Jews in the News: Vanessa Bayer, Jason Schwartzman and Robert Morse

Bayer Tells a Big Fib; Dr. Strange; Star Trek Prequel; Robert Morse, Jewish (!)

“I Love That for You” is an 8-episode comedy series that premiered on Showtime on April 29. VANESSA BAYER, 40, co-created the series and plays the star character, Joanna Gold (as I write this, it hasn’t been disclosed whether Gold is a Jewish character).

Bayer is best known as a “Saturday Night Live” star cast member (2010-2017). Jewish viewers will vividly remember her recurring SNL/Weekend Update appearances as Jacob, the bar mitzvah boy. Bayer created this character and wrote Jacob’s SNL skits. When Bayer was 15, she was diagnosed with leukemia which, obviously, she survived. Her experience with leukemia, Bayer says, partially inspired her new series.

As “I Love” begins, Joanna gets her dream job---hosting on a shopping channel. But Joanna really isn’t that good a host and she knows she is about to be fired. So, she tells everyone at work that she had childhood leukemia (true) and it has returned (a lie).  Her colleagues rally around her, but her parents warn Joanna that this lie will come back and bite her.

Veteran actor JASON SCHWARTZMAN, 41, plays Joanna’s nice boyfriend. Jason’s late father, a film producer, was Jewish. His mother is actress Talia Shire (“The Godfather”, “Rocky”). Shire is the sister of Francis Ford Coppola. Jason was raised secular.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (opens May 6) is a superhero movie based on the Marvel comic hero Dr. Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch). The plot, as with all

"Marvel Universe" films, is super convoluted, so I won’t go into it here.

Here’s the Jewish angle: the film is directed by SAM RAIMI, 62, who has a raft of superhero film credits (creator, director, producer etc.). GILLIAN, Raimi’s wife of 29 years, is the daughter of the late LORNE GREENE, the “Bonanza” star; MICHAEL STUHLBARG, 51, has a supporting role as Nicodemus, a rival of Dr. Strange; and Elizabeth Olsen, who isn’t Jewish, co-stars as superhero Wanda Maximoff. In the comics, Maximoff is Jewish. In the “Marvel Universe” films her Jewish “back-story” has been “scrubbed-out”.

On May 5, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” begins streaming on Paramount+. It is a prequel to the original “Star Trek” series. 'Trekkies' know that 1960s original series had a failed pilot episode that was later “cut-up” and crafted into two “flashback” (original) Star Trek episodes. Christopher Pike was the Enterprise starship captain in the “flashback” episodes. “Strange New Worlds” follows Pike’s adventures during the decade before Captain Kirk (WILLIAM SHATNER) took command.

There are no Jewish actors in the main cast, but it's interesting to note that Ethan Peck, the grandson of Gregory Peck, plays Mr. Spock. The Jewish "contribution" is behind the scenes. The three series creators are Jewish---AKIVA GOLDSMAN, 59, ALEX KURTZMAN, 48, and JENNY LUMET, 55. All three have many “Trek Universe” credits. The series composer is NAAMA "Nami" MELUMAD, 33, an Israeli who became (2019) the first woman ever to score a “Star Trek” episode.

As briefly noted last week, ROBERT MORSE, who died on April 20, age 90, was Jewish. Primarily a stage actor, he is best known for roles that he played at the beginning and at the end of his long career. In 1962 he won a Tony award for best actor (musical) for “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. He reprised that role in the film version of “How To…” (1967). From 2007-2014, he frequently guest-starred as Bertram Cooper, the quirky, but sharp founding partner of Sterling Cooper, a big advertising agency at the center of the acclaimed series “Mad Men”. Morse got 5 Emmy nominations for this role.

Frankly, I never guessed that Morse was Jewish. It wasn’t “out there anywhere”. A friend “dug-out” Morse’s background right after his death. His father’s German Jewish ancestors came over in the mid-1800s and one ancestor (LEOPOLD MORSE) was the first Jew to serve (1877) as a New Hampshire congressman. Morse’s mother’s parents were Russian Jewish immigrants.

I was a bit amused that a Jew played Bertram Cooper. Cooper wasn’t a virulent anti-Semite, but in the early ‘60s (and before), NYC ad agencies, and top law firms, were either ‘Jewish’ or ‘WASP’. This division persisted until circa 1970. In an early episode (set in 1960), Sterling Cooper was trying to get the ad biz of a big Jewish-owned department store and they hunted frantically for a Jewish Sterling Cooper employee to attend their first meeting with the dept. store owners. They finally found a Jewish employee—a guy in accounting.


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