Jews in the News: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and Cole Hauser

Trek, the Jewish Connection; Hanks/Sapochnik Film; Couric & Cole Hauser

On Nov. 5, The History Channel will premiere a 10-part docuseries called “The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek”.  It’s directed by BRIAN VOLK-WEISS, 45, the director/producer of “The Movies That Made Us”, a hit Netflix series. Each episode focuses on different “chapters” of the “Trek” franchise: live-action TV series, animated series, and films.  Many people associated with “Trek” were interviewed for the docuseries, including actor WALTER KOENIG, 85 (‘Chekov’ in the original Trek series), actor BRENT SPINER, 72 (‘Data’ on Star Trek: The Next Generation”), NICHOLAS MEYER, 75 (He directed “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and co-wrote “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”), and RICK BERMAN, 75, (the head producer of five“ Trek” TV series-- beginning with “Next Gen” and ending with “Star Trek Enterprise.”)

It’s always seemed a ‘miracle’ to me that 3 of the 7 main cast stars in the “original” Trek were Jewish (Koenig; the late LEONARD NIMOY as Mr. Spock; and WILLIAM SHATNER, now 90, as Capt. Kirk). I hope the docuseries, as it covers the first “failed” “Trek” pilot and the “re-tooled” successful pilot (1964-66), provides some support for my (following) explanation of this “miracle”. 

Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wanted good actors, but he had a small show budget. Roddenberry followed the example of ROD SERLING, the creator of “The Twilight Zone”, and hired low-salary, but very talented character actors and cast them in lead roles. For a variety of reasons, Jewish actors were/are much more likely to be first-class character actors than leads.   

Shatner didn’t have much of track record as a leading man. But he did guest star on two memorable “Twilight Zone” episodes. Nimoy was a guest actor on other shows Roddenberry had worked-on and he knew Nimoy was talented. As for Koenig---well, he could do a really good Russian accent because his parents were Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants.

Post-Script: Of course, we all know that Shatner recently went into space. Here are answers to two questions I always get asked about him: (1) Yes, he is very open about being Jewish (see his two volumes of memoirs) and he has done some Jewish charitable events and (2) His first wife was Jewish and she is the mother of his children (three daughters). Shatner often celebrates Jewish holidays with his daughters.

“Finch” is a new film that was set to be in theaters in 2020, but the pandemic intervened, and it will now premiere on Apple+ on Nov. 5. The premise is that the Earth was turned into a wasteland by a solar event. Tom Hanks plays Finch, a robotics engineer who is the sole human survivor. His companion is a beloved dog. Things get dicey when Finch learns he is dying. He creates a robot and trains it to be “so human” that it will be able to take over the care of his dog. The director is MIGUEL SAPOCHNIK, 47, a British Jew whose parents were Argentine immigrants. Sapochnik is best known as the Emmy-winning director of the spectacular, big-battle “Game of Thrones” episodes (“Battle of the Bastards” and others).

You might have read a recent JTA article about a new memoir by Katie Couric, the former news anchor. The article headline said that Couric “revealed” that her late mother was Jewish.  In 2004, I reported that Couric had just told a Fox reporter that her mother was Jewish. Couric also told this reporter that she was raised in her father’s Protestant faith. Then, in 2007, I told my readers about a new full-scale biography of Couric. It reported that Couric’s Jewish-born mother had converted to Christianity after marrying her father (this important detail isn’t in the JTA piece and I have to check if it is in Couric’s memoir). In 2015, I reported that Couric had just wed her current husband, a Jewish banker.).

The 4th season of the Paramount Network modern Western “Yellowstone”, starring Kevin Costner, begins on Nov. 7. “Yellowstone” is one of the bigger hits in the land of basic cable. I thought it was time to clue you into what I know of the Jewish background of COLE HAUSER, 46, one of the show’s stars. His father wasn’t Jewish.  He was raised by his Jewish mother, CASS WARNER, the granddaughter of HARRY WARNER, one of the founders of Warner Brothers.  I regret to say that I’ve never been able to find out if Hauser has any “Jewish ties” other than being the son of a Jewish mother. 


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