Jews in the News: Simon Helberg, Leonard Nimoy and Robert Towne

Industry, The Old Man, Godfather Jewish Sidelights


The HBO series “Industry” recently made it on my radar. It premiered in 2020 during the apex of the pandemic, but was filmed before the pandemic hit. Almost all reviewers said that the show was an unrealistic look at the lives of young people trying to move up the ladder at a large London financial services company. Many critics said that you could overlook the unrealism because the energy of young people living pre-Covid professional and romantic lives had a certain fun and charm. While their financial talk was “mumbo-jumbo”, critics said, the characters strictly personal conversations were witty. Many said it was more fun than “Succession”. 


A second, 8-episode season premiered on August 1. About a week ago, I learned that a star of “Industry”, MARISA ABELA, 25, is the (British) daughter of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. Abela plays Yasmin Kara-Hanani, a woman of Lebanese background who comes from a wealthy family. Yasmin’s father made his debut in the second season. He's played by ADAM LEVY, 51, a Brit actor.


Abela father’s family is of Maltese, non-Jewish origin. Her mother’s parents, Abela says, are the children of Polish Jewish refugees. I learned about Abela’s background in a brief article that said she was in “early talks” to play the late AMY WINEHOUSE, the famous British Jewish pop singer. The article noted that the filmmakers were determined to find someone of Jewish background to play Winehouse.


The Old Man, a Hulu original series, ended its 7-episode premiere season on July 21. A second season was just ordered. It stars Jeff Bridges as an ex-CIA agent who has long been living under a false identity. Here’s just two reasons to watch the first season: it got great reviews, and JOEL GREY, 90, turns in a great performance in a quite small but important recurring role.


I hope by the time the second season premieres that I can verify that the two producers and co-writers of the show, “newbies” Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine, are Jewish. Seems like a “gimee”, but it’s not.


“The Offer” is a (concluded) Paramount+ series about the making of “The Godfather”, a 1972 Paramount studio film. As I previously wrote, there was a “record-number” of real-life Jewish characters in the series and a lot of Jewish actors playing Jews. However, “The Offer”, while sometimes “fun”, disappointed me because it was incredibly inaccurate.


The series credits say it is based on the “memories of Al Ruddy”.  RUDDY, 92, The Godfather’s producer, is constantly falsely depicted as the “indispensable man”. Events are often made up out of whole cloth.


If you want a list of the biggest fibs/inventions, e-mail me care of this paper. A silver lining is that as I looked into “The Offer”, I incidentally came across three “new-to-me” Jewish sidelights on "The Godfather".  Share them with friends and family who are fans of the “The Godfather”. The number of such fans has only grown in the last 50 years.


Here goes: JOHN MARLEY, born John Marlieb, played big-time producer Jack Woltz, the guy who wakes up with a horse’s head in his bed. In a 1972 interview, Marley said that a fake head looked too fake, so a real horse’s head was obtained from a local slaughterhouse(!). Marley added that he was so focused on his acting in the scene that he didn’t realize how horrific it was until filmgoers told him about their reaction.  (2) There’s a brief scene in which we see a sign, in front of a movie studio gate, that says “Woltz International Pictures”. The sign was actually posted in front of a Paramount studio gate.  The Paramount studio street that begins at that gate has recently been renamed in honor of Jewish actor LEONARD NIMOY. (3) Just before the film’s release, studio execs complained there was no “Godfather” scene in which stars Al Pacino and Marlon Brando exchange more than a few words. Francis Ford Coppola, the “Godfather” director and co-writer, asked his friend, screenwriter ROBERT TOWNE, now 87, to write a “talky” scene. Towne’s scene is very memorable: Brando tells Pacino how to ferret out traitors and how much he regrets that his son (Pacino) has been drawn into the criminal life. 


When Coppola won (1972) the best screenplay Oscar for “Godfather”, he thanked Towne. Towne, who was born Robert Schwartz, got his own best screenplay Oscar for “Chinatown” (1974) and he wrote many other famous films. His niece is married to SIMON HELBERG, 41 (Howard on “Big Bang Theory”). 


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