Posted by Danielle Berrin
Alice Schiller, the owner of the Pink Pussycat of Hollywood—one of the most vaunted strip clubs of its era—died Dec. 19 at age 95. Though she was at first reluctant to enter the world of burlesque, Schiller eventually embraced it, and styled her husband’s nightclub into a glamorous, celebrity-driven scene.
According to the New York Times:
Mrs. Schiller, who by her niece’s account never drank or smoked or swore, had not set out to own a supper club in which performers left the stage vastly lighter than when they came on. But for nearly two decades, from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, she reigned gamely as a doyenne of the diaphanous, owning and operating the Pink Pussycat with her husband, Harry.
Located near the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the club was a popular destination of tourists and locals alike, known for its glittering stage shows and equally glittering celebrity clientele.
It was a favorite watering hole of the Rat Pack, and for good reason. Mrs. Schiller shrewdly gave her dancers stage names like Fran Sinatra, Samya Davis Jr., Deena Martin and Peeler Lawford, and the originals soon showed up to inspect their namesakes.
Born Alice Feld in 1914, in Indiana, Schiller was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home by her mother, who ran a deli, and her maternal grandfather. She married early and divorced, and then in the mid-1950s married Harry Schiller and together, they opened a men’s clothing store in Beverly Hills, writes The Times.
In the late ’50s, on impulse, Mr. Schiller bought the Club Seville, a Latin dance club on Santa Monica Boulevard. The couple ran it briefly as a jazz club but made little money. One day in the very early ’60s, Mr. Schiller had a brainstorm: burlesque. Mrs. Schiller wept. Then she dried her tears and named the club. It was one of the first instances, if not the first, of the now-ubiquitous “Pink Pussycat” as a business name, her niece said.
The Schillers’ club was tasteful — practically wholesome. Men were encouraged to bring their wives and sometimes did. Dancers took the stage in oceans of sequins, acres of rhinestones and clouds of feathers. They departed peeled, but still strategically covered by G-string and pasties, or, as Mrs. Schiller genteelly called them, “bosom bonnets.”
“I myself am an authority on beauty and glamour,” Mrs. Schiller told The Los Angeles Times in 1967. “I’ve probably glamorized 1,000 pussycats. Twenty of my pussycats married multimillionaires. One of my girls got a $2,700 tip one night. She disappeared. We heard she’d fixed her nose with some of the money, but we never saw her again.”
By day, the club was transformed into the College of Strip Tease. The Pink Pussycat was not the only American strip club to have an adult-education division, but it undoubtedly had the most distinguished faculty: Sally Marr, the noted striptease artist, was for many years its de facto chancellor, provost, dean and sole professor. (Ms. Marr’s son, the comic Lenny Bruce, sometimes appeared on the Pink Pussycat’s stage.)
Tuition was $100 for 10 sessions. The curriculum, as Time magazine reported in 1961, included “The History and Theory of the Striptease,” “The Psychology of Inhibitions,” “Applied Sensual Communication” and “Dynamic Mammary, Navel and Pelvis Rotation.”
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December 20, 2009 | 4:34 pm
TMZ has reported that actress Brittany Murphy has died early today at 32. She was married to British Jewish screenwriter Simon Monjack who co-wrote the story for Factory Girl.
Brittany has just married British-born writer/director Simon Monjack in a small Jewish ceremony in Los Angeles (so small, in fact, that only Murphy, Monjack and the rabbi were present). According to one website, Monjack is actually ordained as a rabbi. Brittany’s mother, it turns out, is Ashkenazi-Jewish on her own mother’s side, making Brittany halachically kosher.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Murphy started her career when she was nine, landing a singing role in a musical version of Les Misérables. She has starred in films such as Just Married, Clueless (with Jewish Alicia Silverstone), Girl, Interrupted, 8 Mile, Sin City, The Dead Girl, Uptown Girls, Riding in Cars with Boys and Spun.
December 18, 2009 | 2:20 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Just two weeks after producer Lawrence Bender and The Jewish Journal held a screening for Jewish leadership of “Inglourious Basterds” in LA, he did the same in New York, at the Jewish Theological Seminary. A smart blog called “The Candler Blog” describes the event:
Dr. Kalmanofsky, no stranger to Judeo-Chrisitian-pop deconstruction, opened the discussion with some fascinating points about the concept of the revenge fantasy, positing that the Jewish bible, specifically the story of the exodus from Egypt, indulges the concept of violent revenge. Besides the ten plagues brought down against their aggressors, arguably deserved, the Israelites break out in song and dance after they cross the parted Sea of Reeds, which closes and drowns the entire Egyptian faction that was chasing them. This punishment goes well beyond the tit-for-tat measures of the plagues, and remorse is not really discussed until the Rabbinic era of Judaism several hundred years after the fact. In other words, while the modern Jew may be morally inquisitive and emotionally conflicted, in the bible, living out the revenge fantasy was something very real.
