Jews in the News: Carrie Fisher, Norman Lear and Stephen Tobolowsky

More on Carrie Fisher

In a 2008 interview with the San Francisco Jewish paper, CARRIE FISHER briefly opened up about her then-relationship with Judaism. She said that early memories of her father, the late EDDIE FISHER, singing in synagogue, had a “big effect” on her. She added that she and her then 16-year-old daughter, Billie often attended Friday night services and Shabbat meals with Orthodox friends. Carrie told the paper: "There's such a loveliness to lighting candles and saying what you're grateful for that week. It's beautiful."  Billie, Carrie said, had “more exposure to Judaism than any other religion.”

Certainly, one could not call Carrie a practicing Jew (even in the eyes of Reform Judaism)—but Judaism seemed to call her to more than any other faith, including the Christian faith her mother lightly raised her in. It’s pretty clear to me that her attraction to Judaism was partially based on her longing to be closer to her father. It was not just memories of him singing in synagogue---in the just-aired HBO documentary film, “Bright Lights”, Carrie says that she developed her wit at a very early age and it grew out of a frustrated desire for her father to stick around more.

But, Eddie, whose biggest hit (ironically) was “Oh, My Papa,” was never a mensch as a man or a father and he and Carrie never really had a good relationship after her parents divorced. (By the way, it’s a myth that ELIZABETH TAYLOR converted for Eddie. She did so on her own and, in her own way, remained a Jew until she died—and Taylor meticulously planned her Jewish funeral).

I wasn’t surprised that Carrie and her mother didn’t have joint funerals. Debbie was a Christian believer and Carrie was not and so it would have been awkward. Carrie was cremated and her funeral/memorial service was held at her home on Jan. 5, a day before her mother’s funeral. It was a secular celebration with the Jewish flavor provided by the guests and the “theme music”. I estimate about half the 125 guests were Jewish---including RICHARD DREYFUSS, 69, BUCK HENRY, 86 ,GWYNETH PALTROW, 44, and STEPHEN FRY, 59 (who was one of four persons, including Carrie’s daughter, and Meryl Streep, to deliver a eulogy).

Streep, who played Carrie in the film version of “Postcards from the Edge”, led the guests in the singing of Carrie’s favorite song, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Appropriately it was written in 1929 by two Jews, JACK YELLEN and MILTON AGER (the father of the late journalist SHANA ALEXANDER).

By the way, like Streep, Carrie had a surprisingly good singing voice. In the “Bright Lights” documentary, there is a clip of her belting out “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” at age 15, a decade before she would marry its composer, PAUL SIMON. She also does a great imitation of BARBRA STREISAND singing a “Funny Girl” number.

Finally, we’ll all get to celebrate Carrie again when “Star Wars: Episode VIII” opens in Dec. 2017. Fisher completed filming her part before her death.

Another New Netflix Re-Make

Remember “One Day at a Time,” the ‘70s sit-com produced by NORMAN LEAR, and starring the late BONNIE FRANKLIN as the single working mom of two teen daughters? Well, Lear, now 94, and others, have re-booted it, with some changes. The first 13-episode season began streaming on Netflix on Jan. 6.

The family is now Cuban-American. The series centers on Penelope, a recently separated former military mom who is raising a teen daughter, and a tween son, with the aid of her old-school Cuban-born mom and her building manager (Oscar-winner Rita Moreno plays the grandma).

Veteran character actor STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY, 65, plays Dr. Berkowitz, a widowed doctor whom Penelope works for. She keeps his office in order and sometimes his personal life, too---because, as the media notes say, “Dr. Berkowitz is often a ‘sweet disaster.’” It’s also hinted that Berkowitz may become Penelope’s mother’s love interest.

Tobolowsky is still best remembered as the pushy insurance salesman in the film “Groundhog Day” (1993). But he’s compiled a huge résumé since then. In the last few years, he has guest-starred as Jack Barker, the short-lived head of the Piped Piper Company on “Silicon Valley” and he plays the frequently-seen Principal Ball on “The Goldbergs”.

Post-script: Tobolowsy had a big recurring role on the Showtime series, “Californication,” as a rich guy who chased a married woman played by PAMELA ADLON, now 50. The first season of her critically acclaimed FX series, “Better Things,” can now be streamed via FX on-demand. She created “Things” and is its star.


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