Celebrity Jews

Sacha speeds ahead

British Jewish comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (aka “Ali G”) gets his first major motion picture co-starring role in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (opening Friday, Aug. 4). “Ricky Bobby” is a comedic spoof of NASCAR racing and it stars Will Ferrell in the title role.

NASCAR auto racing began as contests between souped-up “regular” cars driven by Southern moonshiners who sold untaxed whiskey (they needed a fast car to escape revenue agents). The sport has become huge over the years, but still has a white, Southern, working-class sensibility and a certain “downmarket” image as compared to the glamorous guys who drive sleek Formula 1 cars on the Grand Prix circuit (cars custom built for the race track).

Cohen plays Jean Girard, a flamboyant gay French Formula 1 racer who challenges the working-class Ricky Bobby for the title of NASCAR’s top driver.

Ties to Israel

Kirk Douglas, who has made a remarkable recovery from a stroke and will be 90 in December, told columnist Army Archerd that he is now completing a new book of memoirs and ideas called “Let’s Face It.”

Recent events, Archerd says, got Kirk to mention that he made four films in Israel — including one filmed in Haifa and another made near the Lebanese border.

Douglas’ Israel films include “The Juggler” and “Cast a Giant Shadow,” in which Kirk played Col. Mickey Marcus, an American Army war hero who became a general in the Israeli army and was killed during the Israeli War of Independence.

Bluberger, comin’ up

It’s not quite the hunt for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara, but thousands of Australian teens recently auditioned for the role of a 13-year-old Jewish girl in the Disney-backed film production, “Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Bluberger.”

“Bluberger,” which begins filming in Australia in October, is a dark comedy about a smart girl who doesn’t quite fit in and is anxious about many things, including her impending bat mitzvah. Australian actress Toni Collette (“In Her Shoes”) and New Zealand teen actress Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) have already been signed to appear in supporting roles.

The film is directed and written by Cathy Randall, an Australian Jew.

Manilow ups and downs

Barry Manilow is a very nice fellow, but I had to smile when I read that the Australian town of Rockdale is using Manilow’s “easy listening” music as a “teen repellant.” You see, Rockdale had a problem with noisy kids hanging out at night at a local park. They decided to blast Manilow and Doris Day music in the park from 9 p.m. to midnight on weekends. The music drove out the teens, but park neighbors are going nuts listening to endless “Mandy” replays. So Manilow music is going to be replaced by a motion-activated sprinkler system.

Manilow can be cheered, however, by being tapped to host a special tribute to his friend, “American Bandstand” legend Dick Clark, at the next Emmy Awards. Clark, 76, suffered a stroke in 2004 and still is in very fragile health.

In 1977, Manilow wrote lyrics for the Bandstand theme song, an instrumental first played on the show in 1954. Manilow’s version, sung by Barry himself, was used on the show until it ended in 1988.

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

Nate Bloom

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