(JTA) – On “Saturday Night Live” last weekend, Dave Chappelle really wanted his audience to know there are a lot of Jews in Hollywood.
“I’ve been to Hollywood, this is just what I saw,” he said during his widely dissected monologue. “It’s a lot of Jews. Like, a lot.”
While suggesting that it might not be fair to say Jews run the industry, the comedian said that coming to that conclusion is “not a crazy thing to think.” Chappelle’s “SNL” episode drew a season-high 4.8 million viewers when it aired on NBC (eclipsing Jewish comedian Amy Schumer’s own hosting stint the week before), and his monologue had more than 8.1 million views on YouTube as of Wednesday.
The Anti-Defamation League was quick to denounce Chappelle’s act, calling it antisemitic. Other prominent Jews have followed suit.
“I was very disturbed to see him speaking, to millions of people, a lot of antisemitic tropes,” Pamela Nadell, a professor at American University who researches antisemitism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
But Chappelle, who was himself riffing on recent antisemitism controversies involving Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, wasn’t exactly breaking new ground by insinuating that Jews run Hollywood. The trope has been a part of show business since its earliest days — when, in a literal sense, Jews did run Hollywood. Or the studios, anyway.
Nearly every major movie studio was founded in the early 20th century by a group of first-generation secular Jews who immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. Carl Laemmle (Universal), Adolph Zukor (Paramount), William Fox (Fox), Louis B. Mayer (MGM), and Benjamin Warner (Warner) were all Jewish silver-screen pioneers, laying the groundwork for the size and scale of the industry to follow.
But the industry has diversified greatly in the century since, with studios largely swallowed up by corporate behemoths. And while individual Jews may be overrepresented in an industry that has long welcomed and rewarded them, the rhetorical danger, Nadell said, comes in conflating a large Jewish presence in an industry with ownership and control of that industry.
“Jews remain active in Hollywood in a variety of roles, but it would be impossible to say that they run Hollywood, that they own Hollywood,” she said.
“Whenever the Jews enter into any kind of position where they might have influence over people who are not Jewish, then all of a sudden it’s seen as some kind of conspiracy.”
Conspiracy theories dogged Jews in Hollywood from the industry’s beginning. Because so many Jews were in control in Hollywood in its early years, Joseph Breen, who for decades ran the industry’s Production Code office and tried to make movies palatable to Catholic morality groups, blamed “the Jews” for sneaking sex, violence and moral depravity into the movies.
But their rise to the top of the still-young motion picture industry wasn’t because they were a part of some secretive cabal; it’s because, historians say, Hollywood provided a low barrier to entry for enterprising businessmen, and was lacking the antisemitic guardrails of more established industries.
“There were no social barriers in a business as new and faintly disreputable as the movies were in the early years of [the 20th] century,” historian Neal Gabler writes in his landmark 1988 book “An Empire Of Their Own: How The Jews Invented Hollywood.”
In the book, Gabler notes that the movie business, which evolved out of other professions like vaudeville and the garment industry where Jews had already found a toehold, lacked “the impediments imposed by loftier professions and more firmly entrenched businesses to keep Jews and other undesirables out.”
As such, Jews (particularly recent immigrants) were able to thrive in show business in a way they couldn’t in most other industries. Once they were in, family ties or the general phenomenon of affinity groups often led to them elevating other Jews in the industry: For example, prolific Jewish producer David O. Selznick, whose credits include “Gone With The Wind,” “Rebecca” and a huge string of other hits in the 1930s and ’40s, spent many years at MGM, run by his father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer.
Areas like the film, garment and publishing industries were attractive to Jews, Nadell said, “because there were so many other sectors of the economy where they were barred from.”
But in exchange, Hollywood’s prominent Jews had to effectively extinguish their Jewishness.
Yearning to assimilate into American society, the Jews who ran these studios were beset on all sides by antisemitic invective — first from Christian groups like the Legion of Decency, then by anti-Communist groups, both of whom accused Hollywood’s Jews of conspiring to undermine American society with their loose morals.
As such, the Jewish studio heads largely refrained from making any movies about Jewish themes, or snuffing out antisemitic content even within their own films, or otherwise exerting their influence in any obviously Jewish way, even as many of the Golden Era of Hollywood’s most acclaimed writers and directors (Herman Mankiewicz, Ernst Lubitsch, George Cukor, Billy Wilder) were also Jewish. “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the landmark 1947 film about antisemitism, didn’t have any Jewish producers, directors or major stars (though some of its credited writers were Jewish).
Famously, Hollywood’s Jews also went out of their way to avoid offending Hitler during the Nazi era, continuing to do business with Germany and largely avoiding featuring Nazis as villains in the prewar years.
With the demise of the studio system in the 1960s, Jewish creatives ranging from Mel Brooks to Steven Spielberg to Natalie Portman no longer had to hide their identity from audiences, but instead made it an essential part of their public personas. Earlier this week, in a New York Times interview, Spielberg acknowledged that Hollywood was a welcoming place for Jews when he arrived as a young filmmaker.
“Being Jewish in America is not the same as being Jewish in Hollywood,” he said while promoting “The Fabelmans,” a loose retelling of his own Jewish upbringing. “Being Jewish in Hollywood is like wanting to be in the popular circle and immediately being accepted as I have been in that circle, by a lot of diversity but also by a lot of people who in fact are Jewish.”
Still, such ethnic affinity has often been deemed conspiratorial. “Hollywood is run by Jews” and “owned by Jews,” Marlon Brando declared in a 1996 interview with Larry King, further claiming that Jewish studio executives prevented antisemitic stereotypes from being depicted on screen while allowing stereotypes of every other minority group “because that’s where you circle the wagons around.”
(Despite this outburst, which prompted intense backlash from Jewish groups, Brando was known for having close relationships with Jews and demonstrating a strong understanding of Jewish theology and culture throughout his life, and apparently spoke Yiddish quite well.)
This general air of suspicion around Jews in show business has continued into the modern day, as evidenced by Chappelle and West’s comments. In the tweets that precipitated the collapse of his businesses, West singled out Jewish producers and managers in the entertainment industry he had affiliations with, echoing how believers in antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish control tend to fixate on Jews in leadership positions outside of the public eye.
Ignoring the many industry leaders who are not Jewish, such conspiracy theorists tend to focus on the successful managers and lawyers in Hollywood who are, including Jeremy Zimmer, Ari Emanuel, Allen Grubman — and Harvey Weinstein, whose decades of sexual abuse, scorched-earth targeting of his accusers and eventual downfall are the subject of the new movie “She Said.”
And in a similar fashion to Brando, Chappelle suggested that there is a double standard in talking about ethnic groups, with jokes about Jews being seen as taboo in a way that jokes about Black people and other groups are not: “If they’re Black, then it’s a gang. If they’re Italian, it’s a mob. If they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it.”
At the same time as Jews in and out of the industry are fighting such perceptions, they are also pushing for greater visibility. The unveiling of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles last year almost entirely omitted Jews from Hollywood’s founding narrative, leading to backlash from Jews in the industry and, ultimately, the guarantee of a new permanent exhibition space focusing on Jews.
And there was one other way in which the Chappelle episode hearkened back to the age-old dynamics of the relationship between Jews and Hollywood: “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels, who presumably allowed the monologue on the air, is Jewish.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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