Jews in the News: Nina Totenberg, Kyra Sedgwick and Zac Posen

More Tribe Roots; New Series; the Full Smoky Story; Farewell, Mary Ann

“Finding Your Roots”, the PBS celebrity ancestry series, is on a “Covid schedule”. It paused its 6th season in November. A new episode premiered on Jan. 5 and the last 6th season episode premieres on Tuesday, Jan.12 at 8 PM. Six more new episodes (Season 7) will premiere every following Tuesday through Feb. 23. The Jan. 12 episode, entitled “Coming to America”, is a “Three I” episode. “Three I” was a term once used in New York politics to describe the perfect, “balanced” Democratic ticket for most elections: One Italian, One Irish person, and one “Israel” (i.e., Jewish). This episode’s celebs are Speaker Nancy Pelosi, CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell, and fashion designer ZAC POSEN, 40. Posen soared to fame in the early 2000s as the darling of major department stores and Vogue magazine. His career has suffered with the decline of these patrons, but he is still a “big name.” The Jan. 26 episode, entitled “Against All Odds", explores the ancestry of producer and talk show host ANDY COHEN, 52, and NPR legal correspondent NINA TOTENBERG, 76. Nina’s father, ROMAN TOTENBERG, was a famous Polish-born violinist.

“Coyote", a new series, starts streaming on CBS All-Access on Thursday, Jan. 7. Michael Chiklis stars as Ben Clemens, a veteran Border Patrol agent who is forced to work for Mexican smugglers of undocumented immigrants. MARK FEURSTEIN, 49 (“Royal Pains”) has an important recurring role as Frank Kerr, a successful psychologist who is married to Clemens’ ex-wife. Over on ABC, the comedy/drama “Call Your Mother” premieres on Wednesday, Jan. 13 (9:30PM). KYRA SEDGWICK, 55 (“The Closer”) stars as an “empty-nester” mom whose adult children live far away. She decides to move near them and re-insert herself in their lives---and the kids are surprised that they do need her. Sedgwick’s mother was Jewish and she identifies as Jewish.

 On Dec. 13, the news went mega-viral that Motown music legend Smokey Robinson, 80, who wrote "My Girl" and "Tracks of My Tears", mis-pronounced “Hanukkah” as “Cha-Nook-Ah".  But there’s a lot more not widely reported.  The chronology: Jeff Jacobson’s mother grew up on the same Detroit street as Robinson. Jeff, a Canadian talent agent, hired Robinson to give his mother a Hanukkah greeting on Cameo, a video service. Robinson, like many celebs, will record a paid greeting video (he charges $350). Robinson did the video and called Hanukkah “Cha-Nook-Ah” (probably because Jacobson spelled it with a “C” in his video request and Robinson wasn’t familiar with this spelling). On Dec. 14, Jacobson tweeted that Robinson “can pronounce it [Hanukkah] any way he damn pleases. He is a true legend….He has already made [this] Chanukah one of my family’s most memorable. Also my mom says hi.” Also on the 14th, Robinson asked for Jacobson’s mom’s phone number so he could call her (a “do-over” he said). Robinson called Jacobson’s mother on Dec. 15. He reached her while she was teaching a Vancouver kindergarten class. A brief video snippet of their call was recorded and is posted on Jacobson’s Twitter account. Jeff’s mother looks very happy and she’s heard telling Smokey that she “loves him dearly”.  Here’s a link to Jacobson’s tweets and the call video:

Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann-- the “Girl Next Door”-- on the ever-popular “Gilligan’s Island”, died on Dec. 30, age 82, from Covid-19 complications. In interviews, she seemed to be just the same sweet person she was on the series, which was created by the late SHERWOOD SCHWARTZ. Her death leaves TINA LOUISE, 86 (“Ginger”) as the only surviving cast member. Yes, Louise, born Tina Blacker, is Jewish. She’s never talked about being Jewish, but her only husband, the late talk show host LES CRANE, born Leslie Stein, was Jewish and he was the father of her only child. Wells was not close to Louise, but she was very friendly with the others off-stage. She stayed very much in touch with NATALIE SCHAFER, who played Mrs. Howell (“Lovey”). Schafer, who was born into a rich New York Jewish family, was friends with many important NY theater figures in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Wells said she would never tell anyone her age. But, in her 1991 obituary, it said she was 91 at the time of her death. Wells contacted her doctor, who told her Schafer wanted her age in her obituary.  She wanted the world to know that “even at 91 she would go out every day for lunch and swim nude in her pool.”


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