David Grann, Eric Roth and Robbie Robertson

Nate Bloom blogs about this week's Jews in the News.


Killers of the Flower Moon with a Side of Sooner Jews

“Killers of the Flower Moon”, a Martin Scorsese film, has received great advance reviews.  It opens in theaters on October 20. You should be aware that the film is 3 hours and 25 minutes. That’s a long time for people who have issues that make sitting for a long time difficult.

“Killers” is based on DAVID GRANN's critically-acclaimed, best-selling non-fiction study (2017) of the same name. The book and the film chronicle what are referred to as the Osage Tribe murders.

The Osage were forced out of their homes in Kansas and re-settled in Oklahoma in the 19th century. In the early 1920s, large oil deposits were found on their reservation land. Unscrupulous whites found various ways to get their hands on the royalties paid to tribe members. Some whites even courted and married Osage women and, then, murdered them.

Dozens, perhaps hundreds of Osage were murdered for their royalties. The FBI, then a new agency, got involved in 1925 and solved several of these cases. But most of the murders were never solved.

Last week, the official “CBS Sunday Morning” Youtube channel posted a very good 8-minute video from 2017. A CBS reporter follows Grann, while on location in Oklahoma, as he explains the “whole sad story”. He relays new, shocking info he found in government archives. (Video called: “From the Archives: The Osage murders and Killers of the Flower Moon".)

Robert DeNiro and Leo DiCaprio play bad guys who swindle the Osage. Lily Gladstone, a Native American, co-stars as an Osage who is married to DiCaprio’s character. The screenplay was co-written by Scorsese and ERIC ROTH, 78. Roth’s credits include “Forrest Gump” (won the best adapted screenplay Oscar) and “Munich” (Oscar-nom in same category).

Grann, 57, is a top journalist and a “New Yorker” staff member. He is also the author of the best-selling historical study, “The Lost City of Z”. A movie of the same name opened in 2016.

Grann’s father, the late Dr. VICTOR GRANN, was a prominent oncologist. His mother, PHYLISS GRANN, 86, was the former CEO of Putnam Books. She was the first woman to be a head of a major publishing company.

Some months ago, I looked at David Grann’s Wikipedia entry and it said that his father was “one quarter Jewish” and his mother was “half Jewish”. I recently read the “New York Magazine” (“NYM”) article Wiki cited for this info. The “NYM” article says nothing(!) about David’s father’s religious background and it is unclear about his mother.

I checked records. Victor Grann was the son of a Yiddish speaking, Russian Jewish immigrant and his American-born, Jewish wife. As for Phyllis-- the “NYM” article gets Phyllis’s father background right. He was a Russian Jew who settled in the U.K.

The” NYM” article describes Phylliss’s mother as British (by birth). But it doesn’t say whether she was British AND Jewish, too.  As I write this, I know that three of David Grann’s “grands” were Jewish—with one unclear.

In the same “NYM” article, a colleague of Phyllis Grann said this about her: “Her Jewish-mother qualities obfuscate her very effective dealings with the world. She’s a Jewish mother with the mind of a bear trap.”

By the way, there are people of mixed Indian and Jewish background. ROBBIE ROBERTSON, the leader of the famous rock band “The Band” and its principal songwriter, was the son of a Canadian Mohawk mother and a Canadian Jewish father. Robertson died last August, age 80.

In a memoir, Robertson made this wry remark about his Jewish and Indian heritage: “You could say I’m an expert when it comes to persecution”.

A surprising number of famous, or “sort of” famous Jews were born and raised in Oklahoma, a state with a small Jewish community.   Check on-line for detailed bios: Actors TONY RANDALL (born Aryeh Rosenberg) and TIM BLAKE NELSON, 57 (“O, Brother, Where Art Thou?”; “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”); GEORGE KAISER, 81 (Tim Blake Nelson’s uncle) is a practicing Jew, a billionaire, and a locally famous mega-philanthropist. His father, a Nazi Germany refugee, created (1940s) a small oil drilling company with American relatives. George made the company big.  SYLVAN GOLDMAN, an Oklahoma supermarket owner who invented the shopping cart (1937). Manufacturing carts made him very rich; and MICKEY EDWARDS, 86. He was a Republican congressman from 1977-1993 and, after that, he taught at Harvard for 11 years. Edwards was a “traditional” conservative who was long upset with changes in the GOP. His last straw was Jan.6—he left the GOP. Fun footnote: RICHARD RODGERS and OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II wrote “Oklahoma”, the official state song.


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