Jews in the News: Amanda Peet, David Benioff and Scarlett Johnasson

Peet and Johansson, Cell Phone Inventor, Shiva Baby

The Chair”, a six-part original Netflix series, began streaming on Aug.19. The series received very good reviews from virtually every leading media outlet. It’s a comedy-drama, with some romantic stuff.

The setting is a small private college with financial problems. Sandra Oh stars as the new Chair of the college’s English department. One of her challenges is saving the jobs of aged, no longer popular professors. Veteran character actor BOB BALABAN, 76, plays one of the “endangered”.

“The Chair” was co-created by actress AMANDA PEET, 49, and she co-wrote the first two episodes. “The Chair” is the first time Peet has written for the screen (or stage).

While Peet never became a major star, she has had a substantial acting career. Her breakthrough role came in “The Whole Nine Yards”, a comedy/crime film that became a surprise big hit. She was funny, charming, and, yes, sexy.

Not long after that film opened, I found out that Peet’s mother was Jewish. Then an acquaintance who knew the Peet family told me he was sure that Peet was raised in a secular family.

Over the years, I followed Peet as she had some box office hits (“Saving Silverman”, “Something’s Got to Give”, and “2012”) and some film flops. She did quite a bit of TV, including a nice recurring role on “The Good Wife” and a much-seen role last year on “Dirty John”, the true crime anthology series. She played Betty Broderick, who infamously murdered her ex-husband.

I did notice when Peet wed DAVID BENIOFF in 2005 in what several sources said was a “traditional Jewish wedding”. Benioff, now 50, was a successful novelist and screenwriter when they married. Now he is most famous as the co-writer and co-producer of “Game of Thrones”.

I liked Peet a lot and it made me happy that she seemed to becoming “more Jewish” (the wedding). In 2015, I finally got a confirmation of that. She wrote a children’s book about how a Jewish girl coped with the “deluge” of Christmas. While promoting the book, she talked about her background. She said her parents were atheists and she grew up without religion. But, after her marriage, she embraced Judaism and Jewish rituals—and she referred to herself as a “Jewish mother”. (Peet and Benioff have 3 children).

The great reviews of “The Chair” appeared just after the news broke that SCARLETT JOHNASSON, 36, had given birth to a son. Long ago, I noticed that Peet and Johansson have very similar backgrounds. Both grew up in Manhattan in secular, “educated” homes. Peet’s non-Jewish father was a corporate attorney and her mother, a social worker. Johansson’s non-Jewish father was an architect and her Jewish mother a “small time” entertainment producer.

Peet went to fancy private schools (with many Jewish students). Johansson’s parents divorced when she was 12, so money was tight, and she went to public schools until her “ingenue” acting career took off—and then she went to a fancy private high school (with many Jewish students).

There’s not much out there about Johansson and “Jewish stuff” other than a couple of comments, years ago, that she thinks of herself as Jewish. She has been married three times, and none of her husbands are Jewish.

I guess you know where I’m going: who you marry usually makes a huge difference in terms of religious identification and practice. Two attractive and very talented women with similar family backgrounds went down different paths as adults and the reason, I think, is obvious.

Do watch the CBS Sunday News segment entitled “The Man Who Invented the Cell Phone”, which aired on Aug. 22. Just Google that title, and CBS News, and you’ll find it on the CBS site and on Youtube. The title refers to MARTIN COOPER, 93. He’s in great shape, vibrant, and explains things clearly. The news is a movie is going to be made about him. I talked to Cooper five years ago and he was a delight. 

One story: he told me had his 2nd bar mitzvah at age 83. There’s a Jewish tradition that when you are 70, plus 13, you should have a 2nd bar mitzvah.

Also worth catching: “Shiva Baby”, a dark, “very Jewish” comedy film that got great reviews when opened last year. Its now streaming on HBO Max. If you don’t have Max, check-out Kanopy, where it is now streaming, too. 

“Google’ Kanopy and see, on their website, if your public library affiliates with Kanopy and follow the instructions to view “Shiva” (free) on the Kanopy app (download app or to your Roku/Amazon Fire app "line-up"). 

By the way, Kanopy has hundreds of Jewish themed film. All films are free to watch. But there is a limit on how many you can watch each month. This number is determined by the "deal" your public library made with Kanopy. 



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