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No. 115 / 2017

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Boxer Shorts


Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson with daughters Roberta (left) and Katherine
Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson with daughters Roberta (left) and Katherine

Paramount Superstar
Ponders Price For Wife

, who died in New York on June 24 at age 98, was expected to follow his brother and two sisters who became school teachers. After he earned a master’s degree in education from the City College of New York, he shocked his Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Abraham and Bertha, when he announced he’s going to become an actor instead.

Growing up in the Italian Red Hook section of Brooklyn, Eli Wallach used to cast a prying eye on the shady characters who would hang out at his father’s confectionary, Bertha’s Candy Store.

When he made a name for himself as a tough-guy character on the screen—a Mexican bandit in The Magnificent Seven, a Mafia don in The Godfather: Part III— he based those unsavory roles on the crude customers at his father’s store. He observed the ganbgbanger culture and skillfully managed numerous vile screen roles in the years ahead.

As a founding member of Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, he learned Method acting—in which you immerse body and soul into the essence of the person you’re portraying—and became one of Hollywood’s outstanding character actors. He was the go-to guy if you were casting villainy.

His first TV role came in 1949 in an episode of The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. In 1945 he triumphed on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo, for which he earned a 1951 Tony Award as best supporting actor. In 1953 he was back on Broadway in another Tennessee Williams play, Camino Real. For his 1956 screen debut he portrayed a terrifying seducer in Baby Doll, also written by Tennessee Williams.

Eli did numerous performances with Anne Jackson, from an Irish family in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They met in 1946 while performing in a Tennessee Williams play,  This Property Is Condemned.

Two years later, while working in a Broadway revue, Make Mine Manhattan, they decided to get married. Eli said, "That day we came to Sardi’s. Everybody kept sending us manhattans." Anne said, "I was the drunkest bride." They had three children.

Acting became a family trade in 1978 as daughters Roberta and Katherine joined their parents in The Diary of Anne Frank in Toronto. Roberta portrayed Anne; Katherine played Anne’s older sister. In an interview Roberta told me that "this was the first time in the history of the play that an actual family played the Frank family." (Except for her brother Peter, who was making animated commercials.)

Asked if he encouraged his kids to go into the business, Eli would say, "Would you push your child off a bridge? You have to be crazy! You have to love this more than anything. It is not fair; it is frustrating."

On Eli’s first visit to Israel, with Anne ("a lapsed Catholic") and his agent Peter Witte, a street vendor in Bethlehem tried to sell him pictures of the holy sites. "No thanks," Eli said. "I have my own Nikon and I’ll take my own pictures."

The vendor looked at Anne and said, "I’ll give you 10 sheep and 10 camels for her."

As Eli reflected on a proper response, his agent exclaimed, "Take it! Take it! I get 10 percent."

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Danny Kaye came from his Broadway show Two By Two to congratulate Lauren Bacall on the first anniversary of her Broadway musical Applause at a party in 1971, at the Americana Hotel in New York. Photo by Tim Boxer
Danny Kaye came from his Broadway show Two By Two to congratulate Lauren Bacall on the first
anniversary of her Broadway musical Applause at a party in 1971, at the Americana Hotel in New York

Makes Hollywood Debut
Amidst Anti-Jewish Slurs

, a leading lady of Hollywood’s golden age died on August 12 at 89 in her home in New York. Although she lived in a decidedly gentile atmosphere she never forgot where she came from.

Actually she came from the Bronx where she was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924. Her mother was Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, a Romanian Jewish immigrant; her father was William Perske, born in New Jersey to Polish Jewish parents. Betty is a first cousin of Shimon Peres (nee Szymon Perski).

Film director Howard Hawks discovered the sultry blond siren as a 17-year-old cover girl on Harper’s Bazaar in 1943. He brought her to Hollywood and changed her name to Lauren. In the following year she made her screen debut in Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, opposite Humphrey Bogart. She was hot. They named her The Look, for her tendency to pose seductively — chin down and eyes up.

Bacall could seduce with just a look, and that’s just what happened—the two stars sizzled on and off screen and married in 1945. She called him Bogie; he called her Baby. They were paired in four films and spawned two children, son Stephen Humphrey Bogart and daughter Leslie Howard Bogart.

Bogart had the children christened in his Episcopalian church. He wanted to spare them the indignity of growing up in a world not particularly friendly to Jews. Bacall told a reporter in 1994 that Hawks used to make anti-Semitic remarks "and I didn’t know what to do. I was so young and scared and I guess I didn’t have enough character."

