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A Rose by Any Other Name

by Naomi Pfefferman

January 3, 2002 | 7:00 pm

(From left) Wes Anderson, Ben Stiller and producer Barry Mendel at the "The Royal Tenenbaums" after-party. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect

(From left) Wes Anderson, Ben Stiller and producer Barry Mendel at the "The Royal Tenenbaums" after-party. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect

What's in a Jewish name?

Everything, suggests "The Royal Tenenbaums" writer-director Wes Anderson.

The Houston-bred filmmaker may be of Swedish-Lutheran stock, but his latest funny-melancholy flick began when he remembered his Jewish childhood friend, Brian Tenenbaum.

"Brian had three sisters, and I'm friends with all of them," Anderson, wearing a foppish, tan corduroy suit, said during a recent Q & A at the Writers Guild. "They were closely-knit and always going off on outings -- nothing like the siblings in the film -- but I really liked the name."

After the cognomen came an idea: "I wanted to do a story about a family of former geniuses," says Anderson ("Rushmore," "Bottle Rocket"), who wrote the script with actor Owen Wilson. That makes sense, considering the quirky director has a "thing" for miserable virtuosos:

He says his favorite "Peanuts" character is Linus, because the cartoon kid "is a kind of a genius" with an unfortunate blanket addiction.

In "The Royal Tenenbaums," the estranged patriarch, played by Gene Hackman, declares he is "half-Hebrew," making his children, the ex-prodigies, "three-quarters Mick-Catholic." Anderson says the mix is appropriate for the siblings, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson, because "in real life, Ben and Gwyneth are half-Irish and half-Jewish. Plus, those are the [religions] I always wanted to be."

Anderson, whose "Rushmore" protagonist is Max J. Fisher, added a couple other Jewish names to the mix. Stiller's character, Chas, has two sons, Ari and Uzi, which is hilarious, considering that their relatives are called things like Margot and Etheline.

Anderson says he picked the names Ari and Uzi because at one point, "Chas was supposed to be an accountant for the Mossad.

"I just thought Ari was a good Israeli name," he adds, with a chuckle. "Of course, Uzi is a bit much."

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