April 6, 2009 | 3:47 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Of course the trade itself handled Peter Bart’s Variety demotion with the most charity.
The headline, a soft: “Peter Bart gets new Variety role.’” Though the subhead was more revealing: “Tim Gray to oversee news wing.”
Earlier tonight, the industry’s most prestigious trade reported that their longtime editor-in-chief would take on a new, lesser position.
Peter Bart will assume a new role as vice president and editorial director of Variety, it was announced by Tad Smith, CEO of Reed Business. In his new position, Bart will report directly to Smith, assisting him in furthering Variety’s editorial mission in print and online and expanding the brand’s position in new revenue streams.
Bart also will continue to contribute his weekly column as well as his blog and serve as Variety’s ambassador in public venues, on television, on the web and at industry events.
Leave it to Deadline Hollywood Daily‘s Nikki Finke to be more direct.
Bart’s new title is “vice president and editorial director of Variety”, but it’s meaningless. He and the company are playing this like it’s voluntary, but Peter has been pushed “essentially up and out” of the newsroom, as one of my sources puts it. But he’ll be allowed to continue as the “face” of Variety in public—which is something Bart cares a lot about.
Hollywood can now safely ignore Bart. Gray is the guy to suck up to there.
An industry power player, Peter Bart was also something of an enigmatic figure—especially when it came to his Judaism. He managed to avoid identifying, discussing or even admitting he was—ethnically speaking—Jewish. In Amy Wallace‘s 2001 profile of Bart for Los Angeles Magazine, he more or less accused her of “outing” him when she reported that his parents were Austrian Jews.
Bart tells Wallace:
“What concerns me is if you are characterizing me as a runaway Jew,” he says. “It’s not that I don’t acknowledge it. I just don’t talk about it. It’s not a part of my life. Isn’t this the equivalent of outing someone?” he asks.
Bart eventually tried to recant his flippancy.
“Do me one favor,” he says. “To avoid me being blackballed, quote me saying, ‘I have no problem saying my ethnicity is Jewish.’ Otherwise you’re going to get me into trouble with all these people.”
It’s unclear whether Bart is anti-religionist, atheist or ultimately a self-hating Jew. His apparent fear of professional reprisal, however, indicates a shift in Jewish pride from the early days of Tinseltown. Bart might have fit in better with Hollywood’s founding moguls, many of whom wished to escape their Jewish past and reinvent themselves as simply American. Likewise, some perceived Bart’s work ethic as a thing of the past, saying he didn’t have the foresight to carry Variety into its digital future.
More from Wallace’s profile:
But there’s another commonality that Bart does not wish to talk about. Cohn, like many of Hollywood’s founding fathers, was Jewish. When I ask Bart about his own ethnicity, he turns elusive. It’s peculiar, to say the least. Of all American industries, Hollywood has historically been a place where Jews have not only achieved acceptance but thrived.
But following his parents’ dictum, Bart keeps his ancestry a secret.
Here are a few things Bart wouldn’t tell me: Both his parents were born in Austria. His mother, whose maiden name was Clara Ginsberg, arrived at Ellis Island in 1914. Her passenger record includes this notation: “Ethnicity: Austria (Hebrew).” There is no record of a Max S. Bart entering the United States through Ellis Island. Bart’s father may have traveled under another name. But there is a listing for a Moses Bart, which was the name of Bart’s paternal grandfather. Moses came to America in 1913, when he was 57 years old. His ethnicity: “Austria, Hebrew.”
Bart has kept even his closest friends confused about his past. “He was brought up a Quaker, wasn’t he?” asks Evans. It’s an honest mistake. You can’t spend more than an hour with Bart without hearing about his attending Friends Seminary and Swarthmore College—both Quaker institutions.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Bart says of his religious heritage, as one of his knees begins bouncing up and down. “I resent people’s militancy on these issues. Everyone wants to peg everyone else because everyone is predictable. And I’m not.”
Over several months he will volunteer that he has never once dated a Jewish girl, never attended a seder, and has been inside a synagogue only once, for the bar mitzvah of then-agent Michael Ovitz’s son. (“I wanted to see what one was like.”)
“Listen, I got berated by the vice president in charge of business affairs at Paramount,” he says, “because I did not take off Jewish holidays. And I was affronted. I basically told him to mind his own damned business.”
“A lot of people in Hollywood—let’s say if they happen to be Jewish people who come from Brooklyn—they are most comfortable with those people. Which is fine. It just doesn’t happen to describe me.”
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