Jews in the News: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hans Rey and Ernest Gruening

The Ginsburgs and Mimi Leder

  “On the Basis of Sex” is a bio-pic about Justice RUTH BADER GINSBURG, 85, and her late husband, attorney MARTIN GINSBURG (1932-2010). The film depicts how they fully supported each other in their home and in their careers. For example, Ruth saw her husband through a battle with cancer when he was in law school. Martin shared the childcare, housework, and cooked most of the family’s meals. The Justice has often said her husband was not the typical ‘50s era man—he saw no reason why women shouldn’t be treated equally and he fully supported his wife’s legal career. The film’s climax comes when the couple team-up in 1972 to argue, and win, a landmark sex-discrimination case. Felicity Jones plays Ruth and Armie Hammer plays Martin (The ‘gorgeous’ Hammer is not absurd as Martin. Mr. Ginsburg was a very handsome man). “Basis” opened in limited release on Dec. 25th. In most cities, it won’t open until January 4th or 11th. By the way, the excellent 2017 documentary on the Justice, “RBG”, is available (for a fee) on all streaming services and free if you are a Hulu subscriber.

The “Basis” director is MIMI LEDER, 68. She has had an up-and-down career. Leder began in TV in 1978, first as a scriptwriter, and then as a TV episode and TV movie director. Finally, in 1997, STEVEN SPIELBERG picked her to direct the action flick “Peacemaker,” starring George Clooney. Leder followed “Peacemaker” with the sci-fi action film “Deep Impact.” Reviews were mixed, but it made a lot of money. Then “Pay It Forward, another Leder-directed film, opened in 2000. It got mostly tepid reviews and lost a little money. What happened next is probably an example of Hollywood sex discrimination that may be worth its own movie. Leder was essentially blackballed—she got no more jobs directing feature films until “On the Basis of Sex.” Yes, “Pay It Forward” was a flop, but many directors have a flop and quickly get more movie directing jobs.  The evidence supports Leder’s claim that her gender was a huge factor in her “blackballing.” Unlike most of her male counterparts, one movie flop put her in what she calls “Hollywood jail.”  She kept busy since 2000 directing TV pilots and TV movies.

Also Worth Viewing

By coincidence, two other very recent films about extraordinary Jewish married couples are now streaming. Netflix just added the documentary “Harold and Lillian: A Love Story” (2017). HAROLD and LILLIAN MICHELSON were a legendary Hollywood couple. Harold was a top story board creator and often verged into being a major film’s unsung director. Lillian ran the best film research library in Hollywood. They came to Hollywood just after WWII with nothing, but they “held it together” in the face of many personal and career obstacles. Like the Ginsburgs, a key to their success was their unflinching support of each other.

“Monkey Business: the Curious Adventures of the Creators of George’s Creators” (2017) is a wonderfully-made documentary that tells the story of HANS REY (1898-1977) and his wife, MARGARET WALDSTEIN RAY (1906-1996). The Reys were both born into cultured, upper-middle class German Jewish families. They became famous in the 1950s as the creators of best-selling children’s books about Curious George, a monkey. Hans was the illustrator and Margaret the main writer. A series of very unlikely events allowed them to escape the Nazis and they came to America, in 1941, with just one thing of value: the manuscript of the first “George” book. The film masterfully interweaves interviews, photos, home movies, and “George like” animation segments to tell their story. (Free for Hulu subscribers. Pay-per-view on many other services.)

 A Jewish Doctor in the House and Another in the Rotunda

A question from a reader who is a pediatrician prompted me to check. Dr. KIM SCHRIER, 50, a newly-elected Congresswoman from the State of Washington, is the first female Jewish doctor elected to Congress, the first pediatrician in Congress, and—surprise—only the 2nd Jew who practiced medicine to be elected to Congress. There is one footnote: ERNEST GRUENING (1887-1974), was pressured by his doctor father to go to medical school. However, right after he graduated from Harvard Medical School, he got a summer job as a journalist and never practiced medicine. He went on to be the territorial Governor of Alaska during WWII and one of Alaska’s first two Senators when it became a state in 1958. A statue of him stands in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Every state can place two “notables” statues in the Rotunda, and Alaska picked Gruening. He’s the only Jew so honored.


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