Posted by Danielle Berrin
Like many dreamers across the globe, a slew of Israeli stars are abandoning stable careers in Israel for bigger dreams in Hollywood.
This isn’t exactly new. The whole history of Hollywood is peppered with infusions of ethnic talent. Nearly every actor who achieves onscreen success in their native country then aspires to the pinnacle of cinematic achievement in Hollywood.
The Forward’s Rebecca Spence recently reported about a wave of Israeli actresses—Ayelet Zurer, Gal Gadot and Noa Tishby were three names noted—ascending Hollywood’s thorny ranks to wider mainstream success. This, even during a period of political confusion in the relationship between Israel and Hollywood (though Spence makes no mention of or reference to the fraught history of Israel/Hollywood relations). In the days of Lew Wasserman, it was practically an initiation rite to visit/support/advocate for Israel, but the present era of Hollywood has looked less favorably upon the Jewish State. What struck me was Spence’s assertion that an ever fickle Hollywood is embracing Israel (a new, niche market) purely for economic opportunity.
Well, for that and that the actresses mentioned happen to be beautiful and talented.
From The Forward:
The phenomenon, which also includes the newfound fascination with Israeli models — think Bar Refaeli on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and Esti Ginzburg on the issue’s inside pages — is part of a wider trend of Hollywood embracing the Jewish state as a land of business opportunity. Last year, American networks began buying up Israeli sitcom formats in droves, beginning with the HBO show “In Treatment,” which Tishby, in the role of co-executive producer, successfully brought across the Atlantic. Another example is “Mythological X,” which became CBS’s “The Ex List,” before it was canceled last fall. More shows are on their way.
At the same time, Israeli films are making a splash in America, with movies like “The Band’s Visit” and the animated feature “Waltz With Bashir” receiving critical acclaim — and, in the case of “Waltz With Bashir,” an Oscar nomination. The impending stardom of Israel’s leading ladies may simply be the natural next step.
“Hollywood loves the next cool thing,” said Danny Sussman, a talent manager at the L.A.-based Brillstein Entertainment Partners. “And because of all of the series and all of the films from Israel, artists coming here and crossing over is now the next cool thing.”
It’s no secret that Israel is full of drop-dead gorgeous women, and in a business dominated by sex appeal, that can’t hurt. But the success of Israeli actresses, Hollywood insiders say, is about more than their exotic good looks.
Sussman pointed out that in Israel, where theater has as much prestige as it does in places like New York and London — unlike in Los Angeles — actors often get their training on the stage.
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April 8, 2009 | 5:39 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
One look at the cover of US Weekly and you’ll understand why Lindsay Lohan needs God more than ever.
Lohan’s girlfriend of two years, deejay Samantha Ronson of a Long Island Jewish family, broke off the relationship earlier this week. The two women had been living together in the Hollywood Hills and had been seen jet-setting around the globe throughout their relationship. Last February, reports swirled that the couple was synagogue shopping for a rumored wedding ceremony, and Lohan declared her intent to convert to Judaism.
But all that hangs in the balance now, as Lohan is outright humiliated and weeping to the only people who will listen—the press.
I can’t help but feel pangs of pity for a young woman who is utterly lost, with no inner resources or support system to help her through. And I can’t help but think about the metaphor for enslavement on the eve of Pesach. Because even though Lohan is old enough to take responsibility for her choices, she is also the victim of an oppressive industry, an unrelenting media and to her own unchecked values. And we’re to blame too, because I write the headlines and you read them.
From US Weekly:
In the newest issue of Us Weekly, Lindsay Lohan opens up about her heartbreaking split from Samantha Ronson, the “humiliating” weekend showdown with Ronson’s family, and says that friends’ fears she is suicidal are unfounded.
“It’s absolute hell,” Lohan told Us on Monday in a far-ranging interview over several lengthy phone calls and emails where she was both agitated, crying and baffled by the turn of events.
Ronson broke it off with her girlfriend of nearly two years last Friday, and hired five security guards to keep Lohan out of an afterparty for her sister Charlotte at the Chateau Marmont.
“The worst night of my life,” Lohan—who was staying directly one floor above the Ronsons with her mom Dina and sister Ali—tells Us.
