Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jews in Hollywood

Last week, I read an article in Heeb Magazine about  Elliott Gould, Brooklyn Boy, Hollywood Legend,
who said, in the context of discussing "Hollywood's Jew Wave" in late 1960s and early 1970s, "I think it’s difficult enough to be a Jew in this world and it always has been.” It prompted thoughts of my late father, Shimon Wincelberg, the first Orthodox writer in Hollywood. He used to tell a story about his first experience in Hollywood, which could also have been his last. And it echoes what Mr. Gould says about it not being easy to be a Jew, despite the fact that many people think that Hollywood is 'run' by Jews.

My father was summoned to meet with Darryl Zanuck, the legendary producer — on a Friday night. My father told Zanuck’s disconcerted assistant that he couldn’t meet on Friday night because it was the Sabbath. She didn’t want to bring the news to Mr. Zanuck, to whom no one said ‘no.’

After hanging up the phone, my father turned to my mother and said, “We might as well stop unpacking and move back to NY. I’ve just ended my career in Hollywood.”

But surprisingly, the phone rang a few minutes later; it was Zanuck’s secretary, this time asking, “Would it be ‘convenient’ for you to meet with Mr. Zanuck on Sunday?” My father’s point was that people respected others who had the strength of their convictions and didn’t complain about the fact that their religion ‘prevented’ them from doing something they wanted to do.

My father once got a call from an actor who was required to film a scene on the Sabbath, and didn’t know what to do. My father asked, “How much would it cost to film on Sunday, instead.” The actor replied, “$10,000.” My father said, “Then tell them you’ll pay $10,000 to film on Sunday, instead.” The director realized the actor was serious about not being able to film on Saturday, and changed the filming schedule.
Of course, my father occasionally liked to go out of his way to emphasize his ‘Jewishness.’ Also early in his career, when someone (an agent?) recommended that he change his first name because Simon sounded “too Jewish.” He agreed, and changed it to ‘Shimon.’

In spite of this, Mr. Gould is also right that there are plenty of people who would be happy to see Jews gone from Hollywood, just as many would like us to see us gone from Wall Street, medicine and law (all professions that Jews wound up in because they were prevented from being in the metalworking and woodworking guilds back in the 1600s). It's one reason some people don't believe, and resent Jews referring to themselves as "2% of the U.S. population." How can that be when we seem to be overrepresented in certain fields (but not only the top fields; apparently more than 2% of U.S. Federal prison inmates are Jewish). What must be true is a statement attributed to Jackie Mason: "Jews are like everyone else -- only more so."

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