Olympic Athletes (with many tangents); and a Jew Named Delwin

 The HBO documentary “The Weight of Gold” premieres on July 29. It explores the mental health challenges that Olympic athletes often face.  Like millions of “ordinary” Americans, many Olympic athletes struggle to find necessary support and resources as they cope with mental health issues. The film seeks to inspire a general discussion of mental health issues, encourage people to seek help, and highlight the need for support. The film is narrated by Michael Phelps, the swimmer who holds the record for the most Olympic medals of any athlete, ever (28). Phelps has been candid about his own mental health/substance abuse problems.

Many Olympic athletes are interviewed, including figure skater SASHA COHEN, 35. She won the Olympic silver medal in 2006 and finished 4th at the 2002 Olympics (the gold medalist was SARAH HUGHES, now 35). I hadn’t looked at Cohen’s bio in a long time and I was surprised to learn, last week, that she recently became the sister-in-law of actress JULIANNA MARGULIES, 54 (“The Good Wife”).Cohen now works as an associate at Morgan Stanley, where her husband, GREGORY LIEBERTHAL, 40ish, is a partner. The couple wed late last year and they had their first child, a son, last January. Gregory is the son of KENNETH LIBERTHAL, 76, a retired Univ. of Michigan political scientist and a prominent China expert. Kenneth’s other son, attorney KEITH LIEBERTHAL, 43, wed Margulies in a Jewish ceremony in 2007 and they, too, have a son. 

BRETT RAPKIN, 42, directed “Weight.” He specializes in producing and/or directing sports documentaries. He produced the acclaimed 2008 documentary “Holy Land Baseball”. It’s about a rich American bagelmaker who founded (2007) a short-lived pro baseball league in Israel. Rapkin said he made the film because it combined two of the biggest memories of his childhood, “playing baseball and going to Hebrew school.” (“Holy” is available, free, on Amazon Prime).

“Greyhound”, a new big-budget film starring Tom Hanks (who also wrote the film), began streaming on video-on-demand on July 10. The title refers to the code name of a WWII American navy destroyer that escorted cargo ships crossing the Atlantic, from America to Britain. These cargo ships and their war ship protectors were the subject of many Nazi sub attacks.

Hanks plays the captain of the Greyhound. The action centers on a three-day period in which all the Allied ships have to cope with bad weather and many vicious attacks from a so-called “wolfpack”---four Nazi subs teamed up together. Reviews are mostly positive. The main kvetch seems to be that the Captain’s character is not filled-out enough. That kvetch would seem to fall on the screenwriter’s shoulders (Hanks). Praise was universal regarding the film’s action sequences and “tautness.” Credit there has to go to the director, AARON SCHNEIDER, 55. Remarkably, by using a variety of new special effects, he was able to make the film without a single scene actually being shot in the water.

Why didn’t I write about Schneider before? Well, he doesn’t have that long a track record. He directed his first feature in 2009 (the well-received black comedy “Get Low”), but for reasons I still don’t know—didn’t direct another feature until “Greyhound.” This film “drought” resulted in a lack of media profiles that might have mentioned that he is Jewish. But, after the movie began streaming, there was coverage in the local media near where Schneider grew-up (a small town near Peoria, Illinois). It mentioned that his father, DELWIN SCHNEIDER, 91, was a Korean War veteran. I thought: “A Jew named Delwin???”

Well, on-line family history records disclosed that, yes, Delwin is a Jewish guy and Aaron’s mother was Jewish, too. By the way, Aaron credits BILLY CRYSTAL, 72, with giving him great advice.  35 years ago, he was an unhappy college sophomore. He was studying engineering, but wanted to get into film special effects. By chance, he met Crystal on a Florida beach and told him his ambition. “A very nice” Crystal, Aaron says, told him to go to film school. Schneider says that “go to film school” was not common advice 35 years ago, but it was the right advice.

 Last week, I said I would write, in my next column, about two living Jewish comedians that are following in the footsteps of JACK BENNY and CARL REINER (kind, with long careers). Not enough space this week (blame Aaron Schneider!)—check back next week. I’ll include a very funny story about Jack Benny that Reiner told about 10 years ago.

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