The Plame game, Jill Clayburgh: a Jew, Gyllenhaal and Lambert

The Plame game

“Fair Game” is a film based on the memoir of the same name by former CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose career was destroyed when her covert identity was exposed, in 2003, by a politically motivated press leak out of the Bush White House. Her exposure was revenge for the actions of her diplomat husband, Joe Wilson, who had written a New York Times column disproving an intelligence report of uranium shipments to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. President George W. Bush used that discredited report when he asked Congress for war authority.

Directed by Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity”), the movie stars Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as Wilson. It opened in limited release a couple of weeks ago to mostly stellar reviews and opens in wide release on Friday, Nov. 19. Critics praised Liman for not making a polemic treatise, but rather a movie about real people in crisis and how that crisis almost destroyed the Plame-Wilson marriage.

There are a couple of interesting “Jewish sidelights” to the film. Watts recently said that several of the film’s scenes were shot in Jordan and, during a break, she and her fiancé, actor Liev Schreiber, were both able to cross the border and visit Israel for the first time. She said they really enjoyed their visit.

In her memoir, Plame wrote that the one happy benefit of her outing was that a Jewish relative, who knew he had relatives named Plame, got in contact with her (eventually her whole family went to a seder at his home). Plame was previously unaware of her Jewish background: Her paternal grandfather, a rabbi’s son, was cut off by his family when he wed her Protestant grandmother.

Jill Clayburgh: a Jew?

Jill Clayburgh died of leukemia at age 66 on Nov. 5. Her career had its ups and downs and she took a long time off to raise her two children with her husband, playwright David Rabe (who isn’t Jewish). But she’ll always be remembered for her almost perfect, Oscar-nominated performance as a woman struggling to cope with the breakup of her marriage in Paul Mazursky’s great flick, “An Unmarried Woman.”

Clayburgh never talked about her religious background. So far as I can tell, the actress was raised in no faith and she didn’t have a funeral service. The only reliable, easily available source on her background was a biographical listing that simply said her father was a member of a wealthy Jewish Manhattan family.

Digging deeper, I learned that her late mother was Protestant and that her father’s Jewish family had a fascinating history: Her great-great-great grandfather was Major Benjamin Nones, a French Jew who came to America in 1777 and was an aide to General Lafayette and George Washington. He was also president of the first Philadelphia synagogue, an opponent of slavery and he wrote a famous letter rebuking an anti-Semitic attack on him by the enemies of Thomas Jefferson, whom he supported. In 1849, Nones’ granddaughter married a German Jewish immigrant named Clayburg. Their son married Jill’s grandmother, who came from a Southern Jewish family whose male members fought for the Confederacy.


Gyllenhaal and Lambert

“Love and Other Drugs” (opening Wednesday, Nov. 24) stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the main character, Josh Gad as his geeky brother, and George Segal and the late Clayburgh as his parents. Directed and co-written by Edward Zwick (“Defiance”), the film also stars Hank Azaria as a doctor … Former “American Idol” star Adam Lambert is the subject of a new “E! True Hollywood Story,” premiering Sunday, Nov. 21. The program features extensive interviews with Lambert, his Jewish mother, Leila, and his non-Jewish dad, Eber. Lambert identifies as Jewish, but even though he has done benefits for synagogues and Jewish groups, he isn’t really religious.

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

Nate Bloom

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