Paul Newman, Stewart Stern and Daniel Radcliffe

A Note About Newman, A Comedic Romp, Jewish Sports Review

From 1986-92, PAUL NEWMAN (1925-2007) sat for many recorded interviews with STEWART STERN (1922-2015). Stern was a close friend of Newman’s and the screenwriter of many hits, including  “Rebel Without a Cause”.  Newman candidly talked about his life and career. Stern also interviewed many friends and colleagues of Newman. Ultimately, Newman decided not to go ahead with a memoir and burned the interview tapes. However, before the burning, Stern had the tapes transcribed. The transcripts were found a few years ago.

Those transcripts provided the basis for an HBO six-part documentary that began streaming last July and a Newman autobiography that was just published (“The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man"). In the documentary, I only heard two things about Newman’s Jewish background. The narrator told us Newman’s father was Jewish and that he (Newman) said that he “identified as Jewish because it is harder”. I know the quote wasn’t on the Stern tape. I read the same quote twenty years ago.

A very recent NY Times review of “Extraordinary Life” says the memoir provides a lot of details about his parents. Details lacking in the documentary, I think.  The review also makes clear that “being Jewish was harder” was a “real thing” in Newman’s life. The following was not in the documentary.

The review says: [Newman]  “experienced antisemitism at school and in the Navy during World War II. He recounts getting into a fight with a fellow sailor who called him a slur, using his wrestling skills to throw his opponent to the ground and injure his arm. ‘When he got off the floor, he could only move one hand,’ Newman says. ‘The fight was called off and no one bothered me again.’”

When I read the memoir, I’ll tell you if there is anything else “Jew-cy” in there. Like stuff about Newman playing the ultimate big-screen Jewish hero in the “birth of Israel” film “Exodus” (1960).

“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”, an original film, begins streaming on the Roku channel on Nov. 4. Al Yankovic, of course, is the wacky comedic musician who writes and performs parody versions of hit songs. “Weird” is not a real biography of Yankovic. It’s a fictional comedic romp.

Many erroneously think that “Weird Al” is Jewish because his last name sounds “vaguely” Jewish. Ironically, DANIEL RADCLIFFE, 33, who is Jewish, plays Yankovic (Radcliffe’s mother is Jewish and the secular actor identifies as Jewish).

The supporting cast includes EVAN RACHEL WOOD, 35, as Madonna; JACK BLACK, 53, as Wolfman Jack, the late radio DJ; AKIVA SCHAEFFER, 44, as Alice Cooper; and Jorma Taccone (not Jewish) as Pee-Wee Herman (aka PAUL REUBENS, 70)

To paraphrase the Beatles, I have bad news today, oy vey. The fall issue of the Jewish Sports Review (JSR) was its last issue.  In a special article last year, I wrote about the JSR. It was, I said, a “labor of love” by two retired public servants, EPHRAIM MOXSON, now 78, and SHEL WALLMAN, now 84.  The closure causes were health and rising costs to print the JSR, a print-only publication.

The JSR guys worked about four hours a day researching which athletes were Jewish. They often “cold called” athletes and asked them if they are Jewish and, if so, if they were “ok” with being identified as a Jewish athlete in the JSR.

Any Jewish media journalist can re-state the easily found info on a college or pro athlete, like their schools, athletic stats, etc. The hard part is finding out if they are Jewish.

The JSR was, by far, the first “fount” of the news that an athlete is Jewish. Usually they reported that “news" long before the athlete became a professional. The JSR’s info made its way into the “bigger world”—via a rare Jewish media article that credited the JSR (as I always did); or via a Jewish media article that knowingly or unknowingly didn’t credit the JSR’s research; or by somebody posting the JSR’s “finds” on a blog or on Wikipedia (the latter source, JSR tells me, is shot through with errors).

All it takes, today, is a simple Google search to write a reasonably accurate article on Jews in pro and Olympic sports. The future will be different because every year there is a new crop of rookies. Who will check-out these rookies? 

Two final thoughts: if JSR had got the media credit they deserved their financial struggle would have been eased—and in a few years we’ll see a return of what existed before the JSR: error-ridden articles that miss Jewish athletes and describe non-Jews as Jewish. Oy vey


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