Friday, March 12, 2004 | return to: celebrities


celebrity jews

by nate bloom

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Rich guys donate

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of NYC, who has a mid-level spot on the recent Forbes magazine list of the world's billionaires, is about to follow Rudy Giuliani into the ranks of show biz. Giuliani appeared on "Saturday Night Live." Bloomberg just finished filming an episode of the NY-based "Law and Order." The show was shot at City Hall and Bloomberg plays himself. He's donating his union-scale fee to a charity benefiting police and fire department widows.

Mark Cuban barely made the Forbes list. Cuban sold his high-tech company to Yahoo in 1999 — making a billion by quickly converting his Yahoo stock into cash before the Internet bubble burst. Cuban now has his fingers in a variety of entertainment ventures, but he is best known as the colorful owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks. He bought the team in 2000 and he's known for his constant interference in the management of the Mavericks and his caustic comments — including criticizing officials by name. The latter got him big league fines — which he has paid, with matching donations to charity.

This summer, Cuban will be joining ABC for the six-episode series "The Benefactor." A group of contestants will go through a series of "reality trials," trying to convince Cuban to give one of them $1 million of his money, no strings attached. Cuban gets his very big ego stroked — and somebody worthy gets $1 million. Sounds OK to us.

Engineer Andrew J. Viterbi didn't make the Forbes list. Despite his relative poverty, he managed to donate $53 million to the USC School of Engineering this month. In 1967, Viterbi published the Viterbi algorithm, which allows the rapid decoding of overlapping signals. The algorithm is employed in hundreds of millions of cellular phones today, allowing them to communicate without interfering with each other. While the algorithm wasn't patented, Viterbi made his fortune as one of the founders of Qualcomm, the telecommunications company. Viterbi is of Italian Jewish background, and he was 4 when his family landed in Boston in 1938, fleeing Mussolini's anti-Semitic laws. Viterbi is also a major donor to Jewish/Israeli charities and currently he's head of the Community Foundation of the San Diego Jewish Federation. His wife told the L.A. Times that the famous algorithm came to Viterbi while he was watching their kids perform in a Purim costume contest.

Short guy soars

Lawrence Frank, 33, who is only 5 feet 8 inches tall, was cut from his high school basketball team. However, early this month, the new head coach of the NBA New Jersey Nets led his team to the longest-winning streak of any new coach in professional sports history — 14 games from the time Frank was given the job. He moved up the ranks of assistant coaching positions based on what everyone describes as his incredible work ethic and nimble mind. Nonetheless, few expected Frank to be anything more than an interim head coach while the Nets looked for another head coach to turn the faltering Nets around. The Nets are now playoff-bound.

Briefly noted

Katie Couric, "Today Show" co-anchor and America's sweetheart, has joined the procession of other celebs coming out of the Jewish closet — she told Fox News last month that her mother is Jewish, but that she was raised in her father's Episcopalian faith.

Two famous Jewish guys in their late 80s died late last month — veteran character actor John Randolph, born Emanuel Hirsch Cohen, made more than 50 movies and won a Tony for "Broadway Bound." He most notable recent appearance was as Tom Hanks' grandfather in "You've Got Mail." The same week saw the death of historian Daniel J. Boorstin, the former librarian of Congress and the author of a best-selling series of historical studies, including "The Discoverers."

Perhaps the oddest sidelight on the Mel Gibson "Passion" controversy is the assertion, in a few sources, that Mel is not personally anti-Semitic because he loves the Jewish Three Stooges. He produced the 2000 big-budget TV film on the Stooges and he wrote the intro to a companion book on the threesome. Uncharitably, we might note that Gibson's ardor isn't surprising — the Stooges were just about the most violent Jewish comedians around. We would like to ask Gibson if his father believes that the anti-Nazi shorts the Stooges made were part of the "Jewish-Vatican conspiracy" to create a "one-world religion." However, no doubt, Gibson would say, "Don't go there."

Nate Bloom is the Oakland-based editor of


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