Jews in the News: Steven Spielberg, Peter Hilton and Seth Rogan

Kennedy Center Honors

The annual Kennedy Center Honors awards for excellence in the arts were presented on Dec. 7 and on Tuesday, Dec. 30, at 9PM, CBS will show a videotape of the awards ceremony. It is always a great show and is never repeated by CBS. So, I am giving you a heads-up, even though this the first year since 2005 in which none of the five honorees are Jewish.  The honorees includes all-around good guy Tom Hanks. His buddy and frequent collaborator, STEVEN SPIELBERG, 67, took the stage to praise Hanks, calling him “America’s favorite son.”

Chinese and a Movie? (Mostly Opening Dec. 25)

Two brilliant Brits, Steven Hawking and Alan Turing, are the subjects of major bio pics---“The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game.” “Theory” opened several weeks ago, but is still playing theaters, and I recently became aware that the British physicist who supervised Hawking’s doctorate, the late DENNIS SCIAMA, was of Syrian Jewish background, and Sciama is a larger character in “Theory” than I thought before it opened.

“Imitation Game”, which opens on the 25th, covers the triumphs and tragedies of Turing, a mathematical genius who lead a diverse team that cracked the secret communication code produced by the Nazi Engima machine and probably brought WWII to an end two years early---thereby saving millions of lives, including what was left of European Jewry. While the film focuses on WWII code-breaking, inter-cut are scenes of Turing’s earlier and later life, including his prosecution for being a homosexual in the early 1950s.  An important real-life character in the film (played by Matthew Beard) is English mathematician and code-breaker PETER HILTON (1923-2010). One bio piece about Hilton says: “Occasionally he would even break messages sent by Hitler, himself.” The film’s screenplay is by GRAHAM MOORE, 32, who describes himself as a “Jewish kid from Chicago.”  He is also the author of the best-selling novel, “The Sherlockian.” His mother, SUSAN STEINER SHER, 63, was Chicago’s chief civil attorney and Michelle Obama’s chief-of-staff from 2009-2011.

Director Rob Marshall, who confounded skeptical pundits when turned the hit Broadway musical, “Chicago,” into a hit film, tries again with “Into the Woods,” which was a Broadway hit in 1987. The movie retains the original STEPHEN SONDHEIM score and the screenplay was written by JAMES LAPINE, 65, who wrote the “book” (story) for the original stage show. It is a modern re-telling of a number of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, including Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. The large cast includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Deep, and Anna Kendrick. (Opens on the 25th).

“The Gambler,” which opens the same day, is a re-make of a 1974 film of the same name which starred JAMES CAAN, now 74. The re-make stars Mark Wahlberg in the Caan role (a literature professor with a gambling problem who runs into trouble with gangsters). The re-make pretty much follows the original script by JAMES TOBACK, now 69. Caan and Wahlberg, by the way, are real-life buddies.

NOT opening on Dec. 25, as originally scheduled,  is “The Interview,” a (Sony films) comedy which co-stars SETH ROGEN, 32,  and JAMES FRANCO, 36,  as celebrity journalists who land an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and then are instructed by the CIA to assassinate him.  The film was co-written and co-directed by Rogen and his long-time partner, EVAN GOLDBERG, 32.  The movie was the subject of North Korea regime protests and you’ve probably already read that is believed that North Korean agents are responsible for hacking into Sony films computer system and releasing confidential corporate information.  Last week, vague threats of attacks on theatergoers lead Sony to cancel the film’s release altogether. I will write more about the cancellation in a future column.

Baseball in New Zealand?

This is kind of neat: the new American ambassador to New Zealand is MARK GILBERT, 58, a prominent Chicago-based fundraiser for President Obama. Gilbert is the first major league baseball player to be a “regular ambassador” (as opposed to an honorary ‘goodwill’ ambassador). Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1978, he played minor league ball for the Cubs and Reds before appearing in seven major league games with the White Sox in 1985. By the way, JOHN KEY, 53, the Prime Minister of New Zealand since 2008, is the secular son of a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother---and, yes, they play baseball in New Zealand. The website “Baseball New Zealand” says that there are now about 5,000 “Kiwis” playing baseball in schools and amateur leagues.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Gilbert has a finance degree from Florida State University.


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