Friday, October 31, 2003 | return to: arts


celebrity jews

by nate bloom

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Fleiss flack

Combine sex, Hollywood stars and money, and you have the rationale for endless media coverage of "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss. It's been 10 years since her arrest for pandering, but she's still big in infotainment.

Fleiss is a not-that-smart Jewish woman who came from an affluent, non-religious family. She had all sorts of advantages, but she threw them away. Depending on which story you believe, she got caught because she was so brazen that she "wanted" the notoriety or because her associates turned her in for their own reasons. She certainly isn't a lovely "free spirit" who ran a Julia Roberts-like pretty-woman operation.

Just when it looked like Fleiss fever was over, she got headlines this year when her former lover, actor Tom Sizemore, was convicted of terrorizing her. Fleiss took a lot of abuse, and went back for more, until she called the cops. You do the pop psychology on that one. In any event, Sizemore's trial helped the sales of Fleiss' 2003 book, "Pandering." It is not so much an autobiography as a pathetic scrapbook of her life, laced with her musings on various subjects.

Now the USA TV network has announced it will do a TV movie on Fleiss, starring Jamie-Lynn Discala, best known as Meadow Soprano, from HBO's "The Sopranos." (She was known as Jamie-Lynn Sigler until she married her manager last summer and took his name.)

It's almost boot-camp training for an up-and-coming actress to play a prostitute. Almost always, of course, they play prostitutes with "a heart of gold" and the sordid details are glossed over. It looks like this film will paint Fleiss as the poor little rich girl. In the words of the show's executive producer, "The perfect actress for the role had to capture [Fleiss'] innocence, the intelligence behind her eyes and a sexual allure, and that's one thing Jamie has in spades. And the fact that [Jamie's] a Jewish girl from a nice family in New York, and Heidi was a Jewish girl from a nice family in California isn't a bad thing, either."

Discala does come from a "nice Jewish family." Her father, Steve Sigler, is the founder/head of the Mens' Senior Baseball League, a national success. Her mother, Constance, is from Cuba and is a convert to Judaism.

I wish she had passed on this one. Jamie glows on camera — her intelligence, beauty and health are just "right there." The real Fleiss, by contrast, shows all the ravages of drug use and excessive plastic surgery. The actress and the Hollywood Madam are really worlds apart — but it wouldn't make for an entertaining film if reality intruded too much.

Paltrow's Plath

Gwyneth Paltrow, 30, has emerged out of her relative obscurity of the last year to promote her new film, "Sylvia," about poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963. Paltrow says that she almost didn't make the movie because production began a week after the death last October of her father, director Bruce Paltrow. Her brother urged her to go ahead and she was helped by the presence of her non-Jewish mother, actress Blythe Danner, in the "Sylvia" cast.

"Sylvia" has received mixed reviews. Plath and her husband, poet Ted Hughes, have been the subject of controversy for decades — whether her poetry and her husband's philandering qualify her as a feminist icon — or whether Hughes simply put up with a crazy person. The film takes a neutral stance. Hughes' mistress, German Jewish refugee Assia Wevill, is a prominent character in the film. Plath, who wasn't Jewish, wrote several poems at the end of her life comparing herself to a Holocaust victim and she's been criticized for appearing to grab the status of "Jew as victim" from Hughes' mistress. Wevill, who went on to marry Hughes, committed suicide in 1969.

Nate Bloom is the Oakland-based editor of


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