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March 02, 1979 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1979-03-02

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56 Friday, March 2, 1919


Jewish Upbringing Had Major Role Bacall Autobiography Reveals


What the Jewish reader
finds noteworthy in the
autobiography of stage and
screen actress Lauren
Bacall, is that despite the
influences of the show busi-
ness world and her mar-
riages outside the faith, she
never forgot her Jewish
In "Lauren Bacall By My-
self," published by Alfred A.
Knopf, the actress makes no
bones about revealing her
Jewish background. The
reader is introduced to it in
the beginning of the book,
and it carries through until
the end when she states:
"Going back through my
life until now, the Jewish
family feeling stands strong
and proud, and at last I can
say I am glad I spring from
that. I would not trade those
roots — that identity."
An example of how
strongly she feels about
her roots, is seen in the
episode when her actor
husband, Humphrey
Bogart, urges that the
children be christened in
the Episcopalian faith so
that they can attend a
particular school:
"I, with my family-

ingrained Jewish back-
ground, bucked it — it felt
too strange to me. True, I
didn't go to synagogue, but I
felt totally Jewish and al-
ways would. I certainly
didn't intend to convert to
Episcopalianism for the
children, or to deny my own
heritage .. .
"All ended on a happy
note, but I still felt odd,
church procedure being to-
tally foreign to me. Yet I
was glad about having done
it for Stephen and Leslie —
and determined that they
would always be aware of
their Jewish blood."
Weinstein-Bacal and
William Perske, Miss
Bacall (who later added the
extra "L" to her mother's
maiden name — her parents
were divorced), describes
the code for "nice Jewish
girls" impressed upon her
by her mother and
"The purity of Jewish
upbringing — the restric-
tions that one carries
through life being a 'nice
Jewish girl, — what a
burden. But if you were
— and I was — you had it
drummed into your head

from childhood by your
mother, grandmother,
uncles, that nice Jewish
girls didn't smoke — we-
ren't fast — nice Jewish
girls had character."
She always refers to that
admonition, and although
the fast Hollywood lifestyle
changed her in some ways,
the "nice Jewish girl" code
remains with her to the pre-
An interesting note is


that she was confirmed at
Temple Emanu-El, New
York, by the late Rabbi B.
Benedict Glazer shortly be-
fore he came to Detroit to
assume the spiritual lead-
ership of Temple Beth El.
In a recent televised

interview with Dick Cavett, was too — but we had each
Miss Bacall said that in her other, so the hell with it. We
early days in Hollywood she stayed where we were — it
felt she had to conceal her cost too much, but at least
Jewish background. She no apologies had to be made
said she felt like cringing for being what we were."
when she heard an anti- On the other hand, the ac-
Semitic remark. "I felt like tress said that being Jewish
quite a misfit." She said she probablx helped her get a
wished she had the courage role in a Max Gordon-
then to answer back. George S. Kaufman play on
She said that all her life Broadway.
people were surprised
"My first speaking part
that she was Jewish. "I in a Broadway show,
always felt an element of produced by Max Gor-
prejudice upon that dis- don, directed by George
covery, though." S. Kaufman. It wasn't so
She recalls one incident bad to be a little Jewish
in which being Jewish was girl, now was it? As a mat-
not a boon. Miss Bacall re- ter of fact, it was the best
members a Florida trip dur- possible thing to be. Oh,
ing her modeling career: was I happy!"
"Mother and I went to
The story of the actress'
Florida by train. She had life is told honestly, and fil-
made a reservation in what led with sarcasm. There
turned out to be a good hotel are no chapters, just a run-
on the sea, but expensive for ning tale as if she were hav-
us. We looked for rooms in a ing a casual conversation
smaller establishment and over coffee.
found a charming old house
Much of the book revolves
with a sign outside advertis- around her marriage to
ing rooms to let. Mother told Bogie, their careers, their
me to go in to inquire, which children and his illness
I did, whereupon the man- from cancer and subsequent
ager asked, 'Religion?"Jew- death. She never let his
ish' was my response. death get the best of her. In
`Sorry, no rooms' was his. fact, she became even more
Mother was furious, and I determined to be successful

in movies and on Broadway,
where she reached a major
triumph in "Applause."
The book is enlightening
about the Hollywood and
Broadway scenes, and offers
some insight into the per-
sonalities of show business
idols: Frank Sinatra, with
whom she had a long and
almost marriage relation-
ship; her second husband,
Jason Robards, a then alco-
holic, by whom she had a
son, Sam; Katherine Hep-
burn and Spencer Tracy,
with whom the Boga-f
a long-standing fried
and more.
Many stage and screen
names will be familiar to
the reader, and their
roles in the Bogart-Bacall
story lend added interest.
Never liking the
"Lauren" given to her as a
stage name by a Hollywood
producer, Betty Bacall has
many friends in the theater
and movie world, and she is
admired on many fronts.
"Lauren Bacall By My-
self" is a noble effort.. A
literary chef-d'oeuvre, the
book will never be, but for
its entertainment value,
this is a book deserving of
much acclaim.

