Jews in the News: Jed Rothstein, Jessica Walter, and George Segal

WeWork and Crossing the Sinai

On April 2, Hulu will begin streaming a new documentary, “WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn”. WeWork is an office-sharing company that attracted massive investment and then nearly financially collapsed in 2019. The company is currently valued less than the money that investors poured into it.

The co-founder and former CEO of WeWork is ADAM NEUMANN, 41. For a time, he seemed like a Jewish role model: born in Israel, and a veteran of the Israeli navy, he permanently settled in States around 2000. This handsome and charismatic guy is a religious Jew, has a smart Jewish wife (who is a first cousin of GWYNETH PALTROW), and together they have five kids.

WeWork wasn’t quite a scam, but it was way “oversold”. Fortunately, for Neumann, most of its debt was held by a Japanese bank that felt they had too much invested to let WeWork fail. They “forced” Neumann out in 2019, but he walked away with a 1.7 billion dollar severance package. The documentary was directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker JED ROTHSTEIN, 47. (A dramatic mini-series about WeWork is in the works. It will co-star Anne Hathaway as REBEKA NEUMANN and Jared Leto as Adam, her husband.)

ABC’s annual broadcast of the 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments”, will air on Saturday, April 3, starting at 7PM. It’s been quite some time since I wrote about the film. So, I am “re-running” a few fun facts that you may not remember---and a few facts new to this column.

Most of the cast wasn’t Jewish, including Charlton Heston, a devout Christian (and big Israel supporter), who played Moses. EDWARD G. ROBINSON (as the evil DATHAN) and OLIVE DEERING (as Moses’ sister, MIRIAM) were the only Jewish actors with important roles in the film.

Robinson, like a lot of liberals, signed some left-wing petitions in the 1930s and ‘40s. In the “Red Scare” ‘50s, his petition signatures led to him being “gray-listed”. He couldn’t get roles in “A” list movies.

“Commandments” director Cecil B. DeMille was well-known as a fierce anti-Communist. But he liked Robinson. So, he bucked the “gray list” and cast him. DeMille’s “endorsement” got Robinson permanently off the “gray list” and he got big parts again.

DeMille’s mother was Jewish, but she converted away when she wed his Episcopal father. DeMille was “mum” about his “mum’s” Jewish ancestry. It wasn’t known until the publication of a scholarly biography in 1988.

eering received good notices for her stage work in the 1950s and ‘60s, but had a limited film and TV career. An amusing sidelight about Deering is found in the 1989 memoir, “Which Reminds Me”, by the late actor TONY RANDALL. Randall says that Deering originated a line that many actors (stuck filming a bad movie or filming a movie under terrible conditions) have since used.

After many weeks of filming “Commandments” in the heat and dust of the Mojave Desert, Deering said: "Who do you have to sleep with to get with to get off of this picture?"

Seven young women played Jethro’s daughters. Jethro was the father of ZIPPORAH, Moses’ wife. Zipporah was played by Yvonne DeCarlo, now best known for playing Lily Munster on “The Munsters”, the ‘60s TV comedy that was re-run for decades.  

Zipporah is the only daughter to be named in the screen credits. The six others are only listed as “Jethro’s daughter.”

Only one of the six has another film or TV credit. That “one” is JOANNA MERLIN, 89. Merlin, along with LISA MITCHELL, 80 (another daughter), are likely the only credited cast members still alive.

Merlin has had a major career as an acting teacher and a big-time Broadway casting director. She is still teaching. You might recognize Merlin from her scores of TV guest acting roles. She played Judge Petrovsky in 43 episodes of “Law and Order”. Merlin’s sister, HARRIET GLICKMAN, died last year, age 93. A retired schoolteacher, she got a big NY Times obit because in April, 1968, after the death of Martin Luther King, she wrote Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts”, and urged him to put a black child character in his comic strip. Schultz wrote back and got her consent to share her letter with black friends and get their input. In July, 1968, Schultz introduced Franklin, the strip’s first black character (See obit for more info).

As I write this, the death of JESSICA WALTER, 80, was just announced. It came shortly after the death of GEORGE SEGAL, 87. They worked together in a very good, very Jewish film, and in a so/so sit-com. Much more in next column. 


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