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Interfaith Celebrities: Plame and Love, Love and Other Drugs, Remembering Jill Clayburgh

Plame and Love

Fair Game is a film based on the memoir of the same name by former CIA agent Valerie Plame, 47, whose career was destroyed when her covert identity was exposed, in 2003, by a politically motivated press leak out of the Bush White House.

Naomi Watts at the premier of King Kong. Photo by jonzer, 2005

Her exposure was revenge for the actions of her diplomat husband, Joseph C. Wilson, who had written a 2003 NY Times column about his 2002 fact-finding mission that proved an intelligence report of uranium shipments to Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq was false. Nonetheless, President Bush used this discredited intelligence report when he asked Congress for war authority.

The film is directed by Doug Liman, 45, who is Jewish. Best known for The Bourne Identity (2003) and Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), Liman is the son of the late Arthur Liman, an attorney who became famous as the chief counsel for the Senate committee which investigated the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal.

As a matter-of-fact, Doug Liman says he got a taste of “real spy craft” as he watched his father investigate the complex Iran-Contra affair.

Fair Game stars Naomi Watts, 42, as Plame and interfaith actor Sean Penn, 50, as Wilson. It opened in limited release a couple of weeks ago to mostly stellar reviews, and opened nation-wide on Friday, Nov. 19.

Penn, as p reviously noted in this column, is the son of a Jewish father and a mother of another faith. He is secular.

Critics praised Doug Liman for not turning Fair Game into a polemic treatise. Rather, it’s a movie about real people in crisis and how that crisis almost destroyed the Plame/Wilson marriage.

There are a couple of interesting Jewish side notes to the film.

JNF takes actress Naomi Watts (The Ring, 21 Grams) and her husband actor Liev Schreiber (Wolverine, Scream) around Israel. Highlights included a tree planting.

Watts, who isn’t Jewish, recently said that several of the film’s scenes were shot in Jordan and, during a break in filming, she took the opportunity to travel to nearby Israel.

Her fiancé, interfaith actor Liev Schreiber, 43, accompanied by their two young sons, flew to Israel from New York and the whole reunited family toured Israel. Watts and Schreiber were photographed and filmed planting a tree in Israel and, last year, photos of the planting made the pages of most American Jewish papers.

Schreiber, as I have written before, is the son of a Jewish mother. He identifies as Jewish. Their two sons, with Watts’ approval, had a ritual Jewish circumcision (“bris”).

In her memoir, Plame wrote that the one happy benefit of her “outing” was that a Jewish relative, who knew he had relatives named Plame, got in contact with her brother. Eventually Plame, Wilson, and Plame’s brother went to a Passover seder at this Jewish relative’s home.

Plame was previously unaware of her Jewish background. Her paternal grandfather, a rabbi’s son, was totally cut-off by his family when he wed Plame’s Protestant grandmother.

After he was cut-off, Plame wrote, her grandfather never talked about his Jewish background and she simply didn’t know he was Jewish until this relative contacted her brother.

Love and Other Drugs

Love and Other Drugs, which is scheduled to open in theaters on Wednesday, Nov. 24th, stars interfaith actor Jake Gyllenhaal, 29, as Jamie Randall, a womanizer who is guided into a good job as a Pfizer drug salesman by his geeky brother, Josh (played by Jewish actor Josh Gad, 29).

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs

Jamie and Josh Randall’s parents are played by Jewish actor George Segal, 76, and the late Jill Clayburgh, in her last screen role.

Jamie’s job requires him to make sales calls on doctors. While talking up a Dr. Knight (played by Jewish actor Hank Azaria, 46), Jamie meets Maggie Murdock, a patient of Dr. Knight’s. Soon thereafter, Jamie and Maggie (Anne Hathaway) begin a “no-strings” attached, mostly sexual, relationship.

When Jamie eventually finds out Maggie has Parkinson’s disease, he’s forced to examine all his personal values and the nature of his relationship with Maggie.

Love was directed and co-written by Edward Zwick, 58, who is Jewish. His work includes Defiance, a film about Jewish partisans during WWII (which co-starred Schreiber), and the ’80s TV series thirtysomething.

thirtysomething featured an intelligent portrayal of an interfaith married couple. Last year, interviewed Edward Zwick, who said that the interfaith couple in thirtysomething is based, in part, on his own interfaith marriage.

Zwick also said that his Quaker-affiliated wife was the “prime mover” in the raising of their son in the Jewish faith.

On Jill Clayburgh: Her “Unknown” Interfaith and “Revolutionary” Background

Jill Clayburgh in Never Again

Clayburgh died of leukemia on Nov. 5, age 66. Her career had its ups-and-downs and she took a long time off to raise her two children with her husband, playwright David Rabe (who isn’t Jewish).

