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Why Hollywood's Jewish guys fall in love with shiksas

From Diane Keaton to Mariel Hemingway to Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen's favorite women have been WASPy blonds. [UPDATE: As many readers have noted, Johansson is actually Jewish, so perhaps I should call her a WASPy blonde Jewess.] At any rate, Allen is not alone. As Liel Leibovitz writes in a fascinating new essay in Tablet magazine, "Since the dawn of American entertainment, Jewish women were largely rendered invisible, absent everywhere from burlesque to Hollywood to prime-time television. Instead, they watched as their sons and brothers and husbands became successful producers, directors and impresarios, powerful men who then chose to populate their works with a parade of sexy, sultry shiksas who looked nothing like their female kin."

It's a big, bold accusation, but Leibovitz does a pretty persuasive job of proving it, digging all the way back to the earliest days of burlesque, when if you worked for the striptease kingpins the Minsky Brothers, you had to be a blond or a redhead, never a brunet. The early Hollywood moguls, eager to shed their shtetl roots, quickly dumped their first wives for Gentile trophy dames and largely banished both Jewish men and women from their all-American hymns to assimilation, forcing Jewish actors like John Garfield (Julie Garfinkle) and Danny Kaye (David Kaminsky) to change their names to far less ethnic-sounding monikers.

But Leibovitz argues that even today, long after Jewish TV execs allowed male characters to be named Seinfeld, Steinberg and Fisher, they still required the guys to lust after decidedly non-Jewish women. She points to a slew of shows, including "Mad About You," "Chicken Soup," "Flying Blonde" and "Anything But Love," that all feature neurotic Jewish (filmmaker/pajama salesman/biz exec/writer) men pining after gorgeous and free-spirited shiksas. Each show was designed around the idea of transformation, or more specifically, the power of a non-Jewish woman to extricate her Jewish lover from his suffocating, crass and unhealthy environment.

When it comes to being an onscreen presence in a Jewish guy's life, blonds clearly have more fun, whether it's Cheryl Hines playing opposite Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or Drew Barrymore being Adam Sandler's love interest in "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates." (Maybe I'm forgetting someone, but by my count, it wasn't until 2008's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," where Sandler played an Israeli hairdresser, that he cast an actual Jewish actress -- Emmanuelle Chriqui -- as his romantic partner.)

Leibovitz could expand her critique, since when it comes to being invisible, African American women have it even worse than Jewish women, rarely if ever getting a meaty part playing opposite black mega-stars like Denzel Washington, Sam Jackson and Will Smith. But her point is well taken. In an era where Jewish women have cracked the glass ceiling time and again as producers and studio executives (from Sherry Lansing and Laura Ziskin to Gail Berman and Amy Pascal), it's slim pickings when it comes to parts for actresses looking to shine in the spotlight. In Hollywood, if you're a Jewish woman, your best career possibilities are still behind the camera, feeding all the good lines to the shiksa goddesses.

Speaking of shiksa goddesses, here's one with a spider in her bathroom:


  

 
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Lucille Ball wasn't Jewish, but Debra Messing, who looks sort of like her and has a similar persona, is Jewish. In fact, she played a very unstereotypical Jewish woman on Will & Grace, a show that many seem to have forgotten about when criticizing TV Jews (her character even married a Jewish doctor played by Harry Connick, Jr. (whose mother was Jewish in real life)).

I am here to give testimony. I can write a book on this topic.
I was an ABC series regular, only because the show producers skirted around having me pass (or fail, rather) by the network suits' final vote on casting. Even so, when they introduced my character, on the first show, they added some dialogue so that I would be specifically "from NY".
I had non-Jewish friends who went to their mailbox and collected residuals, for on camera commercials; supported themselves during the lean times of their career, and I did not. Could not. I was lucky to be able to get into voiceovers, because on camera commercials were strictly for what was literally, termed, "boards from the midwest". Never a dark haired Jewish girl. Nor breasts.
I remember way back, Alan King was doing a sitcom pilot. I couldn't audition for one of his young daughters, they weren't hiring Jews. The producers were clear, they didn't even want anything that looked like one, to play his children.
I would sit at home while my actress friends who were "shiksas" went on audition after audition, even if a few of them had little talent, or little experience. They always came out ahead, far ahead; in earning, in opportunities, in trajectory. They got jobs and I couldn't even get auditions. With great agents and great managers trying to find auditions for me, and their many connections. The parts just were simply not there to audition for. I would often audition for casting directors who were Jewish women. Much of the time, they carried the same attitude of bias.
Sometimes they let me audition anyway, but I just "wasn't right". (Mostly not. Even after big film roles in major studio movies, even after television leads, no auditions with my "type" to go audition for. It's entrenched in the system.
Yes, I have heard all about Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, billions of times. My pat answer is: They came in through the "singer door". No way would they have passed through the doors of Hollywood without that.
And as for other ethnicities and races? I sat and watched as the supporting cast player-trends went by, over time: The "black female friend", the "Latina female friend", the "Asian female friend". They never put down the Jewish female friend in any major, or minor, casting notices.
Funny, because great acting is being authentic and telling the truth. That is, if you are male and a thespian. In movies, that's the great dichotomy. For women it only takes being non-Jewish, pretty, and sometimes being able to fake that you find the male director or producer attractive. (That was the first piece of advice I got, when I moved from NY where I was acting, to LA where I never built on the strong foundation I had made across the country---Go into the producer's meeting or the director's meeting and --->Flirt.) This is the town where people "play" each other, and make pretend it isn't obvious as the sunshine.I would walk into a room full of darkish short guys and they would look at me, and I would look back at them, and it would end there.

