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May 17, 2013

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' HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 17, 2013 PAGE 17A By Eric Berger Jewish Exponent PHILADELHIA--When comedian Susie Essman meets fans and is nice and gracious to them, they are often visibly disappointed. What they really want, she says, is Susie Greene, Larry David's nemesis on the HBO show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm. "They ask to be told off, the way she does to David when, for example, he says her hideous, homemade bedazzled sweatshirts aren't his"cup of tea." She responds, "All right, you know what, f--- you and f--- your tea." Essman, who will be per- forming here May 18, will perform her stand-up rou- tine, giving her the chance to By Robert Wiener New Jersey Jewish News As the author of the new book, "The American Jewish Story Through Cinema," Eric Goldman believes you can chart the history of Jews in the United States by studying their roles in films: as actors, moviemakers and moguls. Goldman is an ad- junct associate professor of cinema at Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He spoke with the New Jer- sey Jewish News in a recent celephone interview. NJJN: To what extent did the early films involve Jewish themes and Jewish characters? Goldman: In the early years the primary movie audience was made up of immigrants. A chunk of them were Jews, so many of the films dealt with Jewish themes. Some of them were not pleasant. I don't want to say they were anti-Semitic but they were not very positive in their portrayal of Jews. One early example was "Cohen's Advertizing Scheme," made in 1904. Some were made by Jews but many were not. Then there were Jews who came to this country and made films for spe- cific purposes. Some were Russian Jews who were anti-communist and made films about the horrors of communism or pogroms in the first 15 years of the 20th century. NJJN: It is interesting to note that the first full-length, talking picture, "The Jazz Singer," had a Jewish theme and a Jewish actor--Al~ Jol- son--as its lead. Goldman: "The Jazz Sing- er" is where I start my book. Here you have the first financial attempt to bring sound films to people, and it was something Warner Bros. very much gambled on the way they gambled on technological advances like Technicolor or Ci.nerama. The Warner brothers had someissues ifi terms of the future of their company and decided to roll the dice. NJJN: Gregory Peck Wikipedia Susie gssman show fans that she is, in fact, not a Hollywood housewife prone to unleashing a Richter scale-registering earthquake ofprofanity. That's not to say her routine is nice and safe. Eric Goldman starred in the 1947 film "Gentleman's Agreement." Its theme of assimilation versus maintaining tradition has been a frequent theme in Jewish cinema, hasn't it? Goldman: Certainly in the early period, the War- ner brothers realized it was a theme that spoke to America. Even though the main character was a Jew, the tug was between two generations--the immi- grant generation and the new, young, want-to-be- American generation. With the technological advance of sound, it made "The Jazz Singer" even more salable. NJJN: How did Jewish films reflect the way i~eople in the audience felt about being Jewish? Goldman: We can look at specific films for different times and gauge how Jews were doing. In the 1920s with "The Jazz Singer" you have a sense of the young American-born man who wants to break away. That disappears in the.early 1930s. Jews in general disap- peared from the screen for a variety of reasons--the Production Code, President Franklin Roosevelt and the Depression and the need to escape. Moviemakers them- selves did not want to include anything Jewish. NJJN: How did the Code inhibit films about Jews? Goldman: In the early 1930s Hollywood was making some fairly racy movies. The Catholic Church demanded changes and ethnicity be- came a no-no. Je~s disap- peared from the screen by 1934. Then came the rise of Hitler and the fear by the Jewish movie moguls of being "My stand-up persona is strong enough on its own to rival Susie Greene," she said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Albany, N.Y. The show at a local synagogue and billed for mature audiences o~hly, will see Essman rift on the trials of raising children and dealing with her Jewish mother, among other topics. "My mother is still driving me crazy after all these years-- my aging Jewish mother, it ne~er ends," she says. In the interview, Essman sounds stable, relaxed and capable of completing a sentence without using an expletive--all attributes that her TV character does not possess. "People always expect me 9 to be Susie Greene; it's a bless- ingand it's a curse," Essman says. "People are always upset when I'm not this crazy, curs- ing screaminglunatic." The differences between the two are easy to point out. Ess- man would have to be blind not to have a better fashion sense than Greene, who usu- ally wears clothing that's one part endangered species--a cheetah, perhaps--and one part gaudy '80s wallpaper; in fact, the only other person on the show who wears those glittery sweatshirts can't see how ugly they are, because he is blind. Essman