Nate Bloom blogs on this week's Jews in the News.
Auto, Markle, Loving Leah
American Auto, the hit NBC comedy series about a Detroit-based automobile company, begins its second season (Jan. 24; 8:30 PM) with two new episodes. The series was created by JUSTIN SPITZER, 45, and co-stars JON BARINHOLTZ, 43 (the brother of actor IKE BARINHOLTZ).
Next week, I will add to what I just wrote. I just received some interesting details about the Jan. 31 episode from the Jewish director of that episode.
We all have seen the tsunami of news surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. You might already know that Markle’s first husband was TREVOR ENGELSON, 46, a Jewish guy. He’s the founder of an entertainment production company that seems successful. Engelson dated Markle for seven years and they wed (secular ceremony) in 2011. They divorced in 2014 and Markle married Harry in 2017.
Engelson seems to have a strict policy about NOT talking to anyone about Markle. I thought about it: What does he have to gain? People talk “dirt” to the press for two reasons: revenge and/or money. Engelson’s divorce seemed to have been amicable and he certainly doesn’t need the money tabloids would pay him.
There’s the money he earns and the money his wife, TRACEY KURLAND ENGLESON, 36, will or has inherited. The couple married in 2019 and have two children. Tracey, a dietician, is the daughter of STANFORD “Stan” KURLAND (1952-2021). He was a big-time mortgage company exec (Penny-Mac, Countrywide) and many sources say that Tracey has or will get millions.
It was a slog, but I confirmed in public records that Stan Kurland was Jewish. I am 99% sure that Stan’s widow, and Tracey’s mother, SHEILA KURLAND, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.
Engelson and Markle re-married very rich spouses. I think most people would prefer Engleson’s “out of the limelight” life.
“Loving Leah”, a 2009 Hallmark film that aired on CBS, “reappeared” this past week. I liked this VERY Jewish film when I first saw it. After its only TV showing, “Loving Leah” mostly disappeared. It could only be found on pay-per-view services.
For some reason, last week “Leah” began streaming for free (with ads) on the Pluto and Xumo channels: Pluto is pretty well known. Xumo is a newish, legit streaming channel. Both can be viewed on-line, or on Roku, Amazon Fire, and some Xfinity “options”. Tip: Xumo has hardly any ads.
Here's the “back-story” and just part of the plot: P’NENAH GOLDSTEIN, now about 55, wrote a “little” play about Leah, a Hasidic rabbi’s young wife. As the play begins, she is widowed when her husband suddenly dies.
Leah is childless and traditional Jewish law requires that her husband’s unmarried brother marry her. The rabbi’s only brother, Jake, is a doctor who is not religious at all. He is informed of this “obligation” and he is also told that there is a Jewish ceremony that will allow him to be released from this obligation.
A movie script followed the play. The script sat in “limbo” until RICKI LAKE, now 54, happened to read it. She took it to Hallmark and got the movie made. Lake plays a “very warm” Reform rabbi in "Loving Leah”.
NATASHA LYONNE, now 42, plays Leah’s devoted sister, and SUSIE ESSMAN, now 67 ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") plays Leah’s devout and forceful mother.
ADAM KAUFMAN, now 48, plays Jake. He's the secular son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. Kaufman, a very handsome guy, relayed his family background in an interview I did with him just before “Leah” premiered. His performance as Jake was “ok”, but nothing more.
The film’s stand-out actor is Lauren Ambrose, who isn’t Jewish, but is just great as Leah. Ambrose got splendid reviews in HBO’s “Six Feet Under” (2001-05). But, since then, she has not got the TV/movie parts she deserves. She sings beautifully and has had success on Broadway (lead in “My Fair Lady”; 2018 revival).
“Loving Leah” isn’t great, but it is good. Its good because it exists. A large-budget Jewish TV film like “Leah” is “super-rare”. Its good because it deftly manages to put American Judaism and a very sweet romance at its center. It also manages to be respectful towards the Orthodox and the Reform communities. And it shows the struggle of some women to remain very observant, while being “more in the world.”
If, by some miracle, “Leah” was re-made today, TIMOTHEE CHALAMET, 27, would be the perfect choice to play the adult Jake. When Chalamet was 13, he acted in “Loving Leah”. He played the “Young Jake” in a brief, flash-back scene. Chalamet has the “dramatic acting chops” that Adam Kaufman didn’t have. “Young Jake” was Chalamet’s first movie role.