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Jewish Journal

Incidental Intelligence

by Tom Tugend

April 12, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Ben Kingsley portrayed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in the HBO drama "Murderers Among Us."                          Photo by Bob Greene

Ben Kingsley portrayed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in the HBO drama "Murderers Among Us." Photo by Bob Greene

British actor Ben Kingsley has played a number of Jewish characters with such authenticity that questions frequently pop up about his possible Jewish background.

He was unforgettable as the accountant Yitzhak Stern in "Schindler's List" and earlier had the title role in the TV movie "Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story."

He portrayed a less inspiring Jewish figure, mobster Meyer Lansky, in "Bugsy" (1991) and will play father Otto Frank in the ABC miniseries "Anne Frank" (May 20-21).

Kingsley (born Krishna Banji, the son of an Indian physician and a British model and actress) phoned me this week from England to draw attention to a PBS reprise of "Schindler's List," so I asked him about possible Jewish antecedents.

"I am not absolutely certain, but to the best of my knowledge, I am one-quarter Jewish on my mother's side," he said. Then he added, with a touch of irritation, "It gets a little ludicrous to quantify such things. It's liking counting chromosomes or measuring the shapes of noses."

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