Paul Co wan's Tribe s of America' Searches for Roots, Identity

Paul Cowan went on a bing the melting pot theory,
. mission of finding himself, with a comment in which he
of learning about the asserted:
" 'The Tribes of America'
peoples who make up
is a metaphor for my way of
seeing this country. And it
As a reporter for the Vil-
lage Voice he retraced the is a political statement.
"I was raised to believe
steps of the various ele-
ments who make up that the United States is a
melting pot, and since I'm .
America. He called his pil-
grimage "Jews Without a confirmed racial, sex-
Money Revisited." That's ual, and cultural integra-
when he took into account tionist, I'd still like to
the lives of many who still think that was true. But I
live on New York's East don't. The last seven
Side, the survivors of the years have convinced me
shtetl and of the concentra- that the melting pot —
tion camps, those who had with its dream of a single,
suffered pogroms under unified America — is
largely a myth.
"We are unified during
He visited the Hasidim
and the Orthodox elite of times of crisis like World
Williamsburg and he found War II, like assassinations.
We're united as consumers.
He began as an adhe- We vote in the same na-
rent of the New Left, as a tional elections. We have a
Harvard intellectual with mass culture in common —
an assimilatory trend most of us are aware of El-
vis' death, we can imitate
who- found his roots.
The Cowan saga is told in the Fonz, we argue about
"The Tribes of America" Muhammad Ali or the Yan-
(Doubleday), the journalis- kees or the Dallas Cowboys.
"But, to an unrecognized
tic pilgrimage which in-
spired the author into a extent, we're a nation of pro-
search into his own soul, his fessional, religious, ethnic
recapitulation, and rejec- and racial tribes — the
tion of the theory of a melt- Tribes of America — who
ing pot, and his promise to maintain a fragile truce,
himself to look further into easily and often broken. We
his past for an acceptance of had to conquer this conti-
the heritage he had neg- nent — and its original
tribes-- in order to exploit
It is interesting, there- its resources. • But we were
fore, that Cowan should never able to conquer our
have gone deeply into pro- atavistic hatreds, to accept

our widely diverse pasts, to
transcend them, to live to-
gether as a single people!'
But new awareness of his
Jewishness, the pledge to
himself to continue the af-
filiation, is an emphasis on
continuity which gains spe-
cial status in the search for
the tribal affinity. Cowan

"But race isn't the only
tribal banner. In Kanawha
County, West Virginia, the
`creekers' — working-class
whites, mostly Baptists —
were at war with the 'hill-
ers' — professional people,
mostly Congregationalists
and Episcopalians. The
immediate issue was the
textbooks that would be
used in the schools. But the

battle was really a cultural
civil war between fun-
damentalist Christians and
secular humanists over the
kind of nation their children
would inhabit.
"All along the Mexican
border, Anglos are ter-
rified that Hispanics —
particularly illegal aliens
— will steal their jobs,
enjoy special privileges,
and smuggle a new kind
of separatism — the
separatism of language
— into American life.

"On the Lower East Side
of New York, a Puerto Rican
who disperses poverty funds
can ignore the stark fact
that hundreds of thousands
of elderly Jews live below
the poverty level of $3,500

my loneliness in America by
teaching me that I do have a
home in a tradition I love."
There are some specific
lessons that are learned
by Cowan,, and his
readers, as this one from
Rabbi Singer:
"We are all heirs to a pre-
cious past, with coherent
humane sets of values that
can help us gain some
perspectives and find some
meaning in these confusing
"The Tribes of America"
is an exciting book. Perhaps
it has the lessons needed for
the assimilated, for the lef-
"There's no question that tists who have lost track
my deepening awareness of with their people. Cowan
being Jewish has given me a finds himself and helps the
more secure sense of my lost also to regain Jewish
own identity. It has eased ground.

by echoing the old tribal
myth that 'there is no such
thing as a poor Jew.'
"Of course, tribalism has
its advantages, too. These
days they're most often
suggested by phrases like
`my search for my roots.' I've
tried to show how that atti-
tude affected me when I
wrote about the unexpected
strong links I felt to the poor
Jews I met on New York's
Lower East Side or my un-
expectedly close, almost fi-
lial relationship with the
Polish-born Orthodox Rabbi
Joseph Singer.

Putnam's Publishes Zeldis' The Brothel'

NEW YORK — Set in an
ancient Judea groaning
under the harsh rule of im-
perial Rome and about to be
revolutionized by the birth
of Christianity, "The
Brothel" by Chayym Zeldis
(Putnam's) explores the
conflict between good and
evil which exists in every

With the infamous
brothel of Nazareth the
symbolic touchstone for the
degradation of the times,
"The Brothel" is peopled
with a cast of characters

torn between the choice of
faith and action.
Beset by a nightmarish
sequence of events, a tran-
quil village rabbi is reluc-
tantly but irresistibly
drawn into a savage strug-
gle between Jewish patriots
and Roman conquerors.
Mara, the daughter of a
murdered whore, loves his
son, Yosef, a young man
whose deed of valor brings
him castration.
Together they raise the
"divine" son of her
brother Omer, a "wild-
man of the forest," and
Lucretia, a Roman aris-
tocrat who abandons the
gods of her past for the
God of Israel.
Others, too, face the
psychological and moral
problems implicit in human
history: Enoch, the captain
of the militia who deserts
Herod's puppet army and
joins the rebels; Aquinas,
the Roman nobleman and


courier whose flight to
Egypt proves to be his re-
demption; the Egyptian
prostitute, Tanaka, who es-
capes slavery; and giant
eunuch, Shor-Par, who
risks his life to save her; and
Kalastra, the whoremis-
tress, whose malicious \hold
over human souls lies in her

infamous brothel
An imaginative and pow-
erful rewriting of biblical
history, "The Brothel" goes
beyond its time and pre-
sents the dilemmas facing
all men as its characters be-
come trapped in the shock-
ing drama of passion and
unbridled sexuality
and dream, history
agination, psychological
and moral turmoil that
make up the world.
Zeldis, recipient of an
Avery Hopwood Award
in poetry as a student at
the University of Michi-
gan, was born in Buffalo
and lived in Israel for
many years where he
worked in many
branches of farming and
served in the Israeli
armed forces during the
Sinai campaign of 1956.
Zeldis is public relations di-
rector for Women's Ameri-
can ORT.


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