As she matured, she became her own person. She was independent, determined to make a success of her life, and proud of her heritage. In an appearance on the Phil Donohue television talk show in 1980, she was asked her religious preference. "I have lots of faith and conviction," she answered. "I’m Jewish…I don’t practice the religion…I believe in it, though. I mean I believe in Israel…Now, at last, I’m very glad that I’m Jewish. I wasn’t always, but I am now."

The 12-year mixed marriage with Bogie came to an anguished end in 1957 when he succumbed to throat cancer. She was devastated, but not for long. Along came Frank Sinatra, captivated by Lauren’s husky voice and sensual looks. But Ol’ Blue Eyes broke off their brief engagement in a huff when the press got wind of it. Lauren fled into the arms of Jason Robards Jr. in 1961, gave birth to a son, actor Sam Robards, and divorced in 1969 after eight years of marriage.

Bacall concludes her 2006 memoir, By Myself and Then Some, with these heart-felt words: "Going back through my life until now, the Jewish family feeling stands strong and proud, and at last I can say I am glad I sprang from that. I would not trade those roots – that identity."

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Polly Bergen

Announced She’s The Only
Jewish Baptist In The Country

HE actress and singer, born Nellie Paulina Burgin in 1930 in Knoxville, Tenn., died at age 84 on Sept. 20, 2014. She appeared in many films, memorably in the thriller Cape Fear (1962) opposite Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. She earned her only Emmy award in 1957 for her portrayal of singer Helen Morgan in Playhouse 90. She received an Emmy nomination twice for her role as Rhoda Henry, the wife of Capt. "Pug" Henry (played by Mitchum) in the ABC miniseries The Winds of War (1983), and its sequel War and Remembrance (1988).

At an L.A. press conference in 1988 she told critics how her role as Rhoda felt so unnatural.

"Rhoda serves something in every scene. She is the typical woman of her time, always serving something to somebody, her husband, her children, her lover."

That’s not me, she insisted.

"No, I am not a servant. I cook only two meals a year, Thanksgiving dinner and at Christmas time—for 30 to 40 people. Two meals I absolutely cook myself."

Polly married and divorced three times. First there was Jerome Courtland, 1950-55. Then came talent agent Freddie Fields, 1956-73. Last was Jeffrey Endervelt, 1982-90.

During her devotion to Fields she converted to Judaism. Rabbi Hershel Lavin officiated at Temple Beth Shalom in Flushing, Queens, N.Y., after which she exclaimed, "I’m the only Jewish Southern Baptist in the country." Her grandfather was a Baptist minister in Knoxville.

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Photo by Sharon Stern
Nina and I were thrilled to meet the acclaimed actor/comedian at a Weizmann Institute of Science dinner in 1996 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. You can tell how eager he was to see my new book, Jewish Celebrity Anecdotes. (We all were.)

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JOAN RIVERS Born1933 in Brooklyn as Joan Molinsky; died Sept. 4, 2014, at age 81, the funniest female comedian of our time. I snapped her quite a few times, this one at the Friars testimonial for Larry King in 2011 in New York. I remember many of her lines over the years, such as "I’m Jewish. If God had wanted us to exercise he would have put diamonds on the floor for us to pick up," and "I gave my husband a heart attack. We were making love and I took the paper bag off my face."

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Vanessa WilliamsON VACATION EL AL Israel Airlines was excited to welcome Vanessa Williams on a recent flight to Israel with her daughter, Sasha. Williams has been recognized for her roles in Soul FoodDance with Me, and Johnson Family Vacation. From 2006 to 2010, she played a former supermodel in the ABC comedy series Ugly Betty, for which she received three Emmy award nominations. In 2009 she released her eighth studio album, The Real Thing, and from 2010 to 2012 she starred in Desperate Housewives.

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NOW HE’S A MAN Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta Jones and11-year-old daughter Carys Zeta came to Jerusalem in July to continue the celebration of son Dylan Michael’s bar mitzvah. Haim Shkedi, general manager of the King David Hotel, welcomed Hollywood’s royal family and escorted them to the Presidential Suite. On their to-do list was a tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall.

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NO INTERVIEWS PLEASE In what was termed a "private visit" (translate: I wanna be left alone), Jesse Eisenberg checked into the high-end Dan Tel Aviv for a spell. Deputy guest relations manager Marina Chernai whisked the Hollywood star to the luxury suite overlooking the placid Mediterranean. As we all know, Jesse earned a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network (2010).


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