Jews In The News: Judith Viorst, Sara Silverman and Lynn Sheer

At the Movies: Opens Friday, October 10

Violence of a fictional sort is the focus of “The Judge”. Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), who has long been estranged from his father (Robert Duvall), and the rest of his family, returns to his hometown when his father, a judge, is suspected of murder. DAVID KRUMHOLTZ, 36, has a supporting role as Mike Kattan, a young prosecutor who challenges Hank’s moral views.

Much lighter is the Disney flick, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”  It follows 11-year-old Alexander as one calamity (like gum in his hair) follows another. Newcomer Ed Oxenbould plays Alex, with Jennifer Garner and Steve Carell playing his parents. Two other newcomers play Alexander’s 17-year old older brother and 16-year-old sister.

The film is based on the 1972 children’s book of the same name, written by JUDITH VIORST, now 83. The book sold two million copies and has already been the subject of an animated TV movie and hit stage musical version. In the book, Alex is five years old and has two older brothers (Nick and Anthony). Viorst and her husband of 54 years, well known political journalist and author MILTON VIORST, now 84, have three now-adult (successful) sons (you guessed right—the sons are named ALEX, NICK, and ANTHONY). After writing twelve well-received children’s books and other works for adults, Judith Viorst switched gears in the mid-70s and earned a graduate degree in psychology. Her psychology based books include “The Grown Up Marriage” (2003)—advice about how to make a marriage work. In 2003, she spoke to JWeekly, the San Francisco Jewish paper, about her marriage book. Viorst told JWeekly that Jewishness had been a source of cohesion for her. "Being a Jew has a family aspect for me,” Viorst said, “The family gathers here for the holidays. We know we are Jews, but I wouldn't say it has necessarily shaped my views on marriage."

Publishers’ Weekly recently was on hand when Judith Viorst, along with her son Alex, now 47, and Alex’s wife and children, caught a private screening of “Very Bad Day.” Viorst called it an adorable movie” and she added that it was “clever”--the way that the filmmakers enlarged the scope of the book by focusing on Alexander’s upset over his family’s “not sufficiently sympathetic” reaction to his very bad day. Viorst, by the way, is the author of four “Alexander” books, the latest (”Alexander, Who’s Trying to Be the Best Boy Ever “) was published this past summer.  Another Viorst kids’ book, “And Two Boys Booed,” is just out. It is about a young boy suffering from stage fright.  Viorst’s inspiration for “Two Boys” came from Alex’s daughter, OLIVIA, who informed Viorst that “two boys booed” after she sang her song during her school’s talent show.

The Makers

Last year, PBS ran a well-received documentary (“Makers: Women Who Make America”) about important figures in the women’s movement (including the late BETTY FRIEDAN and GLORIA STEINEM, now 80). This documentary inspired a new, six-part series, focusing on important women in six discrete fields. Frankly, PBS publicity about this series has been poor or I would have alerted you sooner. The good news is that you can almost certainly catch-up with the first two episodes on-line, via on-demand, or when they are re-run later this year. New episodes air Tuesday nights (9pm) on most PBS stations. The Sept. 30 episode (“Women in Comedy”) explored the history of funny women and commentators included SARAH SILVERMAN, 43, and CHELSEA HANDLER, 39. The October 7 episode (“Women in Hollywood”) included commentary by LENA DUNHAM, 28, and director/writer NANCY MEYERS, 64; the upcoming October 14 episode (“Women in Space”) will almost certainly mention JUDITH RESNIK (1949-1986), the first woman Jewish astronaut. She died in the explosion of the Challenger shuttle. Also in this episode, of course, is the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

Ride is the subject of new acclaimed biography by her friend, LYNN SHEER, 72, a well-known ABC journalist (“20/20”). Sheer recently talked to the Jewish paper, The Forward, about her own personal background. Sheer said:“I grew up in South Philadelphia and then we moved to the suburbs. We were Conservative. I went to Hebrew school and at Sunday school I was confirmed. We didn’t have bat mitzvahs then. I still don’t know what being confirmed meant….My father [LOUIS “Red” SHERR] was a star basketball player for South Philadelphia High School.  He also played for the University of Pennsylvania and the semi-pro South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team [SPHA], which played in the American Basketball League [a precursor of the NBA]. EDDIE GOTTLIEB took many of the SPHA players to the Philadelphia Warriors [which he founded], although my father had stopped playing basketball by then.”


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