Jews in the News: Joel Fields, Joe Weisberg and Ben Foster

An Innocent Gigolo, The Hero of Bohemia, Jewish Shrink Meets Killer



“American Gigolo” premieres on Showtime on Sept.11 and new episodes are released on subsequent Fridays. It’s based on the hit 1980 film of the same name. In the film, Richard Gere played Julian Kaye, a Hollywood gigolo who fell in love with a client, a wealthy married woman. Kaye is framed for a murder, but at the end of film the wealthy woman gives the police alibi information that clears Kaye.


The series alters the film’s ending. As the series opens, Kaye (who is played by JON BERNTHAL,45) has just been released from jail after serving 15 years for a murder he didn’t commit. The series follows him as he makes contact with the wealthy woman (played by Gretchen Mol) and tries to cope with the present. Meanwhile, a police detective, (played by Rosie O’Donnell), decides to take a fresh look at the murder and uncovers a large conspiracy.


“Medieval”, which opens in theaters on Sept. 11, is the most expensive ($25M) Czech film ever made. The filmmakers obviously want to re-coup this cost. So, they made (probably) wise decisions: the whole film is spoken in English and the international cast includes many well-known actors (stars include BEN FOSTER, Michael Caine, and Matthew Goode)


Until last week, I knew very little about politics and battles in historical Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in the 14th and 15th centuries. After reading about the era, and the film’s real-life hero  I can see how this historical action film, with some romance, has a good chance of attracting international audiences.


Foster,41, stars as Jan Zizka (1360-1424), now a national Czech hero. The film covers the early years of Zizka’s life, before he did the things that made him a national hero. Later in life, the “half-blind” Zizka famously “never lost a battle”. He led troops that defeated the German Teutonic Knights. After that, he stopped the armed allies of the Catholic Church from destroying the Hussites, a large “proto-Protestant” Czech sect the Church labeled heretics. (After reading this, you can understand why the first Czech anti-Nazi guerilla group was named after Zizka).


The film focuses on Zizka’s first battles. His enemy was Henry of Rosenberg (no, he wasn’t Jewish), the most powerful noble in Bohemia. Henry systemically undermined the King of Bohemia. Zizka, who came from a minor noble family, supported the King and Henry retaliated by killing most of Zitka’s family. While seeking revenge, Jan happens to meet Katherine, Henry’s fiancée. She falls in love with him and gives him inside info on Henry’s “evil” plotting.


Due to an error in my notes, I didn’t let you know in advance that “The Patient”, a 10-episode series that features a Jewish psychiatrist character, was about to premiere. It began streaming on August 29 (exclusively on Hulu). The first two episodes streamed on the 29th, with the remaining episodes premiering on subsequent Mondays. Episodes are only 23 minutes long.


The plot of this comedy/drama is unusual: Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) is a Jewish psychiatrist who is kidnapped by Sam Fortner, a serial killer (Domhall Gleason) and imprisoned in the killer’s home. Fortner wants Strauss to cure him of his desire to kill people.


Strauss is taken hostage while he’s still mourning the recent death of his wife, a cantor. While faith is important to him, he is not happy that his son, Ezra, has embraced Orthodox Judaism. His wife and son appear now-and-again in flashback scenes.


The benefit of not telling you about a series in advance is that the reviews are all in as I write this. Four out of five reviews from “top news outlets” were great to good.  "Variety", however, just didn’t like the series. It’s hard to encapsulate the reviews in a few words. Simply ‘Google’ “Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety” and the title and you’ll get two very well-written different perspectives.


There was a little blow-back that none of the three Jewish characters were played by Jewish actors. I trust that the series’ creators and writers, JOEL FIELDS, 56ish, and JOE WEISBERG, 57,  honestly felt that the actors they cast were right for the part, and if they felt a Jewish actor would have been better for the part, they would have cast that person.


Fields and Weisberg (The creators of “The Americans”) are absolutely not stealth Jews. In a recent “NY Times” interview, they said that their writing process began with the decision that the psychiatrist would be “openly” Jewish and he would be married to a cantor. 


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