Jews in the News: Adam Sandler, Scarlett Johansson and Billy Crystal

At the Movies: Billy Ray is Kosher, Sandler Finally Finds a Gem, More

Opening on Dec. 13th are “Richard Jewell” and “Uncut Gems”. The former is a Clint Eastwood bio-pic about Jewell, a security guard who found a backpack with three pipe bombs at the Atlanta site of the August,1996 Olympics. He saved many lives when he alerted police and helped evacuate the area. However, shortly thereafter, an FBI leak led to press reports that he was suspected of planting the bombs. His life became hell for two months. In October, 1996, he was completely cleared when the actual bomber was identified. The screenplay is by BILLY RAY, 48, an Oscar-nominated writer (“Captain Phillips”) and director (“Breach”) who has joked that his name doesn’t “sound Jewish.”

Opening the same day is “Gems”, a black comedy crime film directed by and co-written by brothers JOSH and BENNY SAFADIE (they are 35 and 33, respectively). The brothers, who were raised in New York, are of Syrian Jewish background. This is their first big budget studio film, having made five well-received smaller budget flicks in the last 12 years. “Gems” has got great advance reviews, with star ADAM SANDLER, 53, getting unusually good notices. Sandler plays a jewelry store owner who is a compulsive gambler. He has to find a way to pay his debts before it is too late. The supporting cast includes IDINA MENZEL, 48, and JUDD HIRSCH, 84.

Streaming and Broadcast News

SCARLETT JOHANSSON, 35, will host “Saturday Night Live” on Dec. 14. As I have noted before, the superstar actress is the daughter of a Danish (non-Jewish) architect who settled in New York and an American Jewish mother. She identifies as Jewish, although she is virtually secular. Why is she hosting? I suspect because Oscar nominations are just around the corner. Johansson co-stars in “Marriage Story”, a Netflix film that opened in limited release on Nov. 5 and began streaming on Netflix on Dec. 6. There’s rampant press speculation, fueled by 97% positive film reviews, that Johansson will be Oscar-nominated, as will director/writer NOAH BAUMBACH, 50, and co-stars Adam Driver and Laura Dern.  Appearing before a huge “SNL” audience might help influence Academy voters.

As I said in my last column, actress and stand-up comedian TIFFANY HADDISH was scheduled to have the release of her Netflix special (“My Black Bat Mitzvah”) and her (real) bat mitzvah ceremony on Dec. 3, her 40th birthday. Right after my last column went to press, there were many reports about the bat mitzvah. Here are a few essentials if you didn’t catch those reports: the bat mitzvah ceremony and follow-up party were held at a Beverly Hills hotel. Rabbi SUSAN SILVERMAN, SARAH SILVERMAN’s sister, presided over the ceremony and photos showed an open Torah scroll on the bimah with four persons standing on the bimah: Rabbi Silverman, another (male) rabbi, Haddish, and BILLY CRYSTAL, 71 (who I presume had an aliyah).

Haddish has a co-starring role in “Here and Today,” a comedy film that is currently filming. Crystal is directing and he co-wrote the film.

The third season of “The Crown”, the hit Netflix original series about Queen Elizabeth II, was released on Nov. 17. This season covers the 1960s and early ‘70s. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, is played by Helena Bonham Carter, 45. On Nov. 20, a British station began running a 4-part series entitled “My Grandparents War” about the WWII experiences of four UK actors’ grandparents. The first episode was about Bonham Carter’s maternal grandfather, diplomat Eduardo Propper de Callejon. Raised a Catholic, he was the son of a Jewish mother and his wife was Jewish. In 1940, he was the first secretary of the Spanish embassy in Paris. He defied orders and issued thousands of transit visas to Jews fleeing the Nazis. Propper de Callejon was named “Righteous Among the Nations” in 2008 and Bonham Carter (who was raised Protestant) was present at the Yad Vashem ceremony in Israel.

By coincidence, the 4th episode of this season of “The Crown” is mostly about Princess Alice of Greece, who was also named “Righteous Among the Nations.” The episode is truly poignant. The Princess, who was the mother of Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, had a very unusual and difficult life. The episode depicts some of her good works, but doesn’t mention that she hid a Jewish family in her Athens home during the Nazi occupation of Greece and saved their lives. Prince Philip attended the 1994 ceremony in Israel.


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