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Interfaith Celebrities: Batman and the Olympics

Gotham City News — The New Batman Movie

I am writing this a few days before the opening (July 20) of The Dark Knight Rises, the third film starring Christian Bale, 38, as Batman. It’s being billed as “the epic conclusion” of the trilogy of Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan, 41. Advance reviews, such as the one in The Hollywood Reporter, have been pretty glowing, so I expect that by the time you read this,The Dark Knight Rises will be a certified hit.

Trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.As the film opens, Batman (a.k.a. Bruce Wayne) has been in near seclusion for eight years. During this time, Gotham City has also been very quiet, and almost all organized crime has been eliminated. This ends with the sudden arrival of arch-criminal, Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane engineers a diabolical scheme that results in Bruce Wayne being imprisoned in a Middle East hellhole, while the social order of Gotham is overturned by an army of criminals.

The screenplay is by Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, 36, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, 46. Goyer, by himself, wrote the story for the first Nolan-directed Batman film, Batman Begins, (2005). He and Christopher Nolan then co-wrote the screenplay for Begins. In 2008, Goyer wrote the story (with Christopher Nolan) upon which the screenplay for the second Batman film, The Dark Knight, was based.

Back in 2009, I profiled Goyer for this column when The Unborn, a film that Goyer directed and wrote, opened. It was a horror fantasy thriller based on Jewish folklore about the supernatural figure of the dybbuk: a malicious possessing spirit of a dead person. I noted in that column that Goyer had recently told an interviewer that he was “half Jewish” and that he went to Hebrew school. Since I wrote that column, I learned that Goyer’s father is not Jewish and that his mother is Jewish.

Christian Bale is Batman

A new major character in The Dark Knight Rises is John Blake, a smart and idealistic street cop who is grateful to the [Bruce] Wayne Foundation for funding the very good orphanage in which he grew up. He’s played by well-known Jewish actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 31.

Anne Hathaway, 29, co-stars in The Dark Knight Rises as Selina Kyle, Bruce Wayne’s sort-of love interest. Her character is described by the Hollywood Reporter this way:

Bruce begins being dragged back into the limelight by slinky Selina Kyle (Hathaway), a spirited cat burglar who lifts his fingerprints and a necklace from his safe while pulling a job at his mansion. It was always a question how this ambiguous feline character (never called Catwoman herein) would be worked into the fabric of this Batman series, but co-screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, working from a story by the director and David S. Goyer, have cannily threaded her through the tale as an alluring gadfly and tease who engages in an ongoing game of one-upmanship with Batman and whose selfishness prevents her from making anything beyond opportunistic alliances.

Although Hathaway’s character is not called “Catwoman,” it is quite clear that Selina was, at the very least, heavily inspired by the Catwoman character that has appeared in Batman comics since 1940 and in many of the TV and film versions of the Batman story.

The Los Angeles Times reported last December:

The [Catwoman] character has considerable history. She first appeared in the comics in the spring of 1940 as a villain driven more by profit than madness or blood lust, and Batman’s attempts to reform her would become a staple part of her mythology — as would the sexual tension between the Bat and the Cat.

[Hathaway told the Times]: “I really got into the comics after I was cast and I like that when she made her first appearance she meets Bruce Wayne and says ‘Let go of me or I’ll claw your eyes out,’ and he says, ‘Careful, claws in or papa spank,'” Hathaway said. “So I’m glad we’ve come a long way since then. I’m not saying anything against Bob Kane, though.”

Kane, the credited creator of Batman (writer Bill Finger is now acknowledged as co-creator but wasn’t at the time), said that the movie star Hedy Lamarr was a key inspiration for Catwoman, so Hathaway did a deep dive into the Vienna native’s films.

“I know this sounds odd, but her breathing is extraordinary,” Hathaway said. “She takes these long, deep, languid breaths and exhales slowly. There’s a shot of her in [the 1933 film] Ecstasy exhaling a cigarette and I took probably five breaths during her one exhale. So I started working on my breathing a lot.”

Adam Shulman and Anne Hathaway are engaged to be married

For the record, I guess I should note that Batman creators Bob Kane (1915-1998) and Bill Finger (1914-1974), were Jewish — as was Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000). I am quite sure that Kane and Finger were inspired by Lamarr’s breathtaking (and breathy) beauty to create a character based on her. I don’t believe they had any idea that she was Jewish. As a matter of fact, until a decade ago, very few people knew of Lamarr’s Jewish background. However, recent biographies have detailed her extraordinary life, which included co-inventing, during WWII, an electronic device that anticipated modern cell phone technology and her “cat like” escape from Austria (1937) where she had been virtually imprisoned by an abusive husband who “played footsie” with the Nazis.

It’s virtually certain that Hathaway came across Lamarr’s Jewish background in her research. I wonder if she mentioned it to her fiancé, Adam Banks Shulman, 31, who is Jewish, too.

