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Interfaith Celebrities: Gwyneth Does Country, the Jews of Baseball and a Celebrity PSA

Gwyneth Does Country

Gwyneth Paltrow, 38, who proved she could sing in the karaoke movie Duets (1999), will appear on the Country Music Association Awards (ABC, 8PM, Wednesday, Nov.10). She’ll make her live singing debut as she performs the title number from her upcoming film, Country Strong, in which she plays a legendary country singer just out of rehab. The film co-stars country music star Tim McGraw as Paltrow’s husband/manager.

Country Strong opens in limited release in late December. It opens “wide” in early January, 2011.

Soon after a rising young singer-songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) gets involved with a fallen, emotionally unstable country star (Gwyneth Paltrow), the pair embarks on a career resurrection tour helmed by her husband/manager (Tim McGraw) and featuring a beauty-queen-turned-singer (Leighton Meester). Between concerts, romantic entanglements and old demons threaten to derail them all.

Paltrow, who has been profiled in this column before, is the daughter of a Jewish father (the late film/TV director Bruce Paltrow) and a Protestant mother, actress Blythe Danner. She was raised Jewish and identifies as Jewish. Bruce Paltrow, who was most famous as the principal director of the hit TV series St. Elsewhere, directed his daughter in Duets.

I wish I could say that Duets really “worked.” It didn’t–but it had some good moments. These included Paltrow singing the tune “Cruisin'” with Huey Lewis. The song went on to get a lot of radio airplay and was a pretty big hit.

Also worthy of note: actor Paul Giamatti (Sideways, John Adams) has a co-starring role in Duets. This was an early starring role for Giamatti and you may have missed it. It’s the only movie I am aware of in which Giamatti sings and he has a surprisingly good voice. Simply put, it’s a kick to see him sing–and you can do so by clicking on this link to a Duets scene.

As previously noted in this column, Giamati, who isn’t Jewish, is married to a Jewish woman and their son is being raised in his mother’s faith.

Gwyneth Paltrow at the premiere of Iron Man in 2008

By the way, I believe that Paltrow is the first Jewish singer to perform at the Country Music Association Awards (CMAs) since they began in 1974. The number of CMA awards is quite small. The award nominations are usually given to the biggest country music stars. Likewise, performances at the awards show are usually limited to these same big stars.

Paltrow’s upcoming performance at the CMA awards is, therefore, something of a novelty–not only because she is Jewish, but because she is not a country music star.

The Grammys for Country music feature far more categories and many more awards than the CMAs. Several Jewish musicians have won Country music Grammys, including Ray Benson, the leader of the western swing band “Asleep at the Wheel,” and Bela Fleck, a bluegrass/jazz fusion musician.

But for fairly obvious demographic and cultural reasons, there simply aren’t that many Jewish musicians in country. There aren’t any country music superstars who are Jewish–and it’s the big stars who win almost all the CMA awards.

However, at least a couple of Jewish songwriters have won the CMA award for song of the year, the only CMA award given to a songwriter (Larry Weiss for “Rhinestone Cowboy” (1976) and Annie Roboff for co-writing the big 1998 Faith Hill hit “This Kiss”).

There is an old line that the Tony Awards are the Jewish CMAs and vice-versa, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Each year, persons of Jewish or partially Jewish background garner about one quarter to one half of the Tony award nominations for acting, playwriting and songwriting.

This Sporting Life

Being a resident of the Bay Area, this writer was very happy to see the San Francisco Giants win the World Series. This year’s Giants are an objectively “cool” team and San Francisco paid its dues; the Giants had not won a championship since they moved to the “city by the bay” in 1958.

Sandy Koufax, circa 1965. Courtessy N.Y. Public Library Picture Collection

So, for the baseball fans out there, I wish to call to your attention two recent articles in the Jewish press that you may have missed.

The first one, published in JWeekly, the San Francisco Jewish paper, covered all the Giants’ and Rangers’ “Jewish connections,” just as the Series was about to begin. It notes that two of the Rangers’ players, second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Scott Feldman, are of interfaith background (Jewish fathers).

The second article is about a new documentary, Jews and Baseball: A Love Story. The documentary maker, as noted in the NY Times and elsewhere, scored a real “coup” when Hall-of-Fame Jewish pitcher Sandy Koufax agreed, for the first time, to a full-scale filmed interview about his career and Jewish background.

Koufax isn’t a recluse, but he is a very private person. He has never spoken about his two (childless) marriages that ended in divorce. His first wife, Ann Widmark, who isn’t Jewish, is the daughter of Richard Widmark, the late famous actor.

Apatow: About Himself–and His Hilarious Public Service Announcement

Judd Apatow at Hollywood Life Magazine?s 7th Annual Breakthrough Awards. 9 December 2007, by

I have mentioned Jewish writer/director Judd Apatow quite a number of times in this column. Apatow, and a constellation of Jewish and interfaith actors/writers associated with him, have created a raft of hit films that began with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked-Up.

(His circle includes such interfaith actors as Jason Segal, Danny McBride, James Franco, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Other colleagues include Jewish actors Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Mila Kunis.)

In a recent Jewish Chronicle of Los Angeles profile, Apatow really opened up about his childhood and his apparent regret in being raised in a home devoid of any Jewish religious content (even though both his parents are Jewish). He talks a bit about his marriage to actress Leslie Mann, who has co-starred in a number of his films. He mentions that Mann isn’t Jewish and he says a few things about the spiritual upbringing of their two children.

On a much lighter note, Apatow may have created the most unconventional public service announcement (PSA) in existence.

It’s a plea for donations to the American Jewish World Service (which helps people of every faith). Apatow’s PSA features a great line-up of celebrities of all faiths.

There is a lot of humor in the announcement, and, be warned, some of the humor is a lot more edgy than one would expect to find in an ad for a charity.

It was created for the irreverent humor website Funny or Die, and it should appeal to their audience and earn some shekels for this worthy organization.

The Jewish celebs in the ad include Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert Smigel (as Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog), Lisa Edelstein, Andy Samberg, and Ben Stiller.

The celebs who aren’t Jewish include: Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Patrick Stewart, Tracey Morgan, Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw.

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