Jews in the News: Steven Spielberg, Logan Lerman and Jon Berenthal

More Roots, Nice and Shocking

SHERYL SANDBERG, 49, the chief operating officer of Facebook will be a featured guest on the PBS celebrity ancestry show, “Finding Your Roots.” Her episode first airs on Tuesday, Jan. 29. The Feb. 5 episode will feature former House Speaker Paul Ryan. It’s already been made public that Ryan was surprised when he learned, on air, that he had about 3% Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

The documentary “Three Identical Strangers” (2018), a surprise hit when it played in theaters, will be shown on CNN, starting on Jan. 27 at 8PM. There’s been a lot of media coverage about the subject of this documentary: three identical American Jewish boy babies who were separated at birth, in 1961, by the Louise Wise (Jewish) adoption agency and placed with three Jewish families. I will not spoil the surprises in the documentary for those less familiar with the story’s details (details like the shocking reasons why they were separated). I will add that this film got stellar reviews and it’s a likely Oscar nominee. It’s such a hit that last July it was announced that a big-budget feature film based on the brothers’ story will be made. By the way, the Louise Wise agency also placed ANDY SAMBERG’s Jewish mother with her adoptive parents (see Jan. 8 episode of “Tracing Your Roots”).

Upcoming Interesting Projects

A new film version of the great musical “West Side Story,” directed by STEVEN SPIELBERG, 72, is now coming together. Of course, they will use the incredible score by the late LEONARD BERNSTEIN and STEPHEN SONDHEIM, now 88. Last year, TONY KUSHNER, 62, penned a revised story for the musical (we know the teen gangs will remain Puerto Rican and “white”). Casting is mostly done, with Ansel Elgort, 24, who had a Jewish paternal grandfather, playing Tony, the male lead. Just last week, 17-year-old Rachel Zegler, was cast as Maria, the female lead. She was found in a nationwide casting call—and, no, shucks, she isn’t Jewish “at all.” Rita Moreno, 87, whose late husband was Jewish, has been cast in a re-worked version of “Doc,” the owner of a luncheonette that was gang “neutral” territory. Moreno won a best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Maria’s best friend in the original 1961 film. By the way, all but one (Natalie Wood) of the original four leads in the 1961 movie are still alive. ELIOT FELD, now 76, who played “Baby John”, the youngest member of the Jet gang in the original film, wasn’t a lead. But he and Moreno went on to have the biggest careers of the 1961 movie cast members. Feld is now universally held to be one of the greatest modern dance/classic ballet choreographers of all-time.

LOGAN LERMAN, 26, (“Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Percy Jackson”) will co-star in “The Hunt,” a 10-episode Amazon original series. Also co-starring is Al Pacino, who is appearing in his first TV series. Details are sparse right now, but I know that Lerman plays a young man named Jonah Heidelbaum (who I bet his Jewish). After his grandmother is murdered, Jonah tracks down the killer (who I bet is Nazi-connected). As he tracks the killer, he encounters a mysterious organization called the Hunt. It is dedicated to hunting down Nazis living in America. Pacino plays a Nazi hunter who mentors Heidelbaum.

A ‘prequel’ “Sopranos” movie, entitled “The Many Saints of Newark,” is in the works. Helming the prequel is David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos.” The film is set in Newark, New Jersey circa 1967. In 1967, racial tensions flared in Newark, which suffered from one of the worst riots in American history. Alessandro Nivola, whose paternal grandmother was a German Jewish refugee, will play gangster Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti, the father of gangster Christopher Molstanti, a lead character in the “Sopranos” TV show. COREY STOLL, 42, will play a yet undisclosed character. I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays an Italian gangster. Chase, who is Italian-American, once said that he tried to cast Italian-Americans in “Sopranos” TV show Italian roles, but didn’t care if Jews played Italians, since they were so similar (JAMIE-LYNN SIGLER, now 37, played the daughter of lead character Tony Soprano).

But the big news is that JON BERENTHAL, 42, will likely play Tony Soprano’s gangster father Johnny. It makes sense: he has the tough-guy aura that some Jewish actors have that make them great Mafia-part actors (think JAMES CAAN in “The Godfather”). Berenthal now stars as Frank Castle, an Italian-American super tough guy in the Netflix series “The Punisher.” Berenthal does his own stunts, is an amateur boxer, and owns three pit bulls.


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