Celebrity Jews

Chuck and Larry

Adam Sandler co-stars in the film “I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry” (opens Friday, July 20). Sandler (Chuck) and “King of Queens” star Kevin James (Larry) play two straight firefighters who are best friends. Due to a quirk in his pension plan, Larry has to be in an official domestic partnership with another firefighter to ensure that his kids will get benefits after his death. Chuck, who is Jewish, agrees to go along with the scheme and the two are married in a gay Jewish wedding. (Or what appears to be a Jewish wedding in the film’s trailer.)

Complications ensue when the benefits office investigates whether they really are romantic partners. Eventually, the news leaks to the public that two “macho” firefighters are claiming to be gay.

Charles Lane — the Jewish angle

Charles Lane died on July 9, age 102. He acted in small parts in hundreds of films and TV shows from 1930 until 1995, usually playing a crabby character.

Lane was born Charles Gerstle Levison in San Francisco in 1905. He was related by marriage or blood to just about every one of the major German Jewish mercantile families who settled in the Bay Area not long after the Gold Rush. His father, J.B. Levison, was a top executive with the Fireman’s Fund insurance company when the 1906 earthquake hit. The Levison family, including Charles, fled the quake and fire by taking a tugboat to a ranch in San Rafael. (In 1930, Charles’ mother’s family, the Gerstles, donated that ranch to the city of San Rafael, and it is now Gerstle Park.)

As described in a 1993 piece in j., Lane’s father was a pivotal figure in the reconstruction of San Francisco. He kept the Fireman’s Fund afloat by convincing quake claimants to take part of their insurance proceeds in Fireman’s Fund stock instead of cash. The fund thereby avoided bankruptcy and was able to insure new buildings. Over time, the company’s stock value soared and claimants got paid in full.

In 1927, Lane joined the theater troupe at San Francisco’s Temple Emanu-El. A year later, the troupe put on a production of “The Dybbuk.” Some members of the cast, including Lane, were invited to reprise their roles at the Pasadena Playhouse. After the play ended, Lane began his long Hollywood acting career.

Very black humor

Bruce Willis, who isn’t Jewish, earned my respect when he joined about 90 other Hollywood celebrities in signing a full page newspaper ad supporting Israel that ran last summer when the Lebanon War raged.

But 20th Century Fox, the film company that made his new film, “Live Free or Die Hard,” upset a lot of British Jews by having a helicopter hover above a British Jewish cemetery bearing a banner that said “Die Hard.” According to the Web site somethingjewish.com.uk, this bad taste juxtaposition was an accident. Fox company officials explained that the helicopter was just on a test run and they meant no offense.

Briefly noted/correction

In my June 29 column, I mentioned the new hit Pixar film, “Ratatouille.” This item prompted Brian Kaye, president of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, to write me and tell me that three members of his congregation worked on the film — Gaylin Susman (associate producer), Andrew Gordon (animator) and Samuel Daffner (who teaches at Emeryville-based Pixar’s in-house training program).

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

Nate Bloom

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