They don't want real here, even if the acting suffers. As long as it's shiksa pretty. Or a close to it kind of blend.
They don't even want a powerful talent. Of any kind of race or ethnicity. If it's in a female form.
(I am not referring to myself-- Just look at our female talents--they must have a certain level of beauty with or without the chops. And don't say Meryl Streep She is ONE in number.)Additionally, I remember time-after-time watching women like Melanie Griffith, Shirley Maclaine, ETC grasp an opportunity to show "range" by Oy Vey-ing their way across the screen, playing the only script-defined Jewesses.
Last word:SCHINDLER'S LIST DID NOT HAVE A JEWISH ACTRESS. Nope. NOT A LEAD JEWISH ACTRESS PLAYING CONCENTRATION-CAMP-JEWESS.


I did major movies only when the directors were from another country, or if I could play "Italian".

S Toren wrote: "Shouldn't some one add "Mork and Mindy" to the list?"

If I recall correctly, Mindy (Pam Dawber) is Jewish.

Please don't forget the flip side of this: when Jewish women are portrayed - especially on TV - they're big-haired, man-hunting, pushy or neurotic, always with a whiny NY accent, an overbearing mother and 10 pounds of jewelry. That's a long list including Janice on Friends, The Nanny, Will's Grace, the most annoying of Seinfeld's dates and both Rhoda and Brenda Morgenstern. The same executives who take such care to avoid portraying African-Americans by stereotypes don't think twice when it comes to us. While there have been some nuanced characters - Melanie Mayron on 30something and even Susie Essman on Curb - most are just cookie-cutter foils there to be the butt of jokes. Hollywood has defined Jewish women to the rest of the country and, thanks to it, people who'd never utter the N-word have called me a JAP, thinking it's hilarious. How humiliating. I've spent my life working on the corporate side of entertainment and throughout, I've been so offended by this endless characterization and angry at those Jews on the creative end - particularly other women - who've chosen to perpetuate it.

I think the problem is with the entertainment vehicles themselves.
Blonde shiksas (and their shiksa-looking fellow actors) can get away with portraying lightweights, flakes, people who are not serious.

Maybe it is a testament to Jewish women that their men and the casting directors who won't hire them are actually saying, 'we don't want someone we are forced to respect because that is not the way the part is written.'

Sure, Jewish women (in real life) are some of the funniest, most original, cleverest, sexiest, smartest and most endearing women on the planet....but these qualities demand they be taken seriously because they are so good at it.

Hollywood's casting directors can't get past their own biases to admit that Jewish women can do 'froth', too. And that is what the industry demands.

Speaking with many men who admire and want to marry Jewish women, they all say the same thing, they want someone who they think will approach life with seriousness and enthusiasm and and do not feel unequal to their mate, (Hey, that's what they say. I'm not making this up.)

If the characters weren't so superficial in movies, this probably would not be a problem for both males and females.

I think what Dana Kaminski is saying is ridiculous. If you (Dana) couldn't get roles because you weren't good looking enough, well, that's life. It's a looks-based industry, especially for women. But to connect that to your Jewishness is absurd. I doubt there are any ugly WASP actresses out there who blame their looks or their failure in acting on the fact that they're WASPs (or are you saying that no failed WASP actresses exist?).

It sounds to me like you were getting into acting in the 1980s. Well, there were certainly Jewish women getting big roles back then. Debra Winger - 100% Jewish - was one of the biggest stars of the decade. She played many a Midwestern Christian, including in Terms of Endearment, where she was the daughter of your fav, Shirley MacLaine. Other Jewish actresses of the time - Jami Gertz, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jill Clayburgh, Lee Grant, Jennifer Rubin, Carol Kane, Marlee Matlin (who won the Best Actress Oscar), Bonnie Franklin, Piper Laurie, Helen Slater, Lori Singer (and I'm not even getting into the "half-Jewish" ones here, these are all 100% Jewish). Most of them didn't play Jewish characters (Singer as the minister's daughter in Footloose, or Slater as Supergirl), so I don't see why non-Jewish actors like MacLaine can't play Jews. And if what you say is true, then how do you explain the success of all the above-mentioned Jewish women?

And it's genuinely offensive when people bring up Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand as the prototype of "Jewish actresses". There are plenty of Jewish actresses out there who are actually attractive and can stand up to their non-Jewish compatriots in that department, starting with the ones I mentioned and onwards. Midler and Streisand, on the other hand, are just walking stereotypes who should never have been famous. The fact that they ''were'' disproves this whole silly argument pretty much off the bat (and Streisand didn't become really famous as a singer until after she hit it out of the park with acting, in Funny Girl).

