Jews in the News: B.J. Novack, Jen Cohen and Jerry Tucker

At the Movies: Hamburgers and the 1970s

“The Founder” tells the true story of Ray Kroc, a traveling salesman who met the McDonald brothers in Southern California in the 1950s. He was impressed with the brothers’ speedy system to make hamburgers and convinced them to let him franchise McDonalds. Eventually, he maneuvered himself into a position to take over the brothers’ company and create the world-famous billion-dollar fast food empire. The mostly favorable “Hollywood Reporter” review praised Michael Keaton’s performance as Kroc. However, it said the film stumbled as it sought to portray Kroc’s transition from an amiable visionary into a much more rapacious capitalist. B. J. NOVAK, 37 (“The Office”), has a large supporting role as Harry Sonneborn, a critical Kroc financial advisor.  (Opens Friday, Jan. 20)

The director, John Lee Hooker, is best known for two sunnier bio-pics (“Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Blindside”). For this film, he enlisted ROBERT D. SIEGEL, 44, to write the screenplay—and Siegel’s prior films did capture much grittier subjects than Hooker is known for---Siegel wrote “The Wrestler” about a washed-up pro wrestler, and he wrote and directed “Big Fan”—about an obsessed football fan. Raised on Long Island, after college he began working for “The Onion”, the satirical newspaper and website. He was chief editor of “The Onion” from 1993-2003. His Jewish wedding (2004) to voice over actress JEN COHEN, now 44, merited a full profile in the New York Times and a follow-up profile in 2010. I smiled as I read Siegel’s explanation of their son’s name. He told the Times that the boy, MICKEY SENDER SIEGEL, now 8, was not named after Mickey Rourke, the star of “The Wrestler.”  Rather, he said, the name has: “A kind of swagger…he could become a bank robber, or a comedian in the Catskills. If he’s a bass player, he can be Mick Sender. If he runs a bank, he can be M. Sender Siegel, and if he’s a gossip columnist or sportswriter, he can be Mickey Siegel.” (If you have access to the Times, do read the profiles. Just search for the couple’s two names. They are a super cool and funny Jewish couple.)

"20th Century Women” is another semi-autobiographical-pic directed and written by Mike Mills. His acclaimed 2010 film, “Beginners,” was mostly about a young man’s relationship with his father, who came out as gay at age 75. But it also touched on his late mother, who, the young man tells his new French Jewish girlfriend, “buried her Jewish side” (she was “half Jewish”)—as his father “buried his gayness.” (Mills’ maternal grandfather was Jewish and his father came out as gay late in life). His new film follows Dorothy (Annette Benning), a middle-aged single mother who’s raising her adolescent son, Jamie, in the 1970s, with the help of an eclectic group of female friends (who are modeled after Mills’ mother’s friends). Jamie is played by newcomer LUCAS JADE ZUMANN, 15. Bio details are few, but I do know his mother is Jewish. Not sure about his dad’s background.  (This film has very varying opening dates. But it’s still widely playing and Oscar nominations are a real possibility).

This Lemony is Sweet

The 2004 film version of “Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events”, starring Jim Carrey, was a box-office flop. But the eight-episode version of the same hit book series, which began streaming on Netflix on Jan. 13, has garnered good-to-great reviews. Lemony Snicket is the pen name of novelist DANIEL HANDLER, 46.

An “Our Gang” Mensch

I don’t do round-up lists of famous Jews who died in the past year. The deaths of these persons are covered in the general media and most of my readers, I sense, already know most of the Jews on these “famous death lists.”  But, in this column, and next, I will briefly profile two persons that, for differing reasons, I think merit a mention. A friend clued me into the death of JERRY TUCKER, age 91, in late November. Tucker, born Jerome Schatz, appeared in many “Our Gang” (AKA “Little Rascals”) comedy shorts from 1931-1938. I didn’t know, before, of any Jewish kid actors in these shorts. I was impressed that unlike scores of child actors, including many “Our Gang” kid actors, Tucker became a “successful adult”. He had a fine combat record in WWII (Purple Heart) and the Korean War, followed by a good career as an RCA engineer. He was a good father and husband and had six great grandchildren. Next week—a super smart Jewish mom.


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