husband and child.

Bethenny's mother, who was not born Jewish, converted to Judaism sometime after her marriage to Robert Frankel, who was born Jewish.

A Moving Commentary by an Interfaith Soldier

In my last column, which was posted the week before Memorial Day, I profiled three American service people who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Two were of interfaith background.

Just this past week, I came across a May 11, 2010 column, on the NY Times web site, by Army Captain Henry Brewster, "Personal Identity in a War Zone.". Brewster wrote his column as part of a New York Times website series called "At War: Notes from the Front Lines."

Brewster, the son of an Episcopalian father and a Jewish mother, describes how he was raised in his mother's faith. He goes on to detail his reaction to the anti-Semitism he encountered among the Iraqis-- and how he had to fight back the impulse to react to bigotry with bigotry. His column makes moving and worthwhile reading.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. 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." Plural form of the Hebrew word "mitzvah" which means "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") Simple musical instrument made from a ram's horn that is blown in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as each morning after daily services during the Hebrew month of Elul (the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.

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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