Celebrity Jews

Stage gold

The Tony Awards are on CBS on June 5. The Jewish acting nominees include Hank Azaria (“Spamalot”); Joanna Gleason (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”); Liev Schreiber (“Glengarry Glen Ross”); and Marc Kudisch (“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”).

Jewish composer/lyricists wrote three nominated musicals: Adam Guettel (“Light in the Piazza”); David Yasbek (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) and William Finn (“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”).

Kudrow’s comeback

Former “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow returns to TV on June 5 in the HBO series, “Comeback,” playing a former TV star who is reduced to being in a reality series featuring her home life, hoping that it will secure a part in a new TV sitcom. She succeeds in getting the sitcom, but her role is much smaller than she was led to believe.

Kudrow is the co-writer of “Comeback” and one of her co-stars is Lisa Silverman, the sister of comedian Sarah Silverman.

In the ring

Opening June 3 is Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man,” starring Russell Crowe as James Braddock, who won the heavyweight boxing title in 1935 when he upset champ Max Baer. Braddock was considered washed-up when he lost several fights and was even reduced to taking welfare. But a few big wins turned things around. The depression-battered public supported Braddock when his “Cinderella” story leaked out.

Masterminding Braddock’s comeback was his Jewish manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), an ex-boxer. While boxing managers don’t have a great rep, Gould and Braddock had a wonderful friendship.

Baer mostly grew up in Livermore and often fought in the Bay Area. He came up in an era when Jewish boxers brought in big Jewish crowds. Baer’s Jewish manager, realizing this, got Max to wear a Star of David on his trunks when he boxed German Max Schmeling shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. Baer destroyed Schmeling and said. “That one’s for Hitler” as he landed the knockout blow.

The ‘problem’ was that Max Baer had ‘only’ one Jewish grandfather and Jewish sportswriters of his era thought Baer a fraud. (Nonetheless, most Jewish fans supported Baer as own of their own.) An even bigger problem was that Baer always hated boxing and rarely trained seriously.

In an interesting sidelight, Crowe was making “Cinderella Man” in Toronto when the library of a Jewish school in Montreal was firebombed. Crowe called the school to express his shock and made a donation to the rebuilding fund. (The teenage arsonist is now in jail and the library has been re-built.)

Growing up French

Hunky actor Michael Vartan, who co-stars in TV’s “Alias,” and now can be seen in the screen hit “Monster-in-Law,” recently said this about his French background: “The funny thing is I’m actually a Polish Jew who happens to be born in France. My mom is Polish and my dad is Bulgarian. I don’t have an ounce of French blood. But I work it.”

Vartan’s late father was born in Bulgaria, but grew up in France. His mother is an American Jew (of Polish Jewish descent). The actor’s parents divorced when he was a small child and he was raised in France and the United States. (It’s still unclear whether Vartan’s late father was Jewish at all.)

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

Nate Bloom

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