Jews in the News: Bonni Tischler, Steven Spielberg and Vilmos Gabor

At the Movies: Hit Made in Tampa

“The Infiltrator”, a crime thriller, is based on a real story. In 1986, Federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went deep undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking gang by posing as slick, money-laundering businessman. The case he helped build lead to the indictment of 85 drug lords and corrupt bankers. It also led to the collapse of the BCCI bank, one of the largest money laundering banks in the world. Co-stars include Amy Ryan as the BONNI TISCHLER, who was Mazur’s boss in the Federal Customs Service Tampa, Florida office. (Opens July 15)

Tischler, who died of breast cancer in 2005, age 60, was a pioneering woman in federal law enforcement.Born in New York, she was raised in Hollywood, Florida. She started as a sky marshal and rose to be a top national Customs Service official before retiring in 2002.  She told the Washington Post in 1987 that her parents were horrified when she became a sky marshal:  "My mother always said that nice Jewish girls don't go into law enforcement.” I should add that “Infiltrator” is based on Mazur’s account of his undercover work and he had a tense relationship with Tischler and they differed, later, on “what went down”. So the film may depict her from his, possibly not true, perspective.

The advance “Infiltrator” review by “Variety” is a total rave, praising Cranston, the screenplay, and BRAD FURMAN, 41, the director. Furman, who had been directing small films and ads for about ten years, got his big break in 2007 when he helmed “The Take”, a taunt crime thriller. He followed up with “The Lincoln Lawyer”, (2011) a hit legal thriller. When he first decided to go into filmmaking, his mother, ELLEN FURMAN, now 67, asked him to re-consider and find “something more stable.” His mother was then a practicing attorney and his father still practices law. Well, his mother wrote “The Infiltrator” screenplay!  Mother and son told the Tampa Tribune that they had written 10 films over the years, but none sold. But after Ellen retired, she had more time to hone her writing and she turned out a script for “The Infiltrator” which Variety called “ingeniously layered”. A Tampa film professor told the "Tribune" that he couldn’t think of another instance in which a mother wrote a film that her son directed. By the way, Ellen’s late mother was a president of the National Council of Jewish Women.

You can read Tischler's "Washington Post" obituary here:

The Tampa Tribune piece can be read here. As it says, much of the movie was filmed in Tampa.

Over on Netflix

On July 15, Netflix will release “Stranger Things,” a 10-episode supernatural series that harkens back to the creepy STEVEN SPIELBERG/Stephen King horror fantasies of the 1980s. WINONA RYDER, 44, stars as Joyce, a small-town mother whose young son, Will, goes missing.  The town thinks she’s crackers when she says she says that she can communicate with Will via a ouija board, but they change their tune when monsters appear in the shadows.

Before the Others: the Gabors

Before Paris Hilton and the Kardashians became “famous for being famous” there were the three Hungarian-born Gabor sisters and their mother, JOLIE. Baby boomers and those older will remember that the beautiful sisters (MAGDA, ZSA ZSA, and EVA) were constantly in the news in the 1950s and 1960s. This despite the fact that Magda had very few film credits; Zsa Zsa had/has only one big film on her resume—“Moulin Rouge”; and Eva had few credits until she co-starred in the ‘60s TV series “Green Acres”.

Years ago, a correspondent of mine became obsessed that the Gabors were Jewish. He contacted Zsa Zsa by mail, but got no answer. At that time, I could only tell him what I could quickly find on-line. There were rumors they were born Jewish. But all Zsa Zsa would “admit” to, in her autobiography, was that she had one French Jewish grandmother.

Well, another friend recently told me that family history experts have since poured over Gabor family vital records. The documentation is now overwhelming---Jolie and her husband VILMOS GABOR were “just plain” Jewish. Jolie and Vilmos’s respective parents were “all Jewish”, too. But, for reasons I can only guess at, the sisters brushed away questions about their Jewish background as they proceeded to marry, collectively, twenty men. Zsa Zsa, now 99, is the only surviving sister and the only sister to have a child (just one). Her daughter, FRANCESCA HILTON (the great aunt of Paris), died childless in 2015. By the way, Eva had a Catholic funeral even though there are numerous clues she never formally converted-out. Probably Eva just played a “Christian part” to the end. 


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