The next day, Ronson changed the locks on the Hollywood Hills home she shared with Lohan. On Monday, Ronson’s mom and sister asked police about obtaining a restraining order against Lohan, Beverly Hills Sgt. Nutall confirms to Us.
“Everyone’s turned on me,” says the actress. She tells the magazine that the night of the Chateau showdown, Nicole Richie walked by her and said “Uck,” and Drea De Matteo said, “Come at me, bitch.”
April 7, 2009 | 4:48 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
With 43 credits to her name, you’d assume Shirly Brener is busy as an actress.
And that would be true: By the end of 2009, she’ll have starred in 11 films, one of which, she is also producing. Her impressive Hollywood resume is probably why Esquire magazine just named her one of the top 5 hottest Israeli women in their April 2009 issue. One glimpse of her ribbed abs in a sexy bikini pose and you get the obvious: she’s beautiful, ostensibly all-American and willing to take her clothes off.
But that would leave out other exotic facts: For example, that she’s married—to screenwriter/architect/painter Bruce Rubenstein (who ran Mickey Rourke’s production company during Rourke’s notorious heyday). Or that with a petite 5’5’’ frame, she gained 55 pounds during her first pregnancy with their daughter, Mila. She was raised globally—between London and Israel—and now resides in Los Angeles. She has a degree in art history, is a classically-trained ballerina and has been acting since age 2.
More later, as I’m off to interview her!
April 6, 2009 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
For Amy Winehouse, city life is just too much.
Back in London, there are bar brawls to get in, a convict husband to divorce and assault charges to address in court. It’s enough to make you want to escape to a Caribbean island, like St. Lucia, where the singer has spent most of 2009 on an “extended vacation.”
Just don’t think she’s there to enjoy the high life: Wino says she’s avoided hard drugs the whole time. And what’s more, she’s curing her addiction to heroin and cocaine—- by smoking pot. Other than that, life is pretty much normal.
..[T]his visit she is planning to get back to her singing, her rep says. “She is having her usual break,” rep Chris Goodman tells PEOPLE. But “she will start working with Salaam Remi soon.”
Remi helmed much of her earlier work on Frank and Back to Black. And while Winehouse travels with mobile recording equipment, her record company, Island, has access to or owns many top studios around the Caribbean, Goodman says, and it is likely she will use one of those for the sessions.
She is set to head back to the U.K. in time for a concert celebration of her record company’s 50th birthday in late May.
Likewise, Hollywood Gossip reports that she’s turning her life around:
If you didn’t know Amy Winehouse was a complete train wreck, her interview with British celeb news mag Now might have you believe she’s a totally normal girl.
“I just wanted to get away from London in the winter and have a nice break in the sunshine,” the Wino said about her two-month long vacation in St. Lucia.
Don’t we all, A-Dubs. Talking about how she enjoyed her “daily routine” of exercise and would “love to have a family” one day, Amy Winehouse confidently asserts she “hasn’t done any smack or crack since before I went out there.”
Despite the fact that her estranged husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, is livid over her adultery and plans to divorce her, Winehouse is blithely unrepentant.
She tells British Now:
“I still love Blake and I want him to move into my new house with me - that was my plan all along. I won’t let him divorce me. He’s the male version of me and we’re perfect for one another. Alright, I had some fun with a lovely bloke in St. Lucia but that was a holiday thing. I don’t want anybody but Blake,” she says.
It’s touching; she still loves him—even though he admits he got her addicted to drugs. This love story sounds unfortunately similar to that of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. They also bonded over heroin, and as we know, that affair did not end well.
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.”
April 3, 2009 | 6:09 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Call her “Esther” or Madonna and still, the high priestess of Jewish mysticism is wading in troubled waters.
This morning, the Malawian government rejected Madonna’s petition to adopt a second Malawi-born child. The ruling judge said he felt the 4-year-old child, Chifundo “Mercy” James, was being well taken care of in a Malawian orphanage where she was receiving an education and lived near her relatives.
Seriously? An ORPHANAGE better than the life Madonna could provide?
Not so fast. It looks like there may be another reason why the Malawian government is incensed at the Material Girl, and perhaps, used a routine adoption as an opportunity for revenge.
