Jews in the News: Tanya Roberts, Natasha Leggero and Tiffany Haddish

Tanya Roberts, For the Record; Funny Ladies, a Promising Newcomer

Actress TANYA ROBERTS died on Jan. 5. On Jan. 3, there many erroneous reports that she had just died and this error made her death a bigger news story than it otherwise would have been. Roberts, a very “hot” woman, wasn’t a major star, but she had some good roles: she was an “angel” in the last season (1981) of “Charlie’s Angels”: she co-starred in the cult fantasy classic “The Beastmaster” (1982) opposite “beefcake” actor MARC SINGER, now 72; she was the “Bond Girl” in “A View from the Kill” (1985); and she was a cast member of “That ‘70s Show”. She played the mother of lead character Donna (LAURA PREPON, 40) from 1998-2001. Years later, she revealed that she left the series because her husband, writer BARRY ROBERTS, was terminally ill with encephalitis. She nursed him for five years until he died in 2006, age 61.  Barry and Tanya, both from the Bronx, wed in 1974. A reliable source who knew Barry in high school told me he was Jewish, and that he “just knew” that Barry, a “ladies’ man”, would end up with a “hot” woman (she proposed to him.)

Tanya’s premature death notices led to some government record-checking by me and a friend. For decades, her bios repeated the same thing—that she was born in 1955, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Irish father. Turns out that Tanya, born Victoria Blum, was born in 1949. Her father, OSCAR BLUM, was Jewish. Her mother, Dorothy Smith, was English, and it’s unclear if she was Jewish. I don’t fault Roberts for shaving six years off her age in youth obsessed Hollywood. But maybe it explains why she had no interest in correcting on-line bio details.

The Amazon Prime special “Yearly Departed”, which began streaming on Dec. 30, is worth your time. It features seven female comedians speaking at a mock funeral for 2020, a truly bad year. The show’s head writer, BESS KALB, 33, says it was inspired by a remark by the late CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS. He said “women aren’t funny.” Of course, not every joke in the show is hilarious. But they hit more than they miss. The three “tribe” funny ladies are SARAH SILVERMAN, 50, NATASHA LEGGERO, 47, and TIFFANY HADDISH, 27. Also appearing is honorary tribe member Rachel Brosnahan (“Mrs. Maisel”).

Tom Hanks’ first Western, “News of the World”, opened last month to good reviews and is streaming on video-on-demand. Hanks’ character travels around with recent newspapers and, for a fee, reads them to people in isolated towns.  During his travels, he’s cajoled into returning a white girl, taken by the Kiowa tribe years before, to her relatives, even though the girl wants to remain with the Kiowa. They travel hundreds of hard, eventful miles. MARE WINNINGHAM, 61, has a large-ish supporting role (Jane, a shopkeeper). Raised a Catholic, Winningham took a class about Judaism in 2001. Two years later, after much study, she converted to Judaism. Her conversion wasn’t associated with having a Jewish romantic partner. She likes to refer to herself as a Jewish country singer and she issued a “Jewgrass” album in 2017. Last March, she got amazingly good reviews for her performance in “Girl From the North Country”, a hit Broadway musical that features many BOB DYLAN songs. It had to close after a few weeks because of Covid-19.

I decided to write this “late” item when I became aware of another Jewish cast member, FRED HECHINGER, 20.  His talent must have impressed the director, etc., because he was given 4th billing in the cast credits even though this is his first film (!). He plays John Calley, a sweet 17-year-old who breaks with a criminal band he has fallen into.  The actor’s late grandfather, also named Fred Hechinger, fled Nazi Germany in 1936, and became a prominent NY Times editor/education writer. His other “grands” were Jewish, too.

 The Yiddish word “mishegoss” (“nonsense”) is showing up more and more on TV. My favorite example came just after the Electoral College met on Dec. 14. Anderson Cooper of CNN, who isn’t Jewish, but grew up in “very Jewish” Manhattan, asked a panel if this was the end of the “mishegoss” about the election results. The faces of the three panel members were all displayed on the screen as Cooper asked the question. GLORIA BORGER, 68, CNN’s chief political analyst, and DAVID AXELROD, 65, a CNN contributor, smiled almost simultaneously when Cooper said “mishegoss”. John Dean, of Watergate fame, didn’t react. He obviously isn’t “mishegoss-aware”.


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