Nate Bloom blogs on this week’s Jews in the News
Hitchcock, the Kosher Connection
“Hitchcock,” which tells the love story of the famous director (played by Anthony Hopkins) and Alma, his wife (Helen Mirren), is also the story of the making of Hitchcock’s famous film, “Psycho” (1960). “Hitchcock” was set to open next year, but one advance screening at the American Film Institute resulted in such great reviews that the opening was moved-up so “Hitchcock” could compete for 2012 Oscars. “Hitchcock” opened last Friday, Nov. 23, in a few cities. In most cities, it opens on Friday, Nov. 30.
Here’s the 411 on the flick’s Jewish connections: “Psycho” was based on a novel of the same name by ROBERT BLOCH (1917-1994). Hitchcock owed Paramount studio another film, but they didn’t want “Psycho” because of its gory subject matter. As depicted in the film, Paramount head BARNEY BALABAN (1887-1971) finally agreed to distribute “Psycho” if Hitchcock would self-finance it. Balaban and his seven brothers, along with his sister’s husband, built (1910 on) a huge Chicago-based chain of movie palaces. In 1936, he took over as head of the struggling Paramount studio, which he already owned a large share of. He was a big donor to Israel Bonds, among other charities. His nephew is well-known character actor BOB BALABAN, 65.
RICHARD PORTNOW, 65, plays Barney Balaban. Portnow is one of those veteran, crack character actors you’ll recognize–but you probably don’t know his name. Among other memorable parts, he played Mel, the sharp Jewish lawyer on the “Sopranos” who kept Tony Soprano’s uncle, Junior, out of jail. As Junior once said of Mel’s huge fees, “Mel, you’re worth every penny.”
Greasing Hitchcock’s (real-life) deal with Paramount was Hitchcock’s friend and agent, LEW WASSERMAN (1913-2002). He’s played in “Hitchcock” by MICHAEL STUHLBARG, 44, the star of the COEN brothers’ film, “A Serious Man.” Oddly enough, film composer BERNARD HERMANN (1911-1975), is not depicted in “Hitchcock.” “Psycho” has one of the most innovative and memorable film scores of all-time. Hitchcock, himself, said that “33% of the effect of ‘Psycho’ was due to the music”. Another major “Psycho” contributor, who is depicted in “Hitchcock”, is SAUL BASS (1920-1996). Bass, a graphic designer and filmmaker, revolutionized the look of film titles and corporate logos. Not only did he do the “Psycho” titles, he did a shot-by-shot ‘storyboard’ of the famous shower scene that Hitchcock employed as his directorial guide. The shower scene was shot in a way that is different from any other prior Hitchcock-directed scene and film scholars say that the lion’s share of the credit for it belongs to Bass.
The “Psycho” cast, depicted in “Hitchcock,” includes (original film) star Janet Leigh and Oscar-winning character actor MARTIN BALSAM (1919-1996). Balsam, who played the police detective murdered by Norman Bates, is played in “Hitchcock” by RICHARD CHASSLER, 40, a stand-up comedian making his big-screen debut. SCARLETT JOHANSSON, 27, has a major part in “Hitchcock”, playing Leigh.
The annual “People” magazine “Sexiest Man Alive” issue hit the newsstands early last week, featuring actor Channing Tatum on the cover—which means he holds the title for this year. By my count, there are 19 Jewish guys depicted in the issue—but realize there is a hierarchy of “sexiness” based on the size of the guy’s photo. “The best” is a full body shot photo and these guys got that honor: JAKE GYLLENHAAL, 31, PAUL RUDD, 43, MAX GREENFIELD, 32, (“New Girl”), singer MICHAEL BOLTON, 59, and ALEX KARPOVSKY, “30ish”. Karpovsky, a respected indie filmmaker, plays Ray Ploshansky on HBO’s “Girls.” Ray manages a coffee shop and is close friends with Charlie, a lead character. A recurring character in the first season, Ray will be a regular character in the 2nd season, starting in January. Karpovsky is the only child of Russian Jewish immigrants. His father teaches computer science at Boston Univ.
I recently came across Gyllenhaal’s name in an amusing New York magazine article about the TV show, “Whitney,” which began its second season on Nov. 14. In the first season, John Cleese, 73, of “Monty Python” fame, guest starred as a therapist. He told the magazine that he has an emu (an ostrich-like bird) named GWYNETH PALTROW on his Santa Barbara ranch. He named the emu after Paltrow because he once went out with actress Blythe Danner, Paltrow’s non-Jewish mother. But, he said, he turned down his adult daughter’s offer to try and set him up with Gyllenhaal’s mother, screenwriter NAOMI FONER, 66, even though Foner “seemed nice.”
Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Atlanta Jewish Times, 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. Most of the items in Bloom’s weekly newspaper column differ from the items in his bi-weekly column on interfaith celebrities for InterfaithFamily.com. If you wish to contact Nate Bloom, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org . The author welcomes questions and celebrity “tips,” especially about people you personally know.