As to Lynnie's point, I agree with you. Explicitly Jewish characters, both male and female, are usually portrayed in stereotype.

But there were some non-stereotypical Jewish female characters in film this year, I'm happy to say, so maybe things are changing. There was Odette Yustman in The Unborn, Kristen Stewart in Adventureland (although she is portrayed as the just slightly "less attractive" one of the hero's "two choices"), Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds, and Rose Byrne in Adam.

I'd like to respond to the commenter, " Dave ", who I find interesting because he is one of the most outspoken commenters, repeat commenters, argumentative and disproving commenters, and yet doesn't even put a last name on his stance.

I hear your response to mine, sifting through the lack of respect or even evidence that I provided; but that being said, I appreciate your points and they are enlightening.

What you didn't understand, which I may not have written clearly or carefully enough is that this was something that I did live through with some decent credits and some very respectable people that I was working with, in the industry. No one made this up.

I would love to have a discussion with you, it's a topic that I really haven't approached for years. I appreciate your passion and near-fillibustering. I think you do have some very good and enlightening points, and I'd like to learn from them. Let's have a chat discussion online or so. Just for the intellectual debate, if not for the healing process and the heated topic--that's kind of cool.

You don't have to give your last name, you can even remain anonymous. I do like your spirit about it, and your drive. And it seems you are so invested in there NOT being any bias or prejudice existant, and that interests me also.
But, you won't need to reveal what that's about, at all. Unless you want to.
I do want to hear your thoughts and what you have to say, in more depth. I think you've got some good solid evidence to back up your points. Okay?
Dave?

I'm sure there is some bias - but I can not read the mind of Hollywood executives nor make any generalizations about them (or anybody else). Nor did I say your story wasn't true.

The way I'm looking at this is in the larger picture, or the bottom line. The "charge" layed out here seems to be "Jewish women are under-represented in Hollywood". The only way to disprove or prove this statement would be to present a list of Jewish actresses, and then decide if that's an under-representation or not (Obviously, anyone born to two Jewish parents counts as "Jewish" for this purpose, not a "variable" or "from England, therefore exotic"; you can count half-Jewish women as you wish - maybe count half of them). That list's exactly what's been done, and it seems no one here has actually stated "Wow! There are a lot" or "That's not bad, but it's not enough". The only replies here have been personal anecdotes, ruthless and meaningless stereotypes, and analysis of Woody Allen movies by people who have been watching way too many of them. For my part, and considering Jewish women are only 2% of the U.S. female population, I'd say they're remarkably well-represented, and there seems to be more of them with every decade. Since I'm Jewish, I consider this a good thing, and I'm happy about it. I don't like it when people reduce "Jewish actresses" to the dreaded Barbra or Bette, especially since pretty much every other Jewish actress is infinitely better looking than those two. I hope they fade from memory soon. I also do not like when these same writers, with their uses of "Shiksa goddess", basically position all non-Jewish women (or men) as tall, blonde, and good-looking, while their Jewish counterparts are portrayed as short, dark and unattractive. Gee, isn't that what Hitler said? And since when do we agree with him, at least when the subject of Jews is concerned? (BTW, I went to an almost entirely-WASP high school, and I don't think there was a single male who was all three of tall, blonde, and good-looking; no doubt that there were a handful of blonde female beauties, though they were hardly a majority).

As for your acting credits. I took a look at your IMDB credits list. I'm sure there are about 100,000 American actresses with a filmography that looks more or less like that one. How many of those are Jewish? I have no idea, but I doubt it much exceeds that 2% number. I also doubt anyone can truly give an answer to that. It's not as easy to find out, for obvious reasons, as it is to see which of the major actresses are Jewish.

And that brings me to my last point. The problem with nearly everyone writing about Jewish actresses (and actors) in Hollywood is that they seem to have no actual knowledge as to which actors are Jewish and which are not, which means they are simply not qualified to write about it. I can't imagine that anyone would disagree with me if I said that having such a knowledge should be a pre-requisite to doing all this social analysis and commentary. After all, if I were to write a piece about the mating habits of the Lar Gibbon monkeys of Burma, I would be expected to have researched exactly when, where, and why those monkeys do it. Most writers on Jews in film, however, don't seem to have gotten past Dustin Hoffman and that dreaded Babs in their research.

And as for my last name, I didn't think it relevant. This is a message board, where one is expected to enjoy in the annonimity of the internet.

BTW, I looked up that Alan King pilot - I have to assume you were talking about The Alan King Show (1986). Well, one of King's daughters was played by Sarah Jessica Parker (her father was Jewish, mother not, and people often describe Parker crudely as "looking Jewish", a term I do not like - but her presence here contradicts what you said). The other daughter was played by Lisa Rieffel - while I don't know her ethnic origin, her surname sounds like it could be Jewish, and she's from New Jersey.

Another actress listed on the pilot's main cast on the IMDB is Robin Menken - again, I don't know her origins, but "Menken" is pretty much exclusively a Jewish name. (Another cast member is Catherine Keener, now a well known actress, and who is of half Lebanese descent - certainly "ethnic" in that sense).

 
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