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Interfaith Celebrities: Couples & Hitchcock’s Interfaith Connections

Romance News and Notes

Segal and Williams

Jason Segel and Michelle Williams live together in Brooklyn. [Photo from US Weekly.]

First: the good news about interfaith couple Jason Segel, 32, and Michelle Williams, 32. As I reported in this column in September, the acting duo began a romantic relationship last spring. Williams has long lived in Brooklyn, with her daughter Matilda Ledger, 7, the daughter of the late actor Heath Ledger, Williams’ former romantic partner.

I recently learned that a few months ago, Segel, who was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, left his LA digs to live with Williams in Brooklyn. The Huffington Post reported the story, along with some bad news about the effects of Hurrican Sandy on their new home.

As I read the piece, another thought occurred to me. I’ve been to that Fairway Market, with my brother, a Brooklyn resident. It is locally famous for its size, selection, and easy parking. I hope that the pinpointing of the couple’s residence doesn’t cause any problems for them. The warehouse housing the market and the couple’s home does have a great view of New York Harbor.

Back On the Market: Daniel Radcliffe and Erin Heatherton

I’ve mentioned Daniel Radcliffe, 23, the star of the Harry Potter films, several times in this column. As I previously wrote, Radcliffe, the son of an Irish Protestant father and an English Jewish mother, identifies as Jewish, although he isn’t religious. reported in October:

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has split with his girlfriend Rosie Coker, her father confirmed to Daily Mail on Oct. 18.

Actor Daniel Radcliffe and his girlfriend, a production assistant, Rosie Coker, met on the set of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in 2007 and began dating in 2011, Us Weekly reports. But now, they have called it quits!

Rosie’s father told Daily Mail, “Rosie’s not in this country at the moment. She’s trying to move on. She won’t want to talk about it.”

Before the split, the couple had been living in Daniel’s $4.3 million apartment in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood.

Last March, I reported on the romance of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, 38, who isn’t Jewish, and Victoria’s Secret model Erin Heatherton, 23, who is Jewish. I noted DiCaprio’s consistency in that he seems to have a thing for blonde, Jewish models. (He previously dated famous Israeli model Bar Refaeli, another Jewish blonde.)

Well, on November 2, US Weekly, among other media outlets, reported that Heatherton and DiCaprio had broken up after ten months of dating.

DiCaprio has pretty consistently dated spectacular looking women, but if gossip reports are to be believed, he has never gotten close to marriage.

In this, he has a role model in another famous and famously good looking actor — George Clooney. Clooney did once briefly take the marriage plunge (see Hitchcock item below), before he became really famous via the television drama, E.R.. DiCaprio has been famous since he was 19, and I suspect that fact has helped lead him on his “Clooneyesque” path. If he continues on it, in not too many years, the same jokes which comedians now tell about Clooney’s series of short-term, spectacularly beautiful romantic partners (“they come with an expiration date”) will be told about DiCaprio.

Hitchcock, the Movie: Jewish and Interfaith Connections

Interfaith actress Scarlett Johansson, 28, co-stars in Hitchcock, as actress Janet Leigh, the real life star of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous 1960 film, Psycho. Hitchcock was set to open next year, but one advance screening at the American Film Institute resulted in such great reviews that the opening date was moved up so Hitchcock could compete for 2012 Oscars. Johansson has a good shot at one of those nominations. (Hitchcock opens in a few theaters on November 23, and in most theaters on November 30.)

The cast of Hitchcock, based on the making of the movie Psycho, has many Jewish and interfaith connections.

Hitchcock centers on the real life collaboration of the famous director (played by Anthony Hopkins, 74) and Alma, his wife (Helen Mirren, 67), as they bring Psycho to the screen. A number of real life Jewish people were important to the making of Psycho, and most of them are characters in the film. They are played, mostly, by Jewish actors.

Psycho was based on a novel of the same name by Jewish writer Robert Bloch (1917-1994). Hitchcock owed Paramount studio another film, but they didn’t want Psycho because of its gory subject matter. As depicted in the film, Paramount’s (Jewish) head, Barney Balaban (1887-1971), finally agreed to distribute Psycho if Hitchcock would self-finance it. Balaban and his seven brothers, along with a brother-in-law, built a huge Chicago-based chain of movie palaces. In 1936, he took over as head of the struggling Paramount studio, of which he already owned a large share. His nephew is well known character actor Bob Balaban, 67.