But she’ll always be remembered for her almost perfect, Oscar-nominated performance as a woman struggling to cope with the break-up of her marriage in the great flick An Unmarried Woman (1978). Woman was written and directed by Paul Mazursky, 80, who is Jewish.

Clayburgh also had nice parts in Starting Over, Silver Streak, and a recurring role as the title character’s mother on TV’s Ally McBeal.

Clayburgh’s basic biography can be found in this NY Times obituary.

The groundbreaking feminist nature of An Unmarried Woman was the subject of a NY Times article about the film and Clayburgh that was published a few days after her death. It also goes into her other professional projects and family life.

Clayburgh never talked about her religious background. So far as I can tell, the actress was raised in no faith and she didn’t have a funeral service.

The only reliable, easily available source on her religious background is a biographical dictionary which simply says her father was a member of a wealthy Jewish Manhattan family. This notation first appeared in this dictionary in the late 1970s and has never been changed or augmented.

In one of her final roles Jill Clayburgh plays on-screen mom to Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs. Gyllenhaal said Clayburgh’s ability to live life to its fullest, cherishing every moment, left an “indelible impression” on him. (AP, Nov. 7)

Some months before Clayburgh died, a friend who is a family history expert told me that he was able to trace the ancestry of Clayburgh’s late mother, Julia Louise Dorr Clayburgh.

Born in 1910, Julia’s ancestry was mostly WASP. A not very successful actress, Julia seems to have given up her acting career when she married, in 1941, Jill’s Jewish father, Albert Clayburgh, Jr. (known as “Bill”). Jill was born in 1944 and her only full sibling, a brother, was born a few years later.

Julia worked, in the 1960s, as the executive secretary for David Merrick, a famous Jewish Broadway producer who had a ton of hits in the ’60s and early ’70s. She died in 1975. Her funeral was at a Manhattan Episcopal church.

After Jill died, my friend and I explored her father’s family background via the NY Times archives and family history sites. I was surprised at what we found:

Bill Clayburgh, a native New Yorker and a WWII Navy veteran, made his living representing a company that supplied fine printing papers to book publishers. Before marrying Jill’s mother, he was married to an upper-class woman of WASP background. The marriage lasted seven years and ended in divorce in 1938. It produced one son, Jill’s surviving half brother.

I am not sure that Bill ever “really” had to work. His father, Albert Clayburgh, Sr., was a very wealthy cotton broker and he seems to have provided quite well for his son during Bill’s youth.

Bill died in 1997, age 87. He was educated at prep schools located near Princeton, New Jersey and at Princeton University, graduating in 1931.

Princeton University had a reputation for having quite an anti-Semitic atmosphere before WWII. Only a small number of Jewish students were admitted, there were few Jewish faculty members, and Jewish students were excluded from the school’s elite “eating clubs.”

But Bill didn’t seem to have a problem, from what I could gather, in fitting in with the Princeton upper class WASP elite.

Family wealth probably helped. But, almost certainly, there was another reason: Bill was one of a handful of American Jews who could be a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of the Confederacy organizations. In other words, he had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution and for the South.

Jill’s paternal great-great-great grandfather was Major Benjamin Nones (1757-1826). Nones, a French Jew, came to America in 1777. He started as a private, rose through the ranks, and eventually served as an aide to Lafayette and Washington. He had a heroic combat record and is generally classed among the top three or four most famous Jews to fight in the American Revolution. (There were only about 1000-2000 Jews in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution).

Nones was also president of Mikveh Israel, the first Philadelphia synagogue. An opponent of slavery, he wrote a famous letter rebuking an anti-Semitic attack on him by the enemies of Thomas Jefferson, whom he supported. Part of the text of Nones’ famous letter can be found here.

Nones is buried in the historic Mikveh Israel cemetery, which is not far from the new National Museum of American Jewish History, which opened in a gala ceremony on Nov. 14, 2010 (Jerry Seinfeld hosted, Bette Midler sang, and Barbra Streisand sat in the front row). You can virtually visit the Mikveh Israel historic graveyard, including a capsule bio of Nones.

Nones’ granddaughter married (1849) a German Jewish immigrant named Clayburgh. Their son married Jill’s paternal grandmother, who came from a Southern Jewish family whose male members fought for the Confederacy. Not only did they fight for the South, but, sad to say, they owned a lot of slaves.

There’s a lot more to the Clayburgh family history story, but I think I’ll stop here. If you want more info, e-mail me.

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