Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Jews in the World of Art & Entertainment

Jew of the Week: Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Lee Hoffman (b. 1937) was born in Los Angeles to a family with Ukrainian-, Polish-, and Romanian-Jewish ancestry. His father was a set decorator who worked for Columbia Pictures, which likely influenced Hoffman to dream of becoming an actor. His family didn’t share this dream, and Hoffman went to college with plans to become a doctor. He dropped out after one year and joined the Pasadena Playhouse. There, he met fellow actor Gene Hackman, and the two soon moved to New York and shared an apartment (together with Robert Duvall). Hoffman had small roles in film and television over the next decade. His first lead role was in 1967’s The Graduate (the famous “Mrs. Robinson” movie), which was wildly popular and earned him an Oscar nomination. The film was hailed as a breakthrough, with Hoffman said to represent “a new breed of actor” – more human, more complex, and not the perfectly-looking stud that Hollywood employed in those days. It was said that “Hoffman’s character made conventional good looks no longer necessary on screen.” Despite the success, Hoffman turned down film in favour of the stage, starring on Broadway where he won an award for outstanding performance. It wasn’t long before Hoffman returned to film, in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy, and incredibly, was nominated for an Oscar once again. (The Library of Congress later included this iconic film in its registry for preservation.) All in all, Hoffman appeared in 6 plays, 16 TV shows, and some 60 films. He was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars seven times, winning twice (for Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man); and won 6 Golden Globes as well. In recent years, he has reconnected with his Jewish roots, taken on more Torah observance, made sure that his children and grandchildren have bar and bat mitzvahs, and aims to learn Hebrew. Hoffman was recently hailed as one of the greatest performers of all time, and “one of the most versatile and iconoclastic actors of this or any other generation”. Last week he celebrated his 80th birthday.

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Words of the Week

People ask me today: “What are you?” I say: “I’m a Jew.”
– Dustin Hoffman

Jew of the Week: June Foray

June Lucille Forer (1917-2017) was born in Massachusetts to a Ukrainian-Jewish father and a mother with Lithuanian-Jewish and French-Canadian ancestry. From a young age, she dreamed of being an actress. At 12, she was cast to voice a character in a radio drama. By 15, she had become a regular radio voice actress, and two years later moved to Los Angeles. She soon had her very own radio show, and was known across America as “June Foray”. A decade later, she started working in film, and went on to voice countless beloved characters, including Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella, Witch Hazel in Looney Tunes, as well as Granny (owner of Tweety and Sylvester), Grandmother Fa in Mulan, Aunt May in Spider-Man, and Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Perhaps most famously, she was Rocky the Flying Squirrel (of Rocky and Bullwinkle), and voiced characters in Peter Pan, Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, George of the Jungle, The Smurfs, and The Twilight Zone. Foray also appeared as a guest on The Simpsons, Family Guy, and many other shows. All in all, Foray worked on 19 radio programs, nearly 100 TV shows, and over 100 films. She also appeared in 9 video games, voiced many talking toys, recorded several children’s music albums, and wrote two books. Foray won an Emmy Award for her work, and played a key role in establishing the Annie Awards (for achievement in animation) and creating the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in the Oscars. In fact, she was an Academy board member for 26 years, as well as governor of the Academy for a time. She founded the International Animated Film Society (which later named an award in her honour), and taught voice acting at the University of Southern California. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was featured in a 2013 documentary about her life called The One and Only June Foray. Foray worked well into her 90s, once saying, “My body is old, but I think the same as I did when I was 20 years old.” Sadly, Foray passed away last week, just shy of her 100th birthday. She has been called the “actress of a thousand voices” and “the First Lady of Voice Acting”. Click here to see a compilation of her voices.

Words of the Week

You cannot add more minutes to the day, but you can utilize each one to the fullest.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe