Jews in the News: Emmet Cohen, Winona Ryder and Dan Robbins

All those Jewish Friends

“Verdon/Fosse”, an 8-episode FX series began airing on Tuesday, April 9. You can easily catch-up via repeat showings and/or on-demand. The series is about the relationship of Bob Fosse (1927-1987), the famous film and Broadway choreographer and director, and Gwen Verdon (1925-2000), the famous Broadway dancer/singer who was Fosse’s third wife and widow. They are played by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams.

Fosse and Verdon had many Jewish creative partners, many of whom were also close friends. Those depicted throughout the series include: playwright NEIL SIMON (1927-2018). Simon wrote the story for the musical “Sweet Charity.” Fosse directed and choreographed the film version; JOAN BAIM SIMON, Neil’s first wife, and the mother of his children, was a professional dancer who was close friends with Verdon. Joan died of cancer, age 41, in 1973. She's played by AYA CASH, 36, the star of the FX series “You’re the Worst”: HAL PRINCE, now 91, is played by EVAN HANDLER, 58 (“Californication”). Prince directed and produced the original 1966 Broadway version of “Cabaret.” Fosse directed and choreographed the 1972 film; JOEL GREY, now 86, was the stage and film co-star of “Cabaret”. He’s played by Broadway star ETHAN SLATER, 26; CY FEUER (1911-2006), a prominent composer and producer who produced the “Cabaret” film. He’s played by PAUL REISER, 63; and PADDY CHAYEFSKY (1923-81), the famous four-time Oscar winning writer (“Marty”, “Network”). Chayefsky was Fosse’s best friend. The two made a pact: Chayefsky would give the eulogy at Fosse’s funeral if Fosse died before him. If Chayefsky died before Fosse, Fosse would dance at his funeral---which he did.

A Big Hand for Some Great Hands

On April 6, it was announced that the EMMET COHEN, 28, was the winner of the American Pianists Association 2019 Cole Porter Fellowship. Cohen, who has already played with some of jazz’s greatest stars, competed with four other pianists in the competition’s finals. His award “prizes” include a $50K check, a recording contract, and two years of professional services worth $100K. The competition takes place every other year, with classical pianists alternating with jazz pianists. In the last jazz pianist competition, in 2015, Cohen placed second. Winning this competition is akin to winning a Pulitzer or an Oscar.

Cohen grew-up in an observant New Jersey Jewish family and he’s well-aware that his first name means “truth” in Hebrew. He often plays a special program at synagogues featuring popular tunes written by Jewish composers.  In 2018, he released a track he wrote called “Hatzi Kaddish” (also a Youtube video). The melody follows the traditional Kaddish hymn as it is sung in the synagogue. But, as one reviewer noted, Cohen somehow transforms that melody into something both deeply Jewish and universally spiritual. The tune was inspired by Cohen’s collaborations with the great African-American bass player Ron Carter and Carter, 81, plays on Hatzi Kaddish. Carter’s middle name is Levin. Levin was the last name of a Jewish pharmacist who gave free medicine to Carter’s quite poor parents.

He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Miami Frost School of Music.

Upcoming and a Person Worth Noting

Filming has begun on “The Plot Against America”, a six-part HBO series. It is based on the “alternative history” novel of the same name by the late PHILIP ROTH. The book and series trace the effect of rising anti-Semitism on the Roth family, middle class Jews, following the election in 1940 of isolationist Charles Lindbergh. The Roths are played by John Turturro and WINONA RYDER, 47.

DAN ROBBINS, the inventor of “paint-by-numbers”, died on April 7, age 93. He was survived by two sons and his wife ESTELLE SHAPIRO ROBBINS, 94. Dan Robbins got the idea while working as a package designer for a Detroit paint company in the late ‘40s. He was inspired by the fact that Leonardo DaVinci left numbered background parts of his paintings to be filled in by apprentices. Robbins’ company released the first kits in the late ‘40s and by 1955 they were selling 20 million kits a year. Robbins did the first 35 kits himself, and then farmed out the work to others. A 2002 Smithsonian exhibition about paint-by-numbers drew big crowds.

Robbins once said: “I never claim that painting by number is art. But it is the experience of art, and it brings that experience to the individual who would normally not pick up a brush, not dip it in paint. That’s what it does.”


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