Jews in the News: Lorne Michaels, Beanie Feldstein and Steven Spielberg

Kennedy Center Honors Goes "Normal", Sondheim's Last Note to Spielberg, More

The Kennedy Centers Honors are annually given to 5 persons in the performing arts for their lifetime contribution to American culture. The honorees this year are LORNE MICHAELS, 77, BETTE MIDLER, 76. Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Justino Diaz, a Puerto Rican opera singer, and famous singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. 

The Honors are a weekend long event that this year took place on Dec.5-6. The Honors normally include a dinner sponsored by the State Dept., a private reception at the White House, and a Sunday evening gala public concert at the Kennedy Center.  In welcoming remarks, Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN, 59, noted the vital role culture can play in advancing international understanding.

As the "Washington Post" put it: the most recent Honors events were a return to "normalcy". The Honors awards began in 1978 and before 2017, a sitting President almost never missed an Honors event. However, President Trump chose not to attend any Honors event during his term. This wasn’t “normal” and “not normal" got much worse in 2020-21. The 2020 Honors events did not take place last December, as they usually do, because of the pandemic. The 2020 honorees got their award in a virtual event that took place in March, 2021. 

I mention all this because the 2021 Honors are something special and it's really worth watching. The Gala audience, which included many Republican attendees, were reportedly "giddy" as they got to enjoy "real" live entertainment from the Kennedy Center stage (saluting the honorees). The "Post" says that the 2,000 people at the Gala showered President Biden with standing ovations mostly because he was there—and except for face masks, things were “pretty normal” again

CBS will broadcast the Honors Gala concert on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 9PM EST. The concert is a four-hour event that CBS edits down to 2 hours. This year, for the first time, the CBS Gala footage will also stream on Paramount+ (formerly CBS All-Access).  I know that CBS NEVER re-runs their Gala coverage or makes it available on-demand. I don’t believe it will be on-demand on Paramount+. Best bet: watch live on CBS and, if you can, DVR record it.

Midler was feted by BEANIE FELDSTEIN, 28, Kate Baldwin, and Taylor Trensch, who co-starred with Midler in her hit 2017 Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!”. They took the Gala concert stage and sang a Midler favorite, “You Gotta Have Friends." 

GOLDIE HAWN, 76, singer MELISSA MANCHESTER, 70, and BARBARA HERSHEY, 73, (who co-starred with Midler in “Beaches”) told warm anecdotes about Midler (Manchester’s parents were Jewish; Hawn’s mother was Jewish, and Hershey’s father was Jewish).

Lorne Michaels, born Lorne Lipowitz, co-created “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”) in 1975 and he remains its very much “hands-on” producer. Yes, some of his choices (guest hosts, cast members, etc.) have been reasonably criticized. However, to keep a hit show a hit show for 45 years is an objectively remarkable record. At the Gala, a series of SNL “Weekend Update” hosts took the stage. (Kevin Nealon, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Colin Jost, and Michael Che). They appeared in a mock-up of a television set and, in classic “SNL” way, they honored Michaels through barbed comedic comments about his shortcomings and quirks.

Opening in theaters on Dec. 17 is "Nightmare Alley". It is a re-make of a harrowing 1947 film about the rise and gruesome fall of a con man. Bradley Cooper stars as the con-man. The supporting cast includes RON PERLMAN, 71, and TIM BLAKE NELSON, 57.

Shortly after STEPHEN SONDHEIM'S death, the website CinemaBlend published a moving piece about Sondheim’s last communication with STEVEN SPIELBERG, who directed the new film version of “West Side Story” (Sondheim wrote the lyrics for “West Side” songs.).

After seeing a special preview screening of the new “West Side Story”, Sondheim sent Spielberg a simple note. Spielberg explained that he sometimes called Sondheim ‘SS1’ and Sondheim sometimes called Spielberg “SS2”. (Think about their initials for a second).

The note read: "SS2, you done good buddy boy.---SS1."

Spielberg went on to say that he was “heartbroken" and that during the pandemic “SS1" and SS2” became great friends. They bonded over the making of the new “West Side Story” and through their mutual love of older movies.During the pandemic and quarantine, Spielberg said, they spent a year-and-a-half exchanging films with each other and wrote many long e-mails to each other about the films. 

Here's a personal story: Rita Moreno, who turned 90 on Dec. 11, won an Oscar for her performance in the original 1961 "West Side Story" film and has a smallish supporting role in the new film. About 10 years ago, Moreno hired the then-girlfriend of a close friend of mine to be her housekeeper. This girlfriend had had a very rough life. Moreno couldn't have been kinder to her. Nice to know that people who seem "nice" in interviews really are mensches.   


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