Earlier this week FOX News reported that millions of dollars from Madonna’s 2008 “Raising Malawi” fundraiser had vanished:
Before Madonna ‘adopts’ another child from Malawi, maybe someone should ask her where the money went from her big star studded 2008 fundraiser for that country. We tried: this column has tried to ascertain from The Gucci Foundation and from Madonna’s Kabbalah-backed Raising Malawi, where the estimated $3.7 million has gone from the February 6, 2008 extravaganza. So far: No answers.
The 2008 event, co-sponsored by The Gucci Foundation and UNICEF was a lavish New York City affair. Many of Madonna’s A-list friends were there including fellow Kabbalists Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, as well as offbeat religionists Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
Celebrities paid $2,500 to $10,000 each to dine on grappa-cured salmon, wild striped bass, tart of goat cheese, foraged mushrooms, truffled mashed potatoes and sticky toffee pudding with creme fraiche…
Tom Cruise bid $100,000 for a sports package that included the privilege of hanging out at Yankee Stadium with Alex Rodriguez and a private hour playing soccer with David Beckham, but lost out to a bidder who ponied up $350,000.
“It was an extraordinary evening. The whole evening was quite moving,” Cruise told The Associated Press, accompanied by his wife, Katie Holmes, who agreed. Cruise called the United Nations “an absolute necessity” because of the staff who dedicate their lives to building peace.
A trip to Paris with a tour of a vineyard and lunch with Francois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek went for $120,000. The priciest auction item was a $600,000 winning bid to tour with Madonna and take a dance class with her and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The party was clearly a success, but the benefit part was not. Perhaps the Malawian government doesn’t trust Madonna. They’ve probably been wondering why it has taken over a year to account for all that auction money – and now they’re pissed because it’s still missing.
And then there’s the highfalutin Kabbalah Centre, who is equally responsible. Raising Malawi was co-created by Madonna and Michael Berg, the spiritual guru of The Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles and is described as the organization’s official charitable foundation.
Yet according to the FOX News report, there was trouble at the get-go.
The fundraiser had some problems, however. Even though Raising Malawi had been in business for two years, it was still not approved as a sanctioned non-profit at the time. Instead, Gucci formed its own Foundation — known as a 501 c3 — to collect the money. They brought UNICEF on board to give the event a feeling of legitimacy. But in the end, the efforts expended were for Raising Malawi, an organization founded by the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles. Raising Malawi teaches the Kabbalah curriculum, called Spirituality for Kids, to Malawi orphans.
Now, fourteen months after the fundraiser, there’s no accounting for the money that came in. At the time, Gucci claimed that they’d underwritten the entire event, that $3.7 million had been raised and that it had been split between Raising Malawi and UNICEF.
But since then, the Gucci Foundation has still not filed a Form 990 tax statement, and neither has Raising Malawi. Calls to Gucci haven’t provided any information, and calls and emails to Raising Malawi haven’t been returned.
In any case, the Kabbalah Centre should be able to answer where the $3.7 million went. But surprise, surprise – they’re not talking either.
Two phone calls I made to The Kabbalah Centre were misdirected. The person with whom I was told to speak had no voicemail. I then called Philippe van den Bossche, the L.A.-based executive director of “Raising Malawi” and was told he is currently traveling. So I emailed Mr. van den Bossche along with the foundation’s public relations contact, and so far…not a word.
Where the money went and why no one is talking is a bit of a mystery. Or really bad PR. Is it mere coincidence that in the same week this report leaked, Madonna’s Malawi adoption was rejected? She didn’t have any trouble a few years ago when she adopted David Banda. In fact, the courts then waived the residency requirement they are now insisting she comply with.
It seems the government feels Madonna’s good intentions with the African country are dubious at best and careless at worst. For her part, Madonna promises to appeal their decision.
April 2, 2009 | 12:15 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Ever wonder how Scarlett Johansson, a beautiful, but unremarkable talent, became the perfect post-millennial movie star?
Her film career is only partly responsible. While her turn in “Lost in Translation”—the Sofia Coppola film that made her—was Johansson’s finest moment on screen, her qualities as an actress haven’t advanced much in the 16 films she’s made since then. She has, however, established a brand playing glamorous roles—the queen, the temptress, the muse—but in mostly dull films like “The Island,” “The Prestige,” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” With only a smattering of respectable fare, and a savvy partnership with Woody Allen, Johansson has parlayed her film brand into commercial iconography.
