Jews in the News: Sean Penn, Sophie Flack and Gilbert Gottfried

Penn, Fictional and Real, Baltimore Bad Cops; Gottfried Documentary

“Gaslight” is an 8-episode limited Starz series that begins streaming on April 24. Early in 1972, John Mitchell (SEAN PENN, 61), Nixon’s Atty. General, resigned and became Nixon’s re-election campaign head.  His wife, Martha (Julia Roberts), had some info about the Watergate break-in (June 1972). John knew she probably would give this info to the press.  Just days after the break-in, John arranged for his wife’s kidnapping and imprisonment in a hotel room. Martha managed to call a top Washington reporter and briefly talk about Watergate before the phone was ripped from her hand. John then orchestrated a smear campaign to paint his wife as a drunk and a “nut”.

NAT FAXON, 44, whose mother was Jewish, plays top Nixon aide Bob Haldeman. Like Nixon’s other top aide, John Ehrlichman, Haldeman did prison time for his Watergate crimes. The Nixon tapes disclosed that Haldeman and Nixon often made anti-Semitic remarks, but never did so when Ehrlichman was present. Why? They knew that Ehrlichman’s father was a Jew who converted to John’s mother’s faith, Christian Science.

I do have to note, here, Sean Penn’s humanitarian work. It was again in the news when Penn spoke to MSNBC and Fox News shortly after his return (April 4) from Ukraine, where he was making a documentary that began filming before the Russian invasion. He talked about his admiration for President Zelenskyy, about their friendship, and about the work that CORE, a humanitarian organization he founded, is doing in Ukraine and Poland (helping refugees).

As I saw Penn talk about war, I thought about his reaction to comments that he was “unpatriotic” when he opposed the Iraq War (2003-4). He bristled as he pointed-out that his late father, actor/director LEO PENN, was a WWII bomber crew member who flew 25 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe.

CORE’s first mission (2010) was helping Haitian hurricane victims. Early in the pandemic, CORE gave thousands of free Covid tests to Americans. Later, it gave free vaccinations to thousands. As I’ve noted before, Penn arranged the “jail-break” (2013) of an Orthodox Jewish businessman held in a Bolivian prison on trumped-up charges.

“We Own This City” is an original HBO Max series that streams the first of its six episodes on April 24. “We Own” tells the story of the amazingly corrupt Gun Track Task Force (GTTF), a (real) unit in the Baltimore Police Dept. In 2017, all eight members of the team were arrested and they were subsequently convicted.

“We Own” is familiar ground for series co-creator DAVID SIMON, 62, a Baltimore native.  He was the creator, or co-creator, and principal writer of three other Baltimore-based series that focused heavily on the troubled relationship between the poorer people of Baltimore and the police—“Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-99), an NBC series; “The Corner”, a 2000 HBO mini-series; and the HBO series “The Wire” (2002-2008).

The large cast includes JON BERNTHAL, 45, as Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the worst of the very bad GTTF cops; JOSH CHARLES, 50, a real-life Baltimore native, as Daniel Hersl, another GTTF member; and DAVID CORENSWET, 28, as David McDougall, a county deputy sheriff who initiated the GTTF corruption investigation.

Bernthal is really having a career year, with high profile roles in “King Richard” and “The Sopranos” HBO movie; Charles is still best known as the co-star of “The Good Wife”. Since that series ended, he and his wife, journalist SOPHIE FLACK, 38, have had two children; and Corenswet (“The Politician”) may have a career breakthrough with “We Own”. His late father came from a prominent New Orleans Jewish family. His mother is a “WASP”. He identifies as Jewish.

I wrote this in 2018 about GILBERT GOTTFRIED, who died last week:

Reasonable people can differ on whether they like the usually dirty stand-up humor of GILBERT GOTTFRIED. But I was charmed and touched by the documentary film about his life, “Gilbert,” which was released in 2017…He wed his girlfriend of ten years, DAVA KRAVITZ, in 2007 and they now have two young children. She is the perfect wife for him—a miracle really—she’s smart, funny, nurturing, and tolerant of his huge quirks and neuroses. She laughs at stuff that would turn-off many other women. Gilbert is a weird husband and father, but his family adores him...The unexpected continues as we see how Gilbert is so kind to his sisters (lots of home movie stuff) and how they adore him, too. Forget whether you like his comedy—this is a great Jewish family story.

Post-script: As I write this (April 14), the documentary "Gilbert" is streaming, for FREE, on Peacock, Pluto, and the Roku Channel. Peacock is on most cable systems. Peacock can also be viewed as a stream-to-TV app via Roku and Amazon Fire (as can Pluto). Peacock and Pluto also can be viewed on-line. All Roku users know the “in-house” Roku Channel. 


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