Jonah Hauer-King, Daveed Diggs and Alan Menken

Nate Bloom blogs about this week's Jews in the News.


Little Mermaid: A Star is Born?; A Good Filmmaker's Latest; Memorial Day Note


A “live-action”  version of the musical “The Little Mermaid”, a Disney movie, opens in theaters on May 26. African-American actress Halle Bailey, 23, co-stars as Ariel, a mermaid princess who is fascinated with the human world. JONAH HAUER-KING, 27, co-stars as Eric, a human prince whom Ariel falls in love with after saving him from drowning.


Hauer, a very handsome fellow, was born and raised in the U.K. His Jewish mother, a therapist, is an American. His father is a “big-time” U.K. restaurant owner. (Jonah has dual British and American citizenship). 


It isn’t clear if Jonah's father is Jewish. But it is clear that Jonah was raised Jewish and he strongly identifies as Jewish.


Bailey, a five-time Grammy nominee, can really sing. How well Hauer-King can sing will be revealed in this film. I imagine he wouldn’t have got the part unless he can sing, at least, pretty well.


Hauer-King’s film career could take off into the “stratosphere” via his “Little Mermaid” role. Nothing is certain—but it’s likely that this film will become a massive box-office and streaming hit. If this happens, Hauer-King will be in demand for “big budget” films and, perhaps, “top-drawer” streaming series.


Here’s more about this potential star: In 2019, Hauer-King had his “biggest” film role to date--- in the film “A Dog’s Way Home.” It was a family-friendly flick about a dog who travels 400 miles to reunite with his owner, Lucas (Hauer-King). Reviews weren’t great, but the film made $80M, 5x its cost.


Hauer’s maternal grandfather, a surgeon, was a founding member (1950’s) of a synagogue in a San Francisco suburb and Hauer-King frequently visits his San Francisco-area relatives. In 2018, he told a British magazine that he grew up in a “North London Jewish family” and that he is graduate of prestigious Cambridge University. Interestingly, his degree is in theology and religious studies.


In 2017, his older sister, HANNAH, a theater director, told a British website, “I love being Jewish. I feel like we should all be spiritual. It doesn’t need to be through an organized religion; for me it just happens to be Judaism because that’s how I was brought up.”


Back to the movie: As you might guess, there are complications in Ariel and Eric’s romance—which I won’t detail here. I will note that DAVEED DIGGS, 41, who won a Tony for his “Hamilton” role, and wrote and sung a Hannukah song for the Disney Channel in 2021, voices Sebastian, a crab who is Ariel’s friend and the court composer for Ariel’s father, King Triton.


Diggs, who identifies as Jewish, is the son of an African American father and a white, Jewish mother.


Most of the songs from the 1989 animated “Little Mermaid” film will be in the new film. Four new songs were written, including a rap song for Diggs. ALAN MENKEN, 73, who wrote the music for the 1989 film, wrote the new songs, too (music and lyrics).  The late HOWARD ASHMAN wrote the lyrics for the 1989 film songs.


Also opening on the 26th is “You Hurt My Feelings”, a comedy-drama directed by, and written by NICOLE HOLOFCENCER, 63. Since 1996, she has made 10 movies that didn’t make “big bucks”, but got good-to-great reviews.


Her biggest box office hit is “Enough Said” (2013), an insightful look at a couple’s romance. It co-starred James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It was the best role Gandolfini had after “The Sopranos” ended and it was the best film role that Louis-Dreyfus has ever had. So, it’s no surprise that Louis-Dreyfus grabbed the lead role in “You Hurt My Feelings”.

Louis-Dreyfus, who isn’t Jewish (but had a Jewish grandfather), plays Beth, a woman who is content with a so/so marriage until her husband betrays her. MICHAELA WATKINS, 51, plays Sarah, Beth’s sister, and JEANNIE BERLIN, 73, plays Beth and Sarah’s mother (Berlin’s mother is ELAINE MAY, 91).


Memorial Day is celebrated on May 29th. Here is the story of a Jew who died in combat and a surprising “celebrity connection”. On Aug. 15, 1945, Capt. JERRY YELLIN, flew a plane that attacked a Japanese airfield. His “wingman”, Lt. PHILIP SCHLAMBERG, piloted another fighter. Japan surrendered on the 15th, but that news didn’t get to the pilots during their mission. Schlamberg’s plane was shot down. He was the last American combat pilot to die in WWII. He was 19 years old.


Yellin, who died in 2017, age 93, suffered mentally after the war. He found some comfort in transcendental meditation and he founded an organization, Operation Warrior Wellness, to help traumatized vets via meditation. Schlamberg’s grandniece, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, 38, did videos for the organization and financially supports it.


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