Leonard Bernstein, Felicia Cohn Montealegre and David Oppenheim

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

Who’s Who in “Maestro”; A New Wonka; Teddy Bears, a “Kosher” Doll

 “Maestro”, a bio pic about LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918-1990), opened in a limited number of theaters on Nov. 22 (to be eligible for Oscars) and premieres on Netflix on Dec. 20. The reviews range from raves to “mixed”.

Here’s “stuff” that will not be in most reviews: The characters are all “real” people-- and most were Jewish. About half of the cast is Jewish, too. I can only devote a few words to each person. All have bios on-line.

The film covers a 30-year period—roughly the time of Bernstein's marriage to actress FELICIA COHN MONTEALEGRE (1951) until her death in 1978, age 56. Bradley Cooper plays Leonard. He also directed the film, and he co-wrote the script with JOSH SINGER, 51. Carey Mulligan plays Felicia.

The rest of the cast in credit order:  Matt Bomer as DAVID OPPENHEIM, a top music producer and Bernstein’s lover for a brief time; Maya Hawke as JAMIE BERNSTEIN, now 71, Leonard’s daughter; SARAH SILVERMAN, 52, as SHIRLEY BERNSTEIN, Leonard’s sister; Michael Urie as choreographer/director JEROME ROBBINS; BRIAN KLUGMAN, 48, as  “super-star” composer AARON COPLAND; GIDEON GLICK, 35, as Tom Cothran, radio music director and, for a time, Leonard’s lover; Sam Nivola as ALEXANDER BERNSTEIN, now 68, Leonard’s son; and ALEXA SWINTON, 14, as NINA BERNSTEIN, now 61, Leonard’s daughter.

Do check out the following. Jamie Bernstein wrote a memoir about her parents in 2018. She gave a terrific lecture about her parents in 2018 at a Connecticut synagogue.

View it on Youtube. The title of the video has the same title as her memoir. Jamie Bernstein - "Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein" - YouTube

Bradley Cooper’s Nov. 22 NPR radio interview with “New Yorker” chief editor DAVID REMNICK, 65, was terrific, too. The New Yorker Radio Hour : NPR

“Wonka” opens in theaters on Dec. 15. It is the 3rd major “Wonka” movie. The first was “Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” (1971), a musical romp “for the whole family”  starring the late, great GENE WILDER in the title role. The 1971 film didn’t do well in theaters, but became immensely popular over time. The second film was essentially a re-make of the 1971 movie. It was entitled “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005). It starred Johnny Depp. It made money, but many didn’t like it.

“Wonka” stars TIMOTHéE CHALAMET, 27, as Wonka. The new film is a prequel to the two previous “Wonka” films. It tells the story of how Wonka, a young man, got into the chocolate business.

Chalamet grew up in Manhattan. His father is of French Protestant background and his American mother is Jewish. While Chalamet is not religious, he identifies as Jewish. (The rest of the “Wonka” cast is almost all British and not Jewish).

“Wonka” features new songs by two British composers. Chalamet, reports say, can really sing and dance. However, the flick’s two trailers didn’t feature any musical moments.

Two weeks ago, while shopping for Hanukkah, I wasn’t surprised to see a cute Teddy Bear wearing a sweater with a Star of David on it. I vaguely remembered reading that American Jews created the original Teddy Bear. Right after that, I got the Dec. issue of the Smithsonian. It laid out the origin story, even if it left out the Jewish angle.

Here's the story: In 1902, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt was on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi. No bears were found for several days. His guides procured an old, sick bear and chained it to a tree. Roosevelt was appalled, wouldn’t shoot it, and had the bear euthanized. A widely-seen newspaper cartoon turned the old bear into a cute cub that Roosevelt wouldn’t shoot. MORRIS MITCHOM (1869-1938), an immigrant Brooklyn candy and “notions” store owner, thought a “cub doll” would sell and had his wife, ROSE, also an immigrant, sew a stuffed version. It sold as soon as it was in the store window. More dolls sold quickly. Matchom named it Teddy’s Bear (1903) and he mailed a Teddy Bear to the White House and asked Roosevelt to approve using his name. He got that permission.

About the same time, the German Steiff Company, coincidentally, began making stuffed bears. But that competition didn’t stop the formerly penniless Mitchom and his wife. He founded the Ideal Toy Company. By the 1950s, Ideal, which remained in family hands until 1982, was the world’s biggest dollmaker. A big hit for decades was the ”Betsey-Wetsy” (1934) doll. In the ‘70s, it had a hit with Rubik’s Cube.

Nice to note: the Mitchoms were generous donors to many Jewish charities and causes.


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