And she chose well: There was a music video with Bob Dylan, and another with Justin Timberlake; TV commercials for Gap, Calvin Klein and L’oreal; and really sexy print ads for Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana and Estee Lauder. In each of those, she cast herself as her preferred version of starlet and the images are irresistible. The creation of her own music album solidified her status as a fully fleshed out character; Johansson wisely realized a chanteuse is more powerful than a silent type.
And now her latest role—a champagne spurting goddess for Moet & Chandon—will serve her better than any Oscar. Because bankability is everything in Hollywood and in this, Johansson is not scarlet, she’s golden.
March 26, 2009 | 10:15 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
My old friend Brett Ratner is in the news yet again.
Only this time, it’s not as the “billion-dollar director” or “Hollywood playboy” we’ve come to know so well; it’s for something entirely different, something very un-Ratner like.
Which is a surprising choice for the rabble-rouser, because, for one who notoriously revels in notoriety, book publishing is about as controversial as vanilla ice cream. So we’re left to wonder: Is Hollywood’s most controversial young talent becoming a culture preservationist?
If you read my October 2008 profile of him, you’ll discover that’s exactly the kind of thing Ratner would do. Because as much as he is the “Popcorn King,” revered for his kind of lowbrow, high-grossing adventure flicks, and at the same time, vilified as the industry’s most shameless under-40 lothario, Ratner is every bit the culture cognescenti who would fund a coffee table book that he would buy himself.
As I remember, his dazzling collection of art books immediately caught my attention when I visited his home last summer:
He points out his book collection on the other side of the bookshelf, noting the values.
“These are all photographs of people having sex in parks,” Ratner announces, poring over his collection of art books. He picks out a limited-edition volume by Ed Ruscha, which he values at $5,000.
“This is like $100,000 in books right here,” he says, sweeping his arm across the bookcase.
Ratner’s taste in art and photography is undeniably highbrow. His shelves teem with examples: Leni Riefenstahl’s “1936,” Alessandro Bertolotti’s “Book of Nudes,” Fellini’s “Mirror of Venus,” Picasso, architect Jean Prouvé, French photographer Guy Bourdin. Andy Warhol’s General Mao portrait dangles in various iterations throughout the house. (Asked why he chose the Mao, he exclaims, “It’s Andy Warhol! The greatest artist who ever lived.”) Splayed across his bed is a collection of Helmut Newton photographs, a recent gift from the artist’s widow.
Ratner’s friend, L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein (whom Ratner was mad at after Goldstein wrote about my profile) reported earlier today about the director’s latest endeavor—aptly titled, “Rat Press.” The venture is not entirely new. In 2003, Ratner published “Hillhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures,” a collection of celebrity picture-strips taken in his private booth during parties. The book reads like a who’s who of young Hollywood, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Justin Timberlake to Penelope Cruz—and for political parity, Chelsea Clinton. And last year, Ratner published a collection of actor Scott Caan’s photography.
He’s just launched a new series of film books through his Rat Press imprint, including a James Toback memoir about his friendship with NFL running back turned actor Jim Brown, as well as two interview books from longtime Playboy Q&A king Lawrence Grobel—a collection of interviews with producer Robert Evans and an updated account of Grobel’s fascinating 1978 interviews with Marlon Brando.
“If I wasn’t a publisher, I’d still be handing out copies to my friends anyway,” Ratner told me the other day. “I gave a copy of the Toback book to the Hughes brothers, because they’re really interested in Jim Brown. I’ve given copies of the Brando book to Warren Beatty and Jeff Berg. To me, these are stories from some of the great characters who helped me understand the movie business. The whole idea is to have a series of books that makes a part of Hollywood history available to everyone.”
It’s no coincidence that the books are all about Hollywood characters who were in their prime during the 1960s and early 1970s. “I grew up in that period, which for me was the greatest time for creativity in the film business,” said Ratner. “But what all these guys have in common is that they’re great storytellers. When you read about Toback living with Jim Brown for two years, you feel like you’re right there, getting to see the parties and the orgies. These guys all had a great time, not just in their social lives, but they had a great time making movies.”
Goldstein seems quite taken with the Brando book, but you’ll have to read his blog for that bit.
There’s no question Ratner loves movies—making them, watching them, and now, cataloging them for posterity. But Ratner also loves himself, and this move signifies his foray into mini-moguldom.