Rabbi Moline proffered that the Jewish people have become mired in thought for so long that the idea of physical redemption has been lost. The saying “two Jews, three opinions” comes to mind on this point. As the concept of Talmudic discourse has proliferated, especially in the wake of the Holocaust (Why did this happen to us? Is it our fault?), Jews may have lost the instinct of revenge, which Moline points out is in fact a basic human instinct. The film provides that for a generation of Jews who view the holocaust in a new light. Inglorious Basterds represents a voice for that generation.
Bender made many of the points he made at the LA screening, and I like that he added the perspective of a historical arc to Holocaust movies, ” from Schindler’s List to Life Is Beautiful to Inglourious Basterds… from drama to comedy to fantasy.”
All in all it was a fascinating evening. Kudos to JTS for putting together such a relevant program. I don’t really believe that there is all that much specifically Jewish about the film, but Rabbi Moline kept harping on the fact that the film has awoken something in the Jewish community. Not a call to arms, but a call to deconstructing the meaning of the inner vengeance of a people. Polemics have always been an important pillar of Rabbinic discourse, but visceral nature is something often pushed to the side in favor of academics. Perhaps, says the Rabbi, it is a time to finally confront that urge we have to murder Hitler, to root out our enemies. Not to indulge it, but to question it. Hell, if one little film can bring out all that from the leaders of one of the world’s major religions, it must be doing something right.
Agreed. The blogger’s high praise for the event, like Danielle Berrin’s take on the first event here, makes me think this provocative movie could be a roadshow attraction at Jewish communities around the world. Syllabus? Talking points? “Basterds” is the most educational and thought-provoking Jewish movie since “Waltz With Bashir,” but a lot easier to watch…..
Bonus blog item: Read Danielle Berrin’s profile of “Basterds” producer Lawrence Bender here.
December 15, 2009 | 6:59 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
During last year’s Oscar race, the question of an oversaturation of Holocaust film dominated discussion among Jews in Hollywood and in the mainstream press.
In fact, the year 2008 saw no less than four major theatrical releases riffing on Holocaust narrative including, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “Adam Resurrected,” “The Reader,” (for which Kate Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar) and “Valkyrie.”
All this prompted New York Times film critic A.O. Scott to address Hollywood’s obsession with the Holocaust in an article entitled, “Never Forget. You’re Reminded.” In it, he joked that industry trades Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, who thrive off of “For Your Consideration” ads promoting awards contenders, would be “overrun by Nazis.”
This year has seen yet another WWII/Holocaust narrative with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which has re-ignited discussion of the Holocaust’s hold on Hollywood, though its fantastic elements (Hitler is slaughtered by a pack of vengeful Jews) as well as its humor, hardly qualify it in the same category as “Schindler’s List.”
No doubt its labeling as a “Jewish revenge fantasy” and a “re-writing of the Holocaust” will continue to stir the seeds of debate, but only in relationship to other films also generating attention for their treatment of Jewish subjects. Among these is the Coen brothers portrait of their Midwestern Jewish upbringing in “A Serious Man” and the relationship between an older, morally debased Jewish man and an impressionable high school student in “An Education.”
Hollywood journalist Nikki Finke weighs in on the Oscar buzz—or badmouthing—surrounding this year’s Jewishly-themed films. (She also gives a shout out to Irina Bragin’s critique of “An Education” that was recently published in The Jewish Journal’s print edition, though you can also read it here.)
This year, the always delicate Jewish issue in Hollywood has taken a new and unexpected turn. Speak privately to producers, agents, executives, and other major players and they’ll complaint to you (privately, of course) that the movies An Education and A Serious Man depict Jews in the most venal light. A recent article in The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles lashed into An Education saying the film’s depiction of its Jewish character is reminiscent of the parasitical Jew in the infamous Nazi anti-semitic propaganda film of the 1930’s, Der Ewige Juden (The Eternal Jew). Similarly, Hollywood is incensed privately by the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man and its Jewish stereotypes. Trust me, this will bubble up to the surface before too long if either film looks to be in serious contention for Best Picture.
December 15, 2009 | 10:23 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” is the leading Golden Globe contender this year nabbing 6 nominations, including best motion picture drama and the top acting awards for George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.
Also nabbing top honors was Quentin Tarantino’s WWII revenge fantasy, “Inglourious Basterds” which received four nominations, including best motion picture drama.