Hathaway was born in Brooklyn and grew up in a New Jersey suburb, the child of an attorney father and an actress mother. She was raised a Catholic. However, she left the Catholic Church when she was 15. GQ reported in 2010:

Anne grew up wanting to become a nun but shunned Catholicism when she learned her older brother, Michael, was gay. “The whole family converted to Episcopalianism after my elder brother came out. Why should I support an organization that has a limited view of my beloved brother?” But the Episcopal church plan didn’t really work out for her either. “So I’m…nothing,” she said. “I’m a work in progress.”

In another 2010 interview, she called herself a “non-denominational Christian.”

By any measure, Hathaway is one of the most important actresses of our time. Luck is always a factor when an actress, in effect, wins the lottery and emerges as one of the handful of top Hollywood box office stars. But you cannot ascribe Hathaway’s remarkable acting career, to date without a “down period,” to luck alone. She has talent, and a sure sense of when she should take a chance on a different role, and not allow herself to be pigeon-holed in a type of part.

She began acting in regional theater as a teen. She was still a teen when she made her New York stage singing debut. Her second released film, the Disney production The Princess Diaries (2001), was a major hit.

To this point, her career was not that different from many actresses who had some early stage success and starred in a hit movie that appealed to tweens. Sadly, very few of these actresses have been able to build on their burst of publicity and sustain a major career.

Hathaway is an exception, much like Drew Barrymore, who I profiled some months ago when Barrymore, too, got engaged to a Jewish guy. Hathaway took a chance and appeared in the very grown-up indie film, Havoc, in 2003. While it got mixed reviews, this film about wealthy girls dabbling in the world of street gangs put casting directors on notice that Hathaway could carry a strong dramatic role.

Havoc probably helped her get a big supporting role in Brokeback Mountain (2005), an indie film about gay cowboys which became a major hit.

The next year, she charmed filmgoers in another hit, the comedy/drama The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Hathaway switched gears again in 2008 and got the best notices of her career and a best actress Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married, an intense family drama. I profiled, the film a few years ago. In it, she played a secular Jewish woman who leaves drug rehab in order to attend her sister’s wedding.

In 2010, she reunited with interfaith actor Jake Gyllenhaal (who played her husband in Brokeback) in the comedy/drama Love and Other Drugs.

Hathaway will finally show off her singing ability when a film version of the huge stage hit, Les Misérables, opens this December. She has the female lead.

Hathaway’s love life has been almost as famously “bad” as her career has been good. In 2004, she began a relationship with Raffaello Follieri, now 34, a handsome Italian with whom she lived in New York City until June, 2008. He was a very smooth con-man who stole millions from real estate investors who bought his story that he was working for or with the Vatican. The couple split up in 2008 when the IRS began a serious investigation into her boyfriend’s activities. Subsequently, Follieri was arrested and convicted of fraud. He has just completed a four-year sentence. Hathaway was not charged with a crime, and there’s no evidence she knew what he was up to.

It’s quite easy to understand why Hathaway would be gun-shy about entering into a new relationship after the debacle with Follieri. She told Harper’s Bazaar in June 2011 that she and Shulman hit it off immediately, but they didn’t start dating (November 2008) until some time after they met. They made their relationship public in June, 2009.

Hathaway describes Shulman as “mellow and not exhausting,” implying he is just what she needed after Follieri. In November, 2011, they announced their engagement.

Right after the engagement, some bloggers stated, without any backing source, that Shulman was Jewish. They assumed, I’m sure, that someone with a “Jewish-sounding” last name like Shulman is Jewish. It took me some time to confirm that Shulman really is Jewish, and there are still gaps in what I know about him.

In short, Shulman seems to have a background quite like Will Kopelman, Drew Barrymore’s Jewish husband. He was born in New York, but grew up in a number of places, including Weston, Massachusetts, a small suburb of Boston. His Jewish father, Mark Shulman, now 63, had a long career in retail fashion, heading up such well-known chains as Henri Bendel, Ann Taylor and Filene’s Basement. (Kopelman’s father was long head of Chanel’s American division.)

In 2004, the elder Shulman took over as head of Filene’s. The chain suffered reverses after the recessionhit in 2008, went bankrupt in 2009 and Mark Shulman was discharged in May, 2010. In December, 2011, the last Filene’s store closed.

Adam Shulman graduated with a degree in theater from Brown University in 2003. He has had modest success as an actor, with one big recurring part in the short-lived TV series American Dreams (2005) and some small parts in other TV shows. In many short articles about him and Hathaway, it was noted that he launched a jewelry line in 2011, called “James Banks.” James Banks, these articles reported, was the name of his maternal grandfather. This grandfather, these articles noted, often gave gifts of jewelry to Adam’s grandmother. (It isn’t clear if James Banks was a jeweler.)

Armed with this information, I was able to determine, with some difficulty, that James Banks (1917-2002), was Jewish. I initially thought he was not Jewish due to a historical oddity that may interest others researching their own or a spouse’s Jewish family history. James Banks was married three times. His first marriage (1938) was reported in The New York Times. Here is the summary of The New York Times article. It absolutely defies the “stereotypes” of the names and other details usually found in Jewish wedding announcements:

The marriage of Miss Barbara Lee, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence L. Lee of 1,112 Park Avenue and Stratford, Conn., to James Norvell Banks, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Banks of Vandalia, Mo., formerly of St. Louis, took place last night in the Cottage Suite of Hampshire House. The Rev. Dr. Wendell Phillips performed the ceremony.

