The Reel Story On
Jews In Hollywood
everal years ago, Bonnie Garvin began writing the
screenplay for a fluffy romantic comedy, set in a
big-city diamond district.
Naturally, Garvin says, most of her characters
were Jewish: The diamond industry always has
been the province of Jewish merchants. And as a
Jew herself, then living in Manhattan, the former
Detroiter had a working knowledge of the gaudy
milieu in which her tale unfolded.
But when Garvin began shopping the script
around Hollywood, she got a surprising reaction.
"It's too Jewish," she was told repeatedly — a com-
ment that seemed especially odd given its source.
"It was only other Jewish people who would say
this," observes Garvin, who now lives outside Los
Angeles with her husband. "I never got that reac-
tion from non-Jews."
In a way, Garvin's anecdote sums up the
paradoxical nature of the Jewish experience in
Hollywood. Ever since Adolph Zukor, a Jewish-
Hungarian immigrant, began acquiring
the rights to a string of cheesy nick-
elodeons that would later blossom
into Paramount Studios, Jews
have played a definitive rol
The 69th Academy
! Awards are just over a
week away. What role
have Jews played in
stoking the American
1 c ]
REED JOHNSON SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
in stoking the American dream machine.
for at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor,
Denial and dissociation also belong to this lega- agrees that being Jewish holds no particular ca-
cy. Historically, despite their abundant success and chet in modern Hollywood. During brief stints as
numbers, many Jewish producers, directors, screen- a script reader and an assistant to producer Jon
writers, exhibitors and agents have tended to down- Peters (Batman), Mintz says he wasn't aware of
play their heritage for fear of being branded "too any pecking order based on Jewish (or non-Jew-
Yet, several Metro Detroiters who've worked in
"I think the one thing which I experienced was
Hollywood say that being Jewish carries little sig- that people definitely were open to talent wherev-
nificance anymore. Being Jewish no longer opens er it is, whether it be a Jewish filmmaker or a black
doors — if it ever did — and the industry no longer filmmaker or whatever," he says. "It's definitely
divides itself along rigid ethnic lines. The most vis- `insider'; you're either inside or you're outside. But
ible sign remaining of Jewish influence is that the I don't think that's so much a function of ethnici-
town shuts down for the High Holidays.
ty. I think, really, the language is a love of film. If
"There are a zillion non-Jewish people in Holly- anything, it's probably more a function of a bunch
wood," says Sheldon Cohn, a producer for Detroit- of bright, educated people working in the same
based W.B. Doner ad agency, which frequently place, people with two and three degrees."
shoots commercials in Hollywood.
- Sheldon Cohn sees a natural 'ilk between
"I think it (Hollywood) is so absolutely non-re- movies and Jewish storytelling traditions, partic-
ligious," Cohn elaborates. The best explanation for ularly in the realm of comedy.
the number of Jews still
Jewish culture, he says, em-
working in movies, he in- Considered cinematic masters, the Coen brothers, phasizes the importance of wit,
left, and Joel, right, have acted as
sists, is simple coincidence. Ethan,
verbal dexterity and the virtue
director/producer/screenwriter for films that have
Eric Mintz, a playwright included Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing,
of entertaining others. From the
and screenwriting instruc- Barton Finkand, just released last week, Fargo.
Mani Brothers and the Borscht