Jewish actor Richard Portnow, 65, plays Barney Balaban. Portnow is one of those veteran, crack character actors you’ll recognize, but you probably don’t know his name. Among other memorable parts, he played Mel, the sharp Jewish lawyer on TheSopranos who kept Tony Soprano’s uncle, Junior, out of jail.

Greasing Hitchcock’s real-life deal with Paramount was Hitchcock’s Jewish friend and agent, Lew Wasserman (1913-2002). He’s played in Hitchcock by Jewish actor Michael Stuhlbarg, 44, the star of the Coen brothers’ film, A Serious Man.

Another major Psycho contributor, who is depicted in Hitchcock, is Saul Bass (1920-1996). Bass, a Jewish graphic designer and filmmaker, revolutionized the look of film titles and corporate logos. Not only did he do the Psycho titles, he did a shot-by-shot storyboard of the famous shower scene that Hitchcock employed as his directorial guide. The shower scene was shot in a way that is different from any other prior Hitchcock-directed scene and most film scholars say that the lion’s share of the credit for it belongs to Bass. Bass is played by actor Wallace Langham, 47.

As most people know, Psycho was essentially a four-character film. Anthony Perkins played Norman Bates, the “psycho” guy who runs a broken-down motel. Janet Leigh played Marion, a secretary who steals $40,000 from her boss to help out her boyfriend, and flees town. Marion then makes the mistake of staying a night at the Bates Motel. While at the motel, Marion decides to return the money, but before she can, she is murdered in the shower by Norman Bates. Her disappearance prompts her sister, played by Vera Miles, to look for her. Also looking for her is a private detective, played by Jewish actor Martin Balsam (1919-1996).

In Hitchcock, English actor James D’Arcy, 37, plays Perkins; Jessica Biel, 30, plays Miles; Jewish actor Richard Chassler, 40, plays Balsam; and, as noted above, Johansson plays Leigh.

Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson in Hitchcock.

The Interfaith Connections: Balsam/Van Patten, Perkins/ Berenson, Leigh/Curtis, Elfman/Fonda

When Hollywood makes a movie about a famous movie, there are a lot of connections that span generations — including many interfaith ones.

Balsam, who won a best supporting actor Oscar for A Thousand Clowns (1965), was married from 1959-1962 to (non-Jewish) actress Joyce Van Patten, now 78. Van Patten is the sister of actor Dick Van Patten of Eight is Enough fame. Their daughter, Talia Balsam, 53, has worked pretty steadily in mostly smallish film and TV roles since the 1980s. But her biggest claim to fame is that she is the only woman whom George Clooney dated that he actually married (they were married from 1989-1993).

Anthony Perkins (1932-1993), who wasn’t Jewish, was married (1973-1992) to model Berry Berenson, the sister of actress/model Marisa Berenson, now 65. The Berenson sisters’ father was an American Jew. Their mother, the daughter of the famous fashion designer Elsa Schaparelli, was of aristocratic Italian Catholic background. Both Perkins and Berenson died before their time due to extraordinary events. Perkins struggled with his sexual identity, and while he and Berenson loved each other, and had two sons, for most of the marriage he also had relationships with men. Like many others, he contracted HIV before the danger was known and died of AIDS in 1993. Berenson was on one of the two planes that were hijacked on September 11, 2001, crashing into the World Trade Center. She was 53 when she died.

When Janet Leigh (1927-2004), who was of Danish Protestant background, made Psycho in 1959, she was already a big star. But it was stardom with an asterisk. Five of her films in the preceding decade were made with her husband, Jewish film star Tony Curtis (1925-2010). They were mostly lightweight flicks, but the public loved the couple and flocked to their movies. In the 1950s, Curtis was a much bigger star than Leigh (they wed in 1951), and it wasn’t clear how well she would fare without him.1

Leigh’s marriage to Curtis was floundering even as Leigh made Psycho, her solo breakthrough role. They divorced in 1962 and their two daughters, Jamie Lee Curtis, now 54, and Kelly Lee Curtis, now 56, were raised by their mother and stepfather.

Jamie Lee Curtis identifies as Jewish and helped her father’s late-in-life efforts to aid the Jewish community of Hungary. In 1984, she wed actor/director Christopher Guest. They have two adopted children. Guest, now 64, is the secular son of an American Jewish mother and an English Jewish father. His father’s direct ancestors, I’m reliably informed, include Christians who converted to Judaism and Jews who converted to Christianity.

To complete the circle, in a sense, actor Bob Balaban, Barney Balaban’s nephew, has appeared in all of Christopher Guest’s “mockumentary” movies, including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.