Believe it or not, census and other records reveal that Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Lee were Jewish, as were Mr. and Mrs. Harry Banks of Missouri. Lee was a successful artist (with servants in his household in 1930) and Harry Banks was a dry-goods company division manager. Harry Banks and his wife were born in America. Their respective parents were immigrants from Russia and Austria.

What about The Rev. Dr. Wendell Phillips? Well, there was a famous 19th century Protestant abolitionist named Wendell Phillips. But this Wendell Phillips, I eventually figured out, was a Reform rabbi! It was the fashion in the late 19th century, and in the first half of the 20th century, for many Reform rabbis to refer to themselves and be referred to as “Reverend” or “Reverend Doctor” if they had higher education.

Adam Shulman’s mother, Jacqueline Banks, was the daughter of a latter marriage of James Banks to another Jewish woman. I was unable to determine if Adam Shulman was raised in a religious home.

The Olympics — a Modest Run-Down of Jewish and Interfaith Athletes at the Games

Since 2002, yours truly has spent a number of hours before each Winter and Summer Olympic Games trying to run down the Jewish and interfaith athletes scheduled to compete in the Games. Then, of course, I’d write up what I found. This year, I decided to just enjoy the Games, and not try and “vet” many national team rosters for such athletes.

I am aware of a number of Jewish and interfaith athletes from past Olympic Games who are returning to compete in the London Games. And the London Jewish Chronicle had a short list of some “new” athletes in a recent issue. Here is a list of those returning Olympians from countries other than Israel and a couple new ones:.


Steve Solomon, 19 — Track (member of the 4×400 relay team)
The son of a physician father, he plans to attend Stanford University after the Games and follow his father into medicine. This is Solomon’s first Olympics.

New Zealand

Jo Aleh, 26 — Sailing
Aleh competes in the two-woman 470 class (a small dinghy). She also competed at the 2008 Games in an individual sailing event. She and her partner won the women’s 470 class in the last World Cup event of 2012 in Weymouth, England in June, finished fourth at the Barcelona World Championships in May and are the current New Zealand 470 national champions. She was born in New Zealand, the daughter of an Israeli father and a New Zealand-born mother. This is her first Olympics.

United States

Anthony Ervin, 31 — Swimming
Ervin, a Southern California native, earned a UC Berkeley undergraduate degree in 2010 and is now in graduate studies at Berkeley. He is the son of a Jewish mother and an African American and Native American father. In a 2004 interview, Ervin then defined himself as a Zen Buddhist. He was the first African American to win an Olympic medal in swimming.

Jason Lezak, 36 — Swimming
In 2012, Lezak will compete on the 4×100 meter freestyle relay team. Lezak has competed in every Olympics since and including 2000. He has won seven medals, including four gold ones. In 2008, he was one of the four members of the 400 meter relay team that won the gold medal in amazingly exciting fashion.Back in 2008, I wrote about that incredible race for this column

Mark Mendelbratt, 39 — Sailing
A Florida native, and also the son of a physician, Mendelbratt has been a top sailor since his teens. In 2004, he finished 8th at the Athens Olympic Games sailing a “Laser” class boat. In 2012 he is back, sailing a two-man “Star” class boat.

Merrill Moses, 34 — water polo
A native resident of Southern California, Moses was the goalkeeper on the 2008 US Olympic team that won the silver medal.

Aly (Alexandra) Raisman, 18 — Gymnastics (floor, beam)
Raisman, a top competitor in a “marquee” sport, is likely to be the most seen and heralded Jewish athlete at the London Games. She is on the cover of the current issue of Sports Illustrated. She has performed in solo floor exercises to the music of Hava Nagila, the famous Jewish folk song, and got a great response from the crowds, who tend to clap along with the music. The Massachusetts native had a bat mitzvah.

Soren Thompson, 31 — Fencing
A native resident of Southern California, Thompson fences using the épée sword. (There are three classes of fencing at the Olympics, each using a different type of sword. Besides the épée, there are the foil and the sabre.) Thompson was on the American team in 2004, taking 7th place in the individual competition and 5th place in the team competition.

Julie Zetlin, 22 — Rhythmic Gymnastics
Zetlin, who is from Maryland, is competing in a sport that is much bigger in Europe than in the United States. Her mother is a former Hungarian National champion in the sport. Relatively few Americans compete in this sport and thereby compile the standing in international competition that allows their country to send them to the Olympics. Zetlin did well enough in such competitions to be awarded a berth at the 2012 Games, and she is the first American to compete in this sport at the Olympics since 2004.

One final note: Some sources describe Steve Gluckstein, a member of the US Gymnastics team, as Jewish. Jewish Sports Review tells me that they have researched this claim and it isn’t accurate.

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