‘For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a Jew,” writes film director-writer-producer Norman Jewison in his just-published autobiography, “This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me” (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press). “When I was 6, I started going to the Kenilworth synagogue, in the Beach area of Toronto, with my friend Stanley Zann. I wore my yarmulke proudly and carried on being Jewish until Stanley’s mother found me out.” How could one not relish such a revelation, along with his tongue-in-cheek description of the 1969 invite by United Artists head Arthur Krim (late husband of AIDS activist Mathilde Krim) to direct the film version of “Fiddler on the Roof”? Jewison, whose then credits included “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Cincinnati Kid,” is almost gleeful as he describes the studio honchos’ jaw-dropping reaction when he fessed up: “What would you say if I told you I was a goy?”
Jewison was a charmer at the September 20 book party hosted by art patron Posy Chisholm Feick at her residence on New York’s East Side. As we arrived, “Fiddler” lyricist Sheldon Harnick and his wife, Margie, were off to catch Rosie O’Donnell in her debut preview performance as Golde in “Fiddler.” Apropos, I told Jewison how I first met Topol at a fund raiser for Israel at the London Hilton in 1967, when Topol reigned as Tevye in the London production of “Fiddler.” Years later I interviewed Topol in New York when he celebrated his 25th year of playing Tevye. He admitted that now, middle-aged and a parent, he finally was old enough to grasp the essence of Tevye. “When I was filming [the 1971 movie] ‘Fiddler’ in Yugoslavia,” Jewison, countered, “Topol was a young man of 30. So I plucked a few gray hairs from my eyebrows and attached them to his.” What is also not in the book is Krim’s insistence that the film’s premiere take place in Jerusalem. Jewison told me: “Golda Meir arrived in a Chevy Impala, surrounded by her bodyguards — teenage sabra warriors. During the first half she sat with Topol, the second half with me. In the scene when they leave Anatevka, she reached over, squeezed my hand — then brushed away a tear.”
The next night, at a reception hosted by Canada’s consul general, Pamela D. Wallin, Jewison greeted me with a warm embrace and a “Shalom!” My response was Alan Arkin’s Russian-accented signature line “Emergency! Emergency! Everybodee to get from strit” from his 1966 hit, “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” The evening’s Jewison fans and friends included playwright John Patrick Shanley (whose current play “Doubt” is on Broadway, and who wrote the script for Jewison’s 1987 film, “Moonstruck”) and husband and wife songwriters/lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, whose yea-long collaborative Oscar credits include the lyrics to the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” from Michel Legrand’s score for “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the title song from the film “The Way We Were” and the score for “Yentl.” (On November 1, the Bergmans will be guest speakers at the University of Judaism, Los Angeles.)
Jewison’s filmography of 25 movies has earned three nominations for Best Director Oscars, 46 nominations and 12 Academy Awards, plus the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in film. To invoke a Tevyeism: “A mazel tov to a goy with a Jewish soul.”
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“I’m just back from Washington, D.C., the entertainment center of the world,” joshed Jack Valenti, guest of honor at the “A New York Moment” dinner party that Charles Evans and Bonnie Pfeiffer hosted September 19 at their Park Avenue triplex. Melding personal recollections with a pitch for AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families, which partners up with similar organizations to help defeat AIDS worldwide, Valenti cited a sobering statistic: “In the next three years, 50 million in India, China, and Russia will be infected with AIDS.” Among the guests was alliance supporter Celeste Holm.
“I heard Roosevelt speak when I was 6 years old,” Valenti said. “It never occurred to me I’d work in the White House,” said the Texas-born former politico, who also recalled “the seminal events of November 22, 1963…. I was six cars back… a star witness [in Dallas] to [the assassination] of John F. Kennedy.” Valenti described being aboard Air Force One that day. “[Lyndon B.] Johnson told me: ‘I want you on my staff, and I want you to fly back to Washington with me.’ ‘Mr. President, I don’t have any clothes.’ The 6-foot-4 Johnson replied: ‘You can live with me till your family comes.’” Valenti said: “For three years I was barren of personal ambition… my one mandate was to serve my president and country…. In 1966 Lew Wasserman invited me to come into the movie business.” Valenti resigned his White House post and spent the next 39 years in Hollywood as president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.
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For me, a fashion Sale! notice elicits a burst of feel-good endorphins. Which is why I so enjoyed Henry Jaglom’s film “Going Shopping,” which opened September 30 in New York and Los Angeles. Holly (the luminous Victoria Foyt, who happens to be Mrs. Henry Jaglom) is in danger of losing her chichi dress store because of financial betrayal by a lover and then by a slimy loan shark. Most intriguing, though, are the women who confess to the camera the joys and angst, the highs and depressing lows, of addictive shopping. The cast includes Rob Morrow and Lee Grant, who portrays Victoria’s mother. The character is based on Grant’s own mother, who has a dark secret. Instead of going to lunch, invite your friends, daughters and mothers to see this hoot of a movie. You’ll never shop the same again.
In addition to films, Jaglom is at work on a daunting “Family Memoir: A Brief History of the Jewish People.” With an arc that reaches from the biblical era through the post-Holocaust period, he noted, “All of Fromet [Guggenheim] and Moses Mendelssohn’s children — except one, their eldest, my antecedent, Joseph — would themselves become Protestants.” Talk about family yichus.