By Nate Bloom

Contributing Columnist 


Going Large and Winning; Julie Andrews’ “Jewish” hits,  Critics Love New HBO Series


“Jerry and Marge Go Large,” an original Paramount+ comedy/drama film, begins streaming on June 17th. It is based on the true story of Jerry Selbee (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Marge (Annette Bening).The couple, who are now in their eighties, was the subject of many articles and a “Sixty Minutes” story. 

The Selbees have long lived in a small Michigan town. Before retiring, the Selbees made a modest living from their convenience store. Not long after they retired, Michigan introduced (2003) a new lottery game called Winfall. Jerry, who has a college degree in mathematics, uncovered a mathematical quirk in the Winfall lottery game. Anyone (legally) could earn “net” winnings if they bought enough tickets. He enlisted friends in a “betting pool” or club. 

When the Michigan game ended, the Selbees found a similar game in another state. The club’s ‘grand’ net winnings total was eight million dollars before taxes. 

DAVID FRANKEL, 62, directed the film. Frankel, an observant Jew, has helmed some really big comedy hits, including “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley and Me.” His father is Pulitzer Prize winner MAX FRANKEL, now 92. Max and his family fled Nazi Germany in 1940. He retired (1996) as the NY Times executive editor.

After a two-year delay, due to the pandemic, the American Film Institute (AFI) finally got a chance to give actress/singer Julie Andrews an AFI lifetime achievement award. A video of the ceremony airs on TNT at 10 p.m. on June 16, with a repeat showing at 11:30 p.m. There will be an encore showing on TCM on July 15 at 8 p.m.

When I saw that Andrews, a truly great musical actress, was being honored, I thought of the most famous musicals she starred-in. They were “My Fair Lady” (original Broadway production; 1956-58); “Mary Poppins,” (film,1964), and “The Sound of Music” (film,1965).

I then realized that all these musicals were written or co-written by Jews. I suspect that Ms. Andrews knows this, too.  “My Fair Lady” (1956)  was written by ALAN  J. LERNER (script of musical, and song lyrics) and FREDERICK LOEWE (music; Loewe’s father was Jewish).

RICHARD RODGERS (music) and OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II (lyrics) wrote “The Sound of Music” songs (Hammerstein’s father was Jewish).   The “Mary Poppins” songs were written by RICHARD SHERMAN, now 93, and his late brother, ROBERT SHERMAN. Julie Andrews lauded them in the 2009 documentary: “The Boys: the Sherman Brothers Story.” It’s now streaming on the Disney Channel.

“Ima Vep,” an eight-episode HBO Max series, began streaming on HBO Max on June 6th. The reviews were almost uniformly great. The series centers around Mira (Alicia Vikander). She’s a troubled American movie star who comes to France to star as Irma Vep, the title character in a remake of a French silent film classic. The role has troubling psychological effects on Mira.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN, 47, plays Mira’s agent. Brownstein is best known as a member of Sleater-Kinney, a long-popular rock band. She showed she could act when she co-starred in the IFC comedy series “Portlandia.” 

The series was written and directed by OLIVIER ASSAYAS, 67, a famous French filmmaker. His late father, RAYMOND ASSAYAS, was a top French screenwriter. Raymond came from a Sephardi family that settled in France after WWI. He escaped the Nazis and joined the Free French forces overseas.

Olivier didn’t know his father was Jewish until his thirteenth birthday. Raymond casually told Olivier: “If we were practicing Jews, you’d have your bar mitzvah today.” Olivier, stunned,  asked a few questions and his father confirmed that he was Jewish.

Olivier’s mother was raised Protestant, but she, too, has some Jewish ancestry (it’s unclear how much).  Olivier was raised Christian, but he’s long been secular. He said in an interview: “You can’t avoid the echoes of that history [the Holocaust].  It shapes your identity. So, in a way I’ve been extremely concerned and defined by my half-Jewish identity, even if it was passed on to me in a such an awkward way.”

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