Celebrity Jews

Liberace: Behind the shmaltz

Michael Douglas

Liberace (1919-1987) is perfect fodder for an HBO bio-pic (“Behind the Candelabra,” premiering on Sunday, May 26, at 9 p.m.). Michael Douglas, 68, plays Liberace, who soared to stardom in the early ’50s as a light classical pianist who jazzed things up with flamboyant outfits, candelabra-laden pianos, and a beaming smile. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film centers on the relationship between Liberace and Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). It features the last score composed by the late Marvin Hamlisch.

Dan Akroyd co-stars as Liberace’s manager, Seymour Heller. A genuinely good guy, Heller was Liberace’s manager from 1950 until the pianist’s death. Other co-stars include: Paul Reiser, 56, as Mr. Feld, a character who is a composite of Thorson’s lawyers; Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother; and Rob Lowe as the drug-addicted, incompetent plastic surgeon Jack Startz (who I think was Jewish). By the way, Lowe’s wife is Jewish and their children are being raised Jewish.

In 1977, Liberace met Thorson, then 16, and the two became lovers. He showered Thorson with gifts and put him in his stage show. According to Thorson’s memoir, the relationship foundered because Liberace was (a) unfaithful and (b) insisted that Thorson have multiple plastic surgeries to look like a young Liberace. Thorson says the painful surgeries left him drug-addicted. He sued Liberace for palimony in 1982 and settled for a smallish sum in 1986, a year before Liberace died of AIDS.

Just friends (with armed guards)

Actress Kat Dennings, 26, (“2 Broke Girls”) recently appeared on “The Chelsea Handler Show” and told the host, Chelsea Handler, 38, that she and big-time rap star Drake, 26, are just friends. A few months ago, Drake tweeted something nice about her (they met long ago working on an indie film). This led to a flood of tweets from Drake fans directed to Dennings’ Twitter account and rumors they were dating. These rumors went into overdrive when they were spotted dining out together. Dennings, who is dating a TV series co-star, added that Drake is “very intelligent and a perfect gentleman.” She was a bit weirded out, however, by the hovering presence of Drake’s large security entourage.


In theaters

Zoë Kravitz

Actresses Sophie Okonedo, 44, and Zoë Kravitz, 24, are of mixed non-Jewish African and Jewish heritage. They co-star as Will Smith’s wife and daughter, respectively,  in the sci-fi adventure “After Earth,” which opens on Friday, May 31. Smith’s son in the movie is played by his real-life son, Jaden. The film was co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”).

The Oscar-nominated Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) is the daughter of a Nigerian father and an English Jewish mother, and was raised Jewish by her single mom. Kravitz is the daughter of actress Lisa Bonet, 45, and musician Lenny Kravitz, 48, both of whom have one Jewish parent. Unlike her father, who practices Christianity, Zoe defines herself as a secular Jew. Long in demand as a fashion model, Zoë Kravitz has compiled a list of increasingly good film and TV roles.

“Frances Ha,” opening this week in San Francisco and Berkeley, is directed by Noah Baumbach, 43, and was co-written by Baumbach and the film’s star, Greta Gerwig. She plays a poor New York woman who tries to become a dancer. Gerwig co-starred in Baumbach’s previous film, “Greenberg,” and shortly after that film opened in 2010, he broke up with his wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, 51, and began seeing Gerwig.

Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected]

Nate Bloom

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