Celebrity Jews

Timely Jews

The April 26 Time magazine profiles 100 “people who shape our world … those whose power, influence or moral example touches the lives of all of us, right now.” (The full profiles are on Time.com and are well worth reading.)

The quite famous Jews include Frank Gehry, the architect of the Bilbao Museum and the new L.A. Disney concert hall; Jerry Bruckheimer, the hot TV/film producer (“Pearl Harbor”); Sean Penn (Jewish on his father’s side); Howard Schultz, the founder-head of Starbucks; Michael Dell, of Dell Computer; and Katie Couric. Couric is Jewish on her mother’s side, but she wasn’t raised Jewish.

Lesser-known listees include Sergey Brin, the Russian-born young fellow who co-founded Google and is about to become a multibillionaire; Charlie Kaufman, the creative screenwriter (“Adaptation,” others); Bernard Kouchner, the French health minister and co-founder of Doctors Without Borders (Jewish on his father’s side, he identifies as Jewish). Others are Edward Witten, a mathematician who has profoundly influenced modern physics and is a likely Nobel Prize winner; Nicholas Hytner, a British film/theater director who has turned London’s National Theatre into perhaps the most important stage in the world; Bernard Lewis, a historian who is an influential expert on the Islamic world; Jeff Sachs, an economist who is doing groundbreaking work reconciling economic growth with environmental protection; Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist who’s a leader in the new field of evolutionary psychology; and Eric Lander, a mathematician who is a critical figure in the Human Genome Project.

Sol’s a star

The critically acclaimed HBO "Deadwood" prominently features Sol Star, a likeable Jewish shopkeeper character. Star, who really lived, was one of the many Jewish pioneers in the frontier town. There’s even a large Deadwood "Hebrew cemetery" dating back more than a century.

Star was born in Bavaria in 1840. He moved to the States in 1850 and quickly settled in Montana, where he went into the hardware business with his friend Seth Bullock. South Dakota’s gold rush drew the pair to Deadwood and they ended up as prosperous hardware merchants.

Star, who died in 1917, was a state legislator as well as Deadwood’s mayor for 14 years. Meanwhile, Bullock, as shown in the series, became the sheriff who "cleaned Deadwood up."

Recently, Mary Kopco, head of Deadwood’s Adams House museum, spoke to South Dakota’s Rapid City Journal about Deadwood’s history, her help with the series’ historic research; and the huge increase in visits to the museum Web site since the series began (www.adamsmuseumandhouse.org). She said that the Web profile of Star is one of the site’s most popular bios.

Meanwhile, "Deadwood" creator-writer David Milch, who also co-created "NYPD Blue" and "Hill Street Blues," and John Hawkes, the non-Jewish actor who plays Star, discussed Star’s Jewish background with the Journal. They hypothesized that Star would have probably been an even-tempered guy anxious to fit in. As Hawkes put it, "His survival skills are high. … He sees the big picture. He knows it is smarter to live to fight another day."

The other side

Last week, we gave the names of a few Jews in entertainment that contributed to President Bush’s re-election. Here now, from public record sources, are a few of the Jewish Democrats who gave to one or more of the primary candidates: Sen. Joseph Lieberman got a check from actress Debra Messing, director Harold Ramis, and ex-San Francisco 49er Harris Barton. … Actors Paul Reiser, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks supported Howard Dean. … Composer Jerry Goldsmith and comedian Richard Lewis backed Sen. John Kerry. … Not surprisingly, Screen Actors’ Guild President Melissa Gilbert contributed to Dick Gephardt, a favorite son of organized labor.

Columnist Nate Bloom, an Oaklander, can be reached at [email protected].

Nate Bloom

Nate Bloom writes the "Celebrity Jews" column for J.