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Jewish Journal

Having shiks-appeal in Hollywood

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 28, 2009 | 12:24 pm

Here's Scarlett

Everybody knows Cheryl Hines had the right amount of shiks-appeal for Larry David—it’s a central point of conflict on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.“and let’s not forget that Brett Ratner likes a WASPy-looking lady.

But in Tablet Liel Leibovitz writes that Hollywood men have long cast their eyes only upon the blond-haired, blue-eyed leading ladies:

Since the dawn of American entertainment, Jewish women were largely rendered invisible, absent everywhere from burlesque to Hollywood to prime-time television. Instead, they watched as their sons and brothers and husbands became successful producers, directors, and impresarios, powerful men who then chose to populate their works with a parade of sexy, sultry shiksas who looked nothing like their female kin.

Perhaps the first exponents of this tradition were the Minsky Brothers, the influential proprietors of a popular New York City burlesque empire in the first decades of the last century. “If you were a burlesque stripper, you had to be a blonde or a redhead, never a brunette,” Rachel Shteir, author of Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show told me. The brothers, she added, had a readymade explanation for their proclivities: Jewish women, they argued, were simply too pure to lust after. “They would say, ‘we’re not stealing your mothers and sisters and aunts and putting them on stage and taking away their honor,’” Shteir said. “They would say that they were only putting the shiksas on stage. As heinous as it is, that was their reasoning.”

(skip)

A few decades later, as the zeitgeist shifted and Jewish producers, directors, and writers found themselves increasingly comfortable with allowing Jewish characters into the spotlight—Allen himself being perhaps the most obvious example—that light shone exclusively for Jewish men. They, usually jittery and neurotic and smart, were allowed to roam the savannas of the movie screen, usually in search of the same idyll the Minskys knew so well, the blonde American vixen.

You can read the rest of the essay here or a summary of it from Patrick Goldstein’s The Big Picture. In rattling off the shiksas that have dominated Woody Allen’s films, Goldstein first made the mistake of calling Scarlett Johansson a WASP and then corrected himself by descrining her as a “Jewess,” which, though accurate, can have an offensive connotation.

Thanks for the tip, Owen. And for everyone’s viewing enjoyment, a Yiddish-dubbed version of the shiks-appeal episode of “Seinfeld” is embedded after the jump:

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