Jews in the News: Ahmed Zayat, Eric Balfour and Ashley Tisdale

Triple Crown Winner!

As you no doubt heard, American Pharoah, who is owned by AHMED ZAYAT, 73, won the Belmont Stakes on June 6, becoming the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown (the Crown is awarded to a horse that wins, in the same year, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont).  As noted before in this column, Zayat is an Egyptian-born Orthodox Jew who lives in New Jersey with his family.

Zayat’s wife, JOANNE, spoke to the New Jersey Jewish Standard newspaper not long after his Derby win. Here’s one interesting “Q. and A.” from the interview: “What is it like being Orthodox Jews at the Kentucky Derby? ‘There is no conflict,’ Ms. Zayat said. ‘Most of our big races are on Saturdays, so we walk to the track.” [They stay at a hotel in Louisville, which is an easy walk on race day, and get kosher meals from a caterer], ‘But for the Preakness and the Belmont,’ Ms. Zayat added, ‘We can’t walk from any hotel, so we rent a [big] trailer.’”

Zayat Interview

By the way, Zayat is not the first Jewish owner of a Triple Crown winner. 12 horses have won the Crown since 1919. In 1943, the Crown was won by Count Fleet, who was nominally owned by FANNY KESNER HERTZ (1991-1963). She was the Jewish wife of the horse’s “real” owner, Jewish businessman JOHN D. HERTZ (1879-1961)---who was a co-founder of the famous car rental company that bears his name.

Affirmed was raced under his stable name, Harbor View Farm. The co-owners of the farm were famous Florida businessman LOUIS WOLFSON (1912-2007), and his second wife, PATRICE JACOBS WOLFSON, who is now about 75. She was in the stands at Belmont, cheering American Pharoah on.

At the Movies: Opens Friday, June 12

“Jurassic World” is the long delayed fourth entry in the “Jurassic Park” movie series. “World” is produced by STEVEN SPIELBERG, 68, who directed the first two “Jurassic” movies. The screenplay was co-written by COLIN TREVORROW, 38, AMANDA SILVER, 52, Rick Jaffa, 53, and Derek Connolly. Silver, who is Jewish, and Jaffa (who has some remote Jewish ancestry), have been married for 25 years and have two children. (The family are regular synagogue-goers). The couple scored big as the co-writers of the two most recent hit “Planet of the Apes” movies.
Trevorrow also directs and this is his first outing at the helm of a big studio movie. He earned this “gig” following critical acclaim of his indie films. Trevorrow’s mother is Jewish and his maternal grandmother came from a long line of Sephardi Jews who settled in the Caribbean centuries ago. His parents run a California horse ranch that bears his maternal grandmother’s maiden name (“Rancho Toledano”). They raise Paso Finos, a breed which originated in the Caribbean.

The plot of the new “Jurassic” film is predictable: fast forward to the present day and the new owners of the park think they can run a tropic island park where humans can safely view genetically engineered dinosaurs. But something goes terribly wrong and the park’s operations manager (Bryce Dallas Howard, who is Ron Howard’s daughter) and others have to contain the dinosaurs before they can cause more damage.

“Me and the Dying Girl” is based on the young adult hit novel of the same name by JESSE ANDREWS, 33, and he also wrote the film script. The story is narrated by Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), a Jewish high school senior who stays aloof from most people. He even describes Earl, his African-American friend, with whom he does really funny routines about classic foreign movies, as a more of a “co-worker” than a friend. This changes when Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) nags him into spending time with Rachel Kushner (Olivia Cooke), a high school classmate who has just been diagnosed with terminal leukemia. Greg and Rachel have history: they were in the same Hebrew school class (around age 12). Greg thought if he flirted with Rachel that another girl-- the “hot girl” in the class-- would notice him.  (The film’s trailer establishes that Rachel remains a Jewish character. It’s unclear if Greg “remains Jewish”). Although most of the main novel characters are Jewish—there’s only one Jewish actor is in the cast—JON BERNTHAL, 38, who plays a non-Jewish character---Mr. McCarthy---Greg’s easygoing and empathetic teacher.
“Dying Girl”, which is set and filmed in Pittsburgh, Andrews’ home town, was a huge hit at Sundance and advance reviews noted that every thing you thought wouldn’t work in a film about a dying girl and the guy who comes to bond with her—somehow does work. “Variety” said: “This wonderfully funny, bittersweet, and inventive picture will headlock even the most cynical-hearted viewer and turn him or her into emotional mush.”

TV News and Notes

“Clipped” premieres on TBS on Tuesday, June 16, at 10PM. It stars ASHLEY TISDALE, 29 (“High School Musical”) as one of several very different high school classmates who find themselves working at a barbershop. It was created by the team of MAX MUTCHNIK, 49, and DAVID KOHAN, 51. They are best known as the creators of “Will and Grace” and “Boston Common”. Kohan’s sister, JENJI KOHAN, 45, is now best known as the writer/producer of “Orange is the New Black,” the hit Netflix series. The third season of “Orange” will be released on June 12.
You probably would recognize actor ERIC BALFOUR, 38, even if his name doesn’t ring a bell immediately. I noticed him first playing Claire’s “dangerous” boyfriend on HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” Not long after, he played Milo Pressman during the first two seasons of “24” and returned for the sixth season. Since 2010, he has played Duke Crocker. a starring role, on the “SyFy” network show, ‘Haven,” which will begin the second half of its fifth season in September.
Balfour is tall, dark, and has a prominent "Indian-like" nose---which I guess lead some sources, a decade ago, to claim he had Native American ancestry. Not so—both his American Jewish parents are of European Jewish ancestry. On May 30, Balfour married his long time girlfriend, fashion designer ERIN CHIAMULON, 31. The wedding pics seem to indicate a rabbi conducted the ceremony. The bride’s mother is Jewish.


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