March 25, 2009
Tovah Feldshuh asks ‘What’s in a (Jewish) name?’
Jews in Hollywood have long been changing their names to sound less…well, Jewish. Betty Joan Perske became Lauren Bacall; Isadore Demsky became Kirk Douglas; and Allen Konigsberg became Woody Allen—the list is quite long. For better or worse, the trend reflects that hiding identity or ethnicity makes stardom more plausible. And at the very least, it might attract more work.
So what happens when an actress with a plainly Jewish name doesn’t tweak her title?
Tovah Feldshuh, who currently stars on Broadway as a Polish Catholic in a Holocaust play, told Playbill her name keeps the Jewish roles coming. It’s with characters that lack an explicit ethnicity that she is sometimes overlooked.
She had this to say to Playbill.com:
A friend of mine once wrote that there is something unbelievably transcendent about an artist who performs in their own accent (of course she has a very charming English one). And I thought, yes! A person who performs in their own skin is more real and raw than in any other role. I think of Tovah Feldshuh, who completely personified New York-Jewish mother perfection in one of my all time favorite films, “A Walk on the Moon.” And my passion for it has nothing to do with the scene where Diane Lane and Viggo Mortenson make love while submerged beneath a waterfall—with Joni Mitchell’s “Cactus Tree” playing in the background. Nothing to do with that at all.