is also an author who says that writing her book, "What Would Susie Say?: Bullsh*t Wisdom About Love, Life, and Comedy," was Gregory Peck starred in the 1947 film "Gegleman's Agreement. ' too identified as Jewish might possibly hurt their business. So you just didn't see Jews on the screen in the late 1930s. But there were some Jewish screenwriters who saw what was fiappening in Europe and said "this is crazy. I am not going to be quiet about this stuff." In 1939, "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" came out and Washington went berserk. The House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings with slurs that "the Jews were trying to get us into the war." Then, Charlie Chaplin said, "Screw you, this is too important" and he made "The Great Dicta- tor" in 1940. NJJN: What happened after World War II? Goldman: You had a move: ment to start making social message films, like "Gentle- men's Agreement" in 1947. The Jews in the Hollywood community did not want "Gentlemen's Agreement" made. It is a study in Ameri- can-Jewish fear. You had the American Jewish Committee putting pressure on one of the studios not to make this film. ["Gentlemen's Agreement" is the story of a non-Jewish journalist who poses as a Jew so he can write an expose of a tremendous challenge, but luckily she was "smack dab in the middle of meno- pause. "I'd wake up every night after about two, three hours of sleep and I'd be up for hours, so that's basically when I wrote the book, in the middle of the night, after having hot flashes," she says, When "Curb" first aired in 2000, Essman's character was not as developed and not quite as volatile as it is now. A first- season episode featured the Greenes' home being robbed by an innercity youth whom her husb~d, Jeff (played by comedian/actor Jeff Garlin), hassponsored. Essmansaid David had the idea that she tear into her husband. Much of the show is improvisation, and Essman said that after each take David encouraged her to get more angry. "Finally he pulled me aside and said, 'Make fun of Jeff's fat.' I was like, Larry; I really don't want to do that, I don't like to make fun of people's physical characteristics. He said, 'Just do it,-just do it, He knows you're just acting,' and so I did and the genie was out of the bottle," Essman said. There is no word on whether more seasons of "Curb," which last aired in 2011, are to come. She says HBO has an open-door policy with David, enabling him to do a season whenever he wants. For her part, Essman said she has ideas for another book or a one-woman show, but nothing is imminent. "I'm in one of those gestation periods right now,', she said. When Essman isn't touring or act- ing--she has also appeared in films such as "Keeping the Faith" and the animated "Bolt"--she splits her time between living in New York City and upstate New York. Essman met her husband, Jim Harder, a father of four children, almost a decade ago and helped raise the children during their teenage years, an experience that has made its way into her stand-up routine. "If I did not use them for material, I'd probably kill them/' she said. "But I've found a way to--what's the word I'm looking for?--sub- limate." Essman said she received a note recently from David, who was filming a movie for HBO, saying that he missed her. She said she wanted to write back that if he missed her, the best way to spend time with her would be on the set. "I'm kind of hoping he's going to miss the show and do another season," she said. "I would do another season in a heartbeat." anti-Semitism in Nw York.] Hollywood's studio leads had a meeting on theWarner Bros. lot to figure ott how to prevent "Gentlemel's Agree- ment" from being nade. NJJN: Why did thty behave that way? Goldman: They lelieved if you made a film ab)ut anti- Semitism it was jtst going to light the fire. t would ~~ Development Corporation for Israel Israel Bonds 12600 South Beicher Road~ Suite 101A tSRA~L ~;~I~ONDS,,~>,:~,: ~:~,:~ Largo, Florida 33773 Reva Pearlstein Monica DiGiovanni Asds~nt Director Registered Representative 727-539-6445 " 800-622-8017 tamp a@israeJbonds,com www, bring the idea of haing Jews "~r~' co to the American masses, kk/e are ~our source for: . ." Jews were just too tmid and Invitations~ E~rcchures. Letted-E~ds Envelopes " i~~ frightened. Forms Digital Photograptlg .Labels, Direct Mail Business Cards Programs Rlgers Post Cards ]~~ NJJN: What is the'Jewish" situation now? / 4wwOWT,.767.71 I0 Goldman: There is a new I ,.;~ w generation where Jews are ~th Street " Long'wood, FL 32750 you are not seeirg many movies about Jews, lut m~any characters are cleary Jewish and nobody is coicerned, whether it is a~ Adam Sandler movie or a Judd Apatow movie. Yoc look at the Coen brothers; ,ou may like their work or hte their work, but there are l:tle Jew- ish elements in lot.~f their films. Steven Spielerg is a guy who is very coffortable with his Jewishness~nd that is what you're seeirg today. .Robert Wiener is a laff writ- er for The New Jersel Jewish News, from which ttis article was reprinted by pernission. HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man & General Maintenance Air Conditioning Carpentry Electrical Plumbing Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960