Jews in the News: Bette Midler, Jon Shenk, Jon Stewart

Streaming Options: Comedy, Crime, and More

The 2nd season of the original Netflix musical/satirical series “The Politician” began streaming on June 19 and, boy, is it “tribe heavy”. As the 2nd season starts, star character Payton Hobart (BEN PLATT, 26) is a college student in New York City. He opts to challenge Dede Standish (JUDITH LIGHT, 71), a long time incumbent, for her state Senate seat. BETTE MIDLER, 74, co-stars as Hadassah Gold, Dede’s chief of staff. The supporting cast includes GWYNETH PALTROW, 47 (as Payton’s s mother), ZOEY DEUTCH, 25, as Infinity, Payton’s right hand woman, and JACKIE HOFFMAN, 59, as Dede’s receptionist.

A new documentary about attorney ROY COHN (1927-1986) premiered on HBO on June 19. June 19 is the 67th anniversary of the execution of JULIUS and ETHEL ROSENBERG for spying for Russia. They were the grandparents of IVY MEEROPOL, 52, the documentary’s filmmaker. A “sampler” of Cohn’s bad deeds includes improper secret meetings with the judge who presided over the Rosenbergs’ case; leading witch hunts for supposed Communists and gays in government (he was secretly gay, himself); and "fixing" cases through shady tactics. His client list included Donald Trump. Those interviewed include writer TONY KUSHNER, 64. Cohn was a major character in “Angels of America,” Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning two-part play.

Here’s an interesting sidelight: the Rosenbergs had two sons, MICHAEL MEEROPOL (Ivy’s father), now 77, and ROBERT MEEROPOL, now 73. After their parents’ execution, they were placed with relatives. This didn’t work out and a few years after their parents’ deaths, they were adopted by ABEL MEEROPOL (1903-1986) and his wife, ANNE. Meeropol was a Bronx high school teacher, a poet, and songwriter. His most famous songs were “The House I Live In” (1945), and “Strange Fruit’ (1937). The former was featured in an 11-minute film of the same name that condemned anti-Semitism. In the film, Frank Sinatra sings the title song, which extols the American ideal of tolerance. (To view, just put title in Youtube search box).

“Strange Fruit” is, simply put, the most famous and the most moving anti-lynching song. The best known recording is by Billie Holiday, the iconic African-American singer. Shockingly, 83 years after the song was written, a federal law outlawing lynching is still tied up in Congress—but may be passed, finally, because of the Floyd case. (See Holiday sing the song---enter “Billy Holiday—1959—Strange Fruit” in Youtube search box).

“Athlete A” is a Netflix documentary (premiered June 24) about the sexual abuse of top female gymnasts by Dr. Larry Nassar, a Michigan State faculty member. His victims included Olympic gold medal winner ALY RAISMAN, 26.  The film was made by BONNI COHEN, 55, and JON SHENK, 51 (they co-wrote, co-produced, and co-directed it). They’ve long been a team. In 2017, they co-helmed “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” Cohen’s other credits include producing “The Rape of Europa,” a 2006 documentary about the Nazi looting of European art treasures, including those owned by Jews.

On July 1, Netflix will begin streaming “Anne Frank: Parallel Stories.” Narrated by Helen Mirren, this documentary film got a very limited theater release last January. Frank’s story is intertwined with the story of five other (real) girls who did survive the Holocaust.

A set was created that carefully re-constructed the Amsterdam apartment in which Anne hid, to give, in the filmmakers' words, “the sense of claustrophobia and oppression” Anne experienced. Mirren reads excerpts from Anne’s diary in Anne's re-created apartment.  Had ANNE FRANK lived, she would have been 90 this year.

Mirren won the best actress Oscar for playing Elizabeth II in “The Queen” (2006). She gave a truly tour-de-force performance in “Woman in Gold” (2015). “Woman” didn’t have great screenplay, but Mirren’s portrayal of MARIA ALTMANN (1916-2011) lifted the quality of the film immensely and it was a surprise box-office hit. Altmann spent seven years waging a finally successful legal battle to wrest away from the Austrian government five very valuable paintings (including two portraits of her aunt) that the Nazis stole from her uncle.

Stewart: On Reserving Judgment

“Irresistible”, a comedy film directed and written by JON STEWART, 57, is available on June 26 via video-on-demand. Basic set-up: opposing political strategists clash in a small town. Look for my commentary in my next column. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that this film will highlight what I think is Stewart’s biggest flaw. I’ll discuss that flaw, too. Waiting, now, for more film info.


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