The annual ABC broadcast of “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston as Moses, is Saturday, April 3, at 7 p.m. Edward G. Robinson (as the evil Dathan) and Olive Deering (as Moses’ sister, Miriam) were the only Jewish actors with big roles in the film.
Deering (1919-1985), born Olive Corn, got good notices for her stage work in the ’50s and ’60s but had a limited film and TV career. She was married to actor-director Leo Penn, the father of actor Sean Penn, in the early ’50s. They had no children and Leo went on to marry Sean’s mother, actress Eileen Ryan, after his divorce from Deering.
Her brother, actor Alfred Ryder (1916-1995), born Alfred Corn, was an acclaimed stage actor who also had a slew of TV guest roles through the early ’80s. (He guest starred in the first “Star Trek” episode.) He was married to actress Kim Stanley (1919-1986) from 1958 to 1964. Stanley, twice nominated for an Oscar, converted to Judaism just before marrying Ryder. Their daughter, a practicing Jew, says her mother continued to observe some Jewish holidays until her death.
Matzah and Marilyn
In his 1989 memoir “Which Reminds Me,” the late Tony Randall (born Arthur Leopold Rosenberg) tells two funny Passover-related anecdotes about famous people.
Randall writes that Olive Deering originated a line that many actors have repeated. After many weeks of filming “The Ten Commandments” in the heat and dust of the desert, Deering said: “Who do you have to sleep with to get with to get off of this picture?”
Randall admits the following story is apocryphal — but it’s a classic: Marilyn Monroe was eating at a famous New York Jewish deli. A dining companion recommended the matzah ball soup and Monroe replied that she had never had the dish, but she would order it. The soup came and Marilyn gobbled up her first matzah ball. She told her dinner companion: “Oh, they are absolutely delicious. What do they do with the rest of the matzah?”
Wife of a Greek god
“Clash of the Titans,” which opens on Friday, April 2, is loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus. Playing Perseus’ wife, Andromeda, in the movie is the very pretty Alexa Davalos, 27. Davalos’ best-known role was in the Holocaust film “Defiance,” in which she played the love interest of the lead Jewish partisan. Davalos’ father, photographer Jeff Dunas, is Jewish. Her mother is not Jewish and she took the last name of her maternal grandfather, actor Richard Davalos, as her stage name.
Call me ‘Didi’
As I write this, Vered “Didi” Benami, 22, is still in the running to be this year’s “American Idol,” having made it to the final 10. The pretty blonde singer was raised in Knoxville, Tenn. She was working as a waitress before the “Idol” competition started. Her given name (which means “Rose” in Hebrew) was often mispronounced in Knoxville, so she says she told everyone to call her “Didi.”
Benami may have a big career. However, her religious background is murky. Several Jewish papers have reported that her parents are Israeli. My research indicates that her father is an Israeli Jew, but her mother is probably a non-Jewish native of Tennessee — and Benami made one comment (about feeling close to God when she sings in church) that may indicate that she was raised in her mother’s Christian faith. As I learn more, I’ll let you know.