Celebrity Jews

‘Avinu’ like buttah

The Associated Press reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres, a personal friend of Barbra Streisand, hopes to coax her to come to Israel for the country’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May 2008. Peres said he wants Streisand to participate in one of the anniversary’s keynote events: a three-day convention starting May 13 with 3,000 to 4,000 international guests, including American representatives of the “highest level.” Peres revealed that the convention will include a special tribute to the United States for 60 years of consistent support.

Why Streisand above all others? “I have heard many cantors,” Peres said, “but nobody can sing ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ like Barbra.” (So I guess he’s hoping she will consent to sing at least one song while in Israel.)

Midler and ‘The Women’

“The Women” was a hit ’30s play and a smash 1939 movie, directed by the great George Cukor. The story centers on a nice, middle-aged high society woman who finds out her husband is having an affair with a much younger department store clerk and seeks a divorce. There are 12 other female characters — mostly other high society women — but the “gimmick” is that there is not a single man in the cast (they are only talked about).

A remake is now filming, written by Diane English, who created “Murphy Brown.” Meg Ryan is the about-to-be divorced woman, with Candice Bergen as her mother. Eva Mendes plays the store clerk.

Bette Midler has just joined the cast as a five-time divorcee. The other Jewish cast members are Debra Messing, Carrie Fisher and Joanna Gleason (yes, Gleason is Jewish — her father is Monty “Let’s Make a Deal” Hall). Other roles are filled by Cloris Leachman, Annette Bening and Ana Gasteyer.

Feminists are of two minds about “The Women.” The all-female cast was a breakthrough in the ’30s and the play has a lot of insightful comments about relations between the sexes and between women. However, the dialogue often fed into stereotypes of cat-fighting women. It will be interesting to see how Diane English updates the original story.

Other flicks

Director Sidney Lumet, 83, is the son of a Yiddish theater actor, and played many roles in the Yiddish theaters as a child. In 1957, he made an auspicious debut as a film director when he directed the classic courtroom drama, “Twelve Angry Men.” Lumet has had a stellar career in the half-century since as the director of more than 50 films, including “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network” and “The Verdict.” He has received four Oscar nominations for best director and an honorary Oscar in 2005.

Lumet’s new film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” has received great advance reviews. It is a complicated family story and a thriller about a jewelry store robbery. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Albert Finney, Ethan Hawke and Amy Ryan. The title comes from an Irish toast: “May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” (Opens Friday, Nov. 2.)

Opening the same day is “Martian Child,” starring John Cusack as a recently widowed writer who adopts a troubled young boy (Bobby Coleman) who believes he is from Mars. Cusack and a close friend (Amanda Peet) parent the boy and a series of odd events make them believe the boy may really be from Mars. Appearing in supporting roles are Richard Schiff (“The West Wing”) and British actress Sophie Okonedo, whose mother is Jewish. (My sources tell me that child actor Coleman, 10, has a Jewish mother and relatives in Israel, but more than that, I don’t know.)

Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at middleoftheroad1@aol.com.

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.