Thursday, January 15, 2004 | return to: celebrities


Celebrity Jews

by nate bloom

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Shawn Levy 2X

It seems like just about the time non-Jews started to give their kids really Jewish names like Joshua and Jacob, Jews started to name their sons Shawn. Still, two fairly famous Jewish guys named Shawn Levy are a bit much.

The first Shawn Levy is a movie reviewer and popular culture writer for the Portland Oregonian. He's written for leading newspapers and magazines — including The New York Times. He's the author of three books, including books on Jerry Lewis and "The Rat Pack."

The other is a director who's made three popular films in recent years, including the recently opened "Cheaper by the Dozen," starring Steve Martin. As journalist Shawn Levy puts it, [director Shawn Levy's] other films, "Big Fat Liar" and "Just Married," were received with scorn by critics but eaten up by audiences — to the combined tune of some $104 million.

The first Shawn Levy wrote an amusing article for the Oregonian last month about the confusion and annoyance caused by the same names: "... my name splattered on movie marquees all over the world, I find myself being contacted out of the blue by ... the agents of comic actresses seeking roles and composers who tell me they have just the thing for my next film."

Shawn No. 1 managed to reach Shawn No. 2 for an interview. Turns out, they have the same middle initial, and Shawn No. 2 has the same birthday as Shawn No. 1's mother. Shawn, the director, was well aware of Shawn, the writer, and even had read two of his books. Shawn No. 2 — like a mensch — admitted that some of his film work was not top-notch stuff and if Shawn No. 1 had endured any abuse on his behalf, "I apologize to you, sir." The director added, "I will try over the next decade or two to accrue a body of work that reflects well on our name — and I expect the same standards of you."

Shawn No. 2 has been tapped to direct a new "Pink Panther" film, starring Martin. Let's hope this one gets better reviews than "Cheaper By the Dozen" and Shawn the director can keep his vow to his namesake.

Stiller 'Quartet'

In his 2002 book, "Images of Jews in Prime Time," David Zurawik covers nine TV series (there are even more) in which gorgeous, non-Jewish women are the objects of Jewish men's desire and are imbued with "an almost magical power to transform their Jewish partners from nervous, guilt-ridden, sexually frustrated, anxious outsiders to confident, sexually fulfilled, fully vested participants in American life."

Zurawik has described the Ben Stiller "Jewish quartet."

In "Along Came Polly," which opens today, Stiller plays Reuben Feffer, a nebbishy, risk-averse Jewish guy. It opens with his Jewish wedding to Lisa Kramer (Debra Messing), who cheats on Reuben on their honeymoon with a macho French diving instructor (Hank Azaria).

Reuben, shattered, then meets his old childhood friend, Polly, played by Jennifer Aniston. She is a pretty free-spirit type who gets him to hang-glide, salsa dance — you name it. If Polly turns out to be recognizably Jewish, I will eat a dish of horseradish-laden crow.

"Polly" follows "Keeping the Faith" (2000) and "Meet the Parents" (2001). In "Faith," Stiller plays a rabbi transfixed by his gorgeous non-Jewish childhood friend. The prospect of intermarriage is taken seriously because Ben's a rabbi. However, in the end he's willing to chuck his career for her — but ultimately, that isn't necessary because she has been secretly studying to convert.

In "Parents," Stiller is a Jewish male nurse with the comic name of Greg Fokker. He's about to propose to a gorgeous WASP woman. She is perfect — always supportive. Her macho, semi-psycho father puts Greg through a series of trials that make the would-be fiancé look like a buffoon. It's hard to determine what Greg's non-Jewish girlfriend sees in him. Nonetheless, it's her adoring looks that make the audience see Greg as something besides a schlemiel.

A sequel will start filming this year. I'd bet gelt Greg's mother will be a comic figure.

Taken together, these flicks and TV shows have an effect on the self-image of Jews and help mold how the world sees us. In contrast, Messing's "Will and Grace" is the first series in primetime history to feature a young, Jewish married couple — and that marriage will end next season.

Nate Bloom, the columnist, is the Oakland-based editor of


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