And in television, actress Lea Michele, the star singer of Fox’s hit show “Glee” was nominated for best performance by an actress in a television series, comedy or musical.
Michele was born in the Bronx as Lea Michele Sarfati, the daughter of an Italian American Catholic mother and a Jewish father. According to Wikipedia, her father is of Spanish-Sephardic Jewish ancestry. Michele is open about discussing her mixed Jewish-Italian roots. Last summer, she told the NY Daily, “I never really thought there would be a place on television for me. I have a very specific look. I’m Jewish. I’m Italian.” But Jewish singing diva Barbra Streisand’s success gave her hope. “I remember looking up to Barbra Streisand, and thinking, ‘Finally, someone who has a Jewish nose, who didn’t get a nose job.’”
More on the Golden Globe noms from The New York Times:
By BROOKS BARNES
Vera Farmiga and George Clooney in “Up in the Air.”Paramount Pictures Vera Farmiga and George Clooney in “Up in the Air.”
“Up in the Air” continued its award season march Tuesday morning, as Golden Globe voters nominated the Paramount Pictures film for six trophies, including best picture drama. The musical “Nine” also emerged as a front-runner at the Globes with five nods, including one for best comedy or musical.
“Up in the Air,” about an executive who travels the country to fire people for companies too cowardly to do it themselves, also earned nominations for George Clooney (best actor in a drama), Jason Reitman (director), Mr. Reitman and Sheldon Turner (screenplay), and Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick (supporting actress).
The expensive “Avatar,” James Cameron’s $230 million 3-D space adventure, tied Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”, with four nominations each, including best motion picture drama. The other nominees in that category were “The Hurt Locker” and “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire.”
In the best comedy or musical category, “Nine” was joined by “The Hangover,” “(500) Days of Summer,” “It’s Complicated” and “Julie & Julia.”
Among the acting categories, Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock will be receiving double floral deliveries this morning. Ms. Streep was nominated twice for best actress in a comedy or musical for “It’s Complicated” and “Julie & Julia,” and Ms. Bullock received honors in both the comedy (for “The Proposal”) and drama (for “The Blind Side”) categories.
Joining Mr. Clooney in the best actor drama category are Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), Colin Firth (“A Single Man”), Morgan Freeman (“Invictus”) and Tobey Maguire (“Brothers.”)
“Glee,” the Fox show about a group of misfits in a high school singing club, was the big winner in television, picking up four nominations, including best comedy.
The Golden Globes, given by the 90-member Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are not taken seriously as artistic milestones, and studios complain that the organization nominates based on star wattage instead of performance, in part so it can curate a red carpet spectacle.
Still, the Globes are considered important Academy Awards tea leaves. The best picture Oscar has mirrored the association’s choice for best drama or best comedy-musical in 15 of the last 22 years, including last year with “Slumdog Millionaire.” The Globes can also inject fresh momentum to Oscar campaigns or effectively end others.
The 67th Golden Globes will be presented on Jan. 17 at a ceremony to be broadcast on NBC.
The musical “Nine” ran second with five nominations, including best musical or comedy and acting slots for Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard.
Also competing for musical or comedy are the romance “(500) Days of Summer,” the bachelor bash “The Hangover” and Meryl Streep’s “It’s Complicated” and “Julie & Julia.”
December 14, 2009 | 8:12 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Yes, Rachel Uchitel is Jewish.
It was the news of Uchitel’s alleged affair with Tiger Woods that set in motion the unending revelations about Woods’, um, complicated personal life. Uchitel, 34, is the granddaughter of Maurice Uchitel, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who parlayed a successful business in women’s shoulder pads into ownership of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami and the El Morocco nightclub, Manhattan’s society hotspot in the 1930 and 1950s.
(Uchitel is a not uncommon Eastern European Jewish surname. The esteemed business writer for the New York Times is Louis Uchitelle—no relation, as far as we know).
This from The New York Times obit for Maurice, when he died in 2000 at age 88:
Among his diversified business interests were El Morocco, the legendary society nightclub, which he owned from 1964 to 1970, and, in the mid-1950’s, Voisin, a restaurant popular with social and entertainment figures. Before taking over El Morocco, he owned the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach for several years.
Born in Ukraine, Mr. Uchitel came to the United States in 1917. He entered the garment business, and eventually had his own business making shoulder pads before going into the restaurant trade.
His 1945 marriage to Patricia Pollack, a singer, ended in divorce in 1979. He is survived by two grandchildren.
Rachel Uchitel is one of those grandchildren. She grew up in Manhattan and was a bat mitzvah there, according to a Journal source.
