Friday, February 20, 2004 | return to: celebrities


celebrity jews

by nate bloom

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Oscars II

Sir Ben Kingsley, 60, is nominated for best actor for his performance as an Iranian immigrant in "House of Sand and Fog." Kingsley may have had only one Jewish grandparent, but there aren't many actors who've amassed such a record of bravura performances as a Jewish character. His best-known Jewish character, of course, is Itzhak Stern in "Schindler's List." Sir Ben also played Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal in a 1989 TV film; the prophets Joseph and Moses in TV flicks; Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father, in the 2001 ABC mini-series on Anne Frank; and gangster Meyer Lansky in "Bugsy."

In 2001, the L.A. Jewish Journal reported: "Kingsley, born Krishna Bhanji, is the son of an Indian physician and an English fashion model whose parentage was partly Russian Jewish. Born out-of-wedlock, his mother was loath to speak of her background.

"The actor did not learn of the Shoah until he saw a Holocaust-themed documentary that placed him in a state of 'deep, physical shock,' he said. Kingsley was only 9, but he knew that someday he "wanted to help articulate that chorus of pain."

"House of Sand and Fog" is the first movie directed by 40-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant Vadim Perelman (he also co-wrote the film). Perelman, long a successful TV commercial director, left Kiev for America when he was 14. The film's Oscar-nominated music is by James Horner, 50, a top-tier film composer. This is Horner's sixth Oscar nomination. He won two Oscars for "Titanic." (best song and best score). His late father, Harry Horner, an Austrian immigrant, won two Oscars for art direction.

Competing with Horner in the best score category are Howard Shore, Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman. Shore is nominated for "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." (He's also nominated for co-writing the song from the film, "Into the West.").Shore attended the same Canadian Jewish summer camp as Lorne Michaels, the creator of "Saturday Night Live," and they became lifelong friends. He was the first musical director of SNL. Shore won the 2001 Oscar for best score for the first "Rings" film.

Elfman, 50, is described as being of "Russian-Polish Jewish" background in a Village Voice profile. He started as an avant-garde rock musician, playing in the band Oingo Boingo with his brother, Richard Elfman. Danny Elfman first attracted notice as the composer for Tim Burton's films ("Beetlejuice," "Batman" and many more). This year, he is nominated for his score for Burton's "Big Fish." Previously, he was Oscar-nominated for "Men in Black" and "Good Will Hunting."

Newman, 48, who is nominated for the "Finding Nemo" score, is the son of Alfred Newman, a legendary film composer and the winner of nine musical Oscars. This is Thomas Newman's seventh Oscar nomination. His uncles were composers Emil and Lionel Newman. Composer Randy Newman is his first cousin. Randy Newman's father, a doctor, was the only one of the Newman brothers to marry a Jewish woman and, according to a recent profile of Randy Newman, his uncles' children were all raised in their mother's faiths.

Gary Ross, 47, is nominated for best adapted screenplay for "Seabiscuit," which he also directed. The picture's producers, including Ross, are nominated for the best picture Oscar. A horse-racing fanatic, he got a trip to a Santa Anita racetrack in lieu of a bar mitzvah from his not-very-religious parents. This is Ross' third screenwriting nomination. Previously, he was nominated for "Big" (a nomination he shared with Anne Spielberg, Steven's sister) and "Dave."

We don't know much about the Jewish background of top cinematographer John Schwartzman, 43, who is nominated for his work on "Seabiscuit," other than his late father, producer Jack Schwartzman, was Jewish. His stepmother is the non-Jewish actress Talia Shire, director Francis Coppola's sister, he credits Coppola as an important mentor. His half-brother, actor Jason Schwartzman, 23, is the son of Shire and his father.

Incidentally, pretty actress Elizabeth Banks, 28, who played Marcela Howard, Jeff Bridges' second wife in "Seabiscuit," converted to Judaism last year and married her Jewish college sweetheart. Their Jewish wedding is featured in this month's InStyle magazine. Apparently, her family approves — her mother sewed the chuppah. Nice touch: She sewed various mementos, including the couple's college T-shirts, into the chuppah.

Nate Bloom is the Oakland-based editor of


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