Not depicted in Hitchcock is Jewish film composer Bernard Hermann (1911-1975). He wrote the Psycho score which has been called one of the most innovative and memorable film scores of all time. Hitchcock, himself, said that “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.” Hitchcock film composer Danny Elfman, 59, who is Jewish, wrote an original score that pays some tribute to Hermann.

Elfman has been married since 2003 to actress Bridget Fonda, the Protestant granddaughter of actor Henry Fonda. The elder Fonda, along with Vera Miles, co-starred in the 1956 Hitchcock movie, The Wrong Man. Fonda also co-starred with Martin Balsam in the classic 1957 movie, 12 Angry Men.

The director of Hitchcock, Sacha Gervasi, 45, is married to Jessica de Rothschild, 38, a theater producer. They married in an English synagogue. Now this one is one of those interfaith tongue-twisters. Sacha Gervasi’s father was not Jewish, I am sure. Sacha’s mother, Milli Kasoy, is Canadian, and, I am sure, Jewish.

Jessica’s father, one of the famous banking Rothschilds, is Jewish. Her maternal grandfather was an American Jew. Her maternal grandmother was of non-Jewish ancestry, and was from Kentucky, as I recall. It’s possible that Jessica’s maternal grandmother converted to Judaism.

In December 2010, London’s Jewish Chronicle reported:

A high celebrity count at last week’s marriage of Jessica de Rothschild and screenwriter Sacha Gervasi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St. John’s Wood and the Criterion Restaurant.

The bride is the daughter of Liberal Judaism patron Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, the groom the father of Spice Girl Gerri Halliwell‘s daughter, Bluebell.

The wedding party included actress Helena Bonham Carter and her partner, director Tim Burton, and Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon, according to tweeting guest Sarah (Mrs Gordon) Brown.

So the interfaith and celebrity connections go on. The director of Hitchcock is of interfaith background and the father of a child by a Spice Girl. His wife is a member of the famous and famously Jewish Rothschild banking clan and is probably of interfaith ancestry herself.

[1]The first interfaith couple, in which both members of the couple were film stars, was Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who were married in 1944. They stayed married until Bogart’s death in 1957. However, most of the public didn’t know Bacall was Jewish then — or perhaps even now. Bogart and Bacall came off as a glamorous, sophisticated duo whose lives were far removed from the lives of ordinary people.

Far more people, then and now, knew that Curtis and Leigh were an interfaith couple. The same was true of another “golden interfaith duo” in the 1950s: Debbie Reynolds and Jewish singer/actor Eddie Fisher. These two couples were firmly in the same “ballpark” as the vast majority of young families in the 1950s. They lived through the Great Depression as kids and reached young adulthood during WWII. After the war, America boomed financially. These two young couples prospered, along with much of America, and they joined with other young Americans in producing the baby boom generation. Many magazine profiles in the 1950s depicted Curtis/Leigh and Reynolds/Fisher as “people like you” with young kids.

American Jews, for a variety of reasons, including the existence of famous interfaith couples like Curtis/Reynolds and Leigh/Fisher, stopped being perceived as somewhat alien by the vast majority of the American public during the 1950s. I suspect it correlated with the decline in anti-Semitic attitudes In the U.S.

I believe the existence of these famous interfaith couples also led ordinary Jews and ordinary non-Jews to re-evaluate their attitude about interfaith marriage, and many came to the conclusion that it was no big deal and that the “other” was not so different, circa 1960, from themselves.

By 1965, it was clear that Eddie Fisher and Tony Curtis defied another stereotype — that Jewish men were almost all good, steady husbands and attentive fathers. Both married many times and didn’t do that much hands-on fathering.

It’s a credit to Reynolds and Janet Leigh that two of their respective children (Carrie Fisher and Jamie Lee Curtis) became famous, accomplished people. The fact that both Carrie and Jamie decided to identify as Jewish as adults shows that a decision on “how to identify” can be influenced by factors other than which spouse has primary custody and parenting duties.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes a weekly column on Jewish celebrities, broadly defined, that appears in the Cleveland Jewish News the American Israelite of Cincinnati, the , Detroit Jewish News and the . New Jersey Jewish Standard. It also appears bi-weekly in j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Starting April 2012, a monthly version of his column (featuring relevant “oldies but goodies”) will appear in the following Florida newspapers: the Jewish News (Sarasota and Manatee County), the Federation Star (Collier County) and L’Chayim (Lee and Charlotte counties). The author welcomes questions and celebrity “tips,” especially about people you personally know. Write him at


Author: Nate Bloom