In an interview with BlackBook before the Woods scandal broke, Uchitel said her dream is to recreate the kind of nightclub Maurice owned:
“My grandparents owned and operated El Morocco supperclub in the 1960s; famous people from President John F. Kennedy to Cary Grant frequented the place on a regular basis. I’ve held on to my family’s memorabilia, and my dream is to re-create, own, and operate a modern-day El Morocco. Where am I a year from now? Standing over design renderings of my new club with a fabulous investor, still yet to be found.”
Before she met Woods, Uchitel was in the news following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Her then fiancé Andy O’Grady, a managing director for investment bank Sandler O’Neill, died after the second plane slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
Uchitel is being represented by attorney Gloria Allred.
“I’m not a “home wrecker, gold digger, tramp, whore ... I’m not those things,” she reportedly OK Magazine. “I have very good qualities. When you’re judged by the nation, it’s really difficult. It’s horrible.”
Video clip of Rachel Uchitel on TV following the 9/11 attacks:
December 14, 2009 | 7:39 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Neil Diamond takes on Adam Sandler’s classic Chanukah Song in this animated vid gone viral:
December 9, 2009 | 5:19 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
It was hard to tell if a single person cared that Rob Marshall didn’t show up to The Wrap’s screening of “Nine” for his Q-and-A. Because when Harvey Weinstein walked in to serve as his replacement, an excited hush swept over the 200-seat Arclight Sherman Oaks theater, as if everyone knew they were in the presence of a Hollywood giant.
Even Sharon Waxman, The Wrap’s editor in chief, who earlier this Fall grumbled to me about a missed opportunity to interview Weinstein, was visibly nervous. But instead of asking the provocative questions that she felt went unanswered in a New York Times profile, Waxman got a bit tongue-tied sitting across from moviedom’s self-made mogul.
She was in awe of the presence and couldn’t really see the man. It was an echo of the film we had just watched.
“P.F. Chang’s is my favorite food experience ever,” Weinstein announced when he took his seat in the director’s chair at the front of the theater. “I’m going to get Nora Ephron to make a food movie out of it.”
Whatever Weinstein wants, Weinstein gets.
Aiming to mimic his self indulgence, Waxman said, “I just feel like smoking now, I don’t know why.” It was meant to be an ironic comment on the film’s oh-so-European reverence for chain-smoking. Cigarettes are like air to Guido Contini, an entrenched Italian film director played by Daniel Day Lewis who is days away from production on a film for which he hasn’t penned a script and smokes—incessantly—to calm his nerves. As the stress suffocates him, he turns to his beautiful muses for inspiration. But none of them—played by Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Fergie and Italian legend Sophia Loren—can solve his existential creative crisis.
It is vaguely reminiscent of a certain mogul, who busies himself courting the Oscars while his company struggles to pay the bills.
Asked about the genesis of the film, Weinstein, who first teamed up with Marshall on the Oscar-winning musical “Chicago” said, “I never liked making musicals until I saw how cynical Bob Fosse was.”
Excuse me, but since when did Harvey Weinstein celebrate cynicism? Is this the same self-starter whose company Miramax set the standard for independent film outfits to compete with the studios? The same Hollywood heavyweight who battled then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner to make expensive tentpole films because he believed they’d deliver profit?
Weinstein said he loved “Chicago” for showcasing media exploitation and manipulation. The press was a tool that could be manipulated to influence audience expectations (and in the film’s case, the outcome of a murder trial).
In “Nine,” Guido Contini can’t bear the press. He flees the scene of a press conference instead of facing the truth. And in real life, Weinstein has seen his reputation sullied by bad press, but has learned to remake his image.
Weinstein was attracted to “Nine,” he said, because it shares that Fosse “cynicism.” It is a glamorous portrait of a rich and famous filmmaker, who has a magnificent muse for every mood, but is more or less miserable.
Weinstein is a rich and famous producer, with a glamorous life and a mythic temper, who divorced his wife of 18-years and replaced her with a fashion designer and actress, 24-years his junior. But just like with Contini, a muse does not a profitable business make. And in life, as in the film, women seen only as arm accessories are powerless to impact the outcome of their lovers’ fates.
Weinstein needs “Nine” to be a big hit (along with his summer release, “Inglourious Basterds”). The success or failure of The Weinstein Company rests on the shoulders of muses—Weinstein’s one true love: his movies. And if they don’t reap real rewards both fiscal and political, Weinstein may wind up like Contini, isolated and alone, with an overgrown beard, not sought-after by press, but bemoaning his losses to anyone who will listen.