Catching up with Members of the Tribe in the public eye. Names of Jews in the news are in boldface.
A KISS for Israel
Rocker Gene Simmons, 61, of the band KISS recently went back to his native Israel, along with his partner of many years, actress Shannon Tweed, and their son Nick. They are touring various sites as they film episodes of their cable TV reality show “Gene Simmons Family Jewels.” Simmons was born Chaim Witz to an Auschwitz survivor mother. His father couldn’t hold a job, so his mother moved to New York with Gene when he was 10 years old. This is the first time Simmons has returned to Israel.
I like the fact that Simmons has been an eloquent and ardent defender of Israel on talk shows and that the Israel episodes of “Family Jewels” will give the country good publicity. On the other hand, he’s shown a real nasty streak when dealing with the press, and it’s curious that his first visits to Israel in 51 years is for his reality show. His PR machine has sent out details of his trip to virtually every Jewish media outlet in America.
“Arthur,” starring Russell Brand, opens today (April 8). It’s the first feature film directed by Jason Winer, 36, one of the principal directors of “Modern Family.” It is a re-make of the hit 1981 comedy starring Dudley Moore. The original was directed and written by Steve Gordon, who grew up mostly in Ottawa Hills, a suburb of Toledo. “Arthur” earned Gordon an Oscar nomination, but it was his only feature. He died of a sudden heart attack at age 44 in 1982.
The comedy “Your Highness” also opens today. Two of its stars – James Franco, 32, and Natalie Portman, 29 – are well-known MOTs. But did you know the movie’s third star, Danny McBride, 34, is also Jewish? Like Franco, McBride (“Eastbound and Down”) is the son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father.
Michael Zegen, 31, best known for playing young firefighter Damien Keefe on the cable series “Rescue Me,” has been cast as gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” He will appear during the show’s second season, starting in September. The real Siegel lived from 1906-47.