Tag Archives: Chicago

Jew of the Week: Genndy Tartakovsky

Hotel Transylvania and Dexter’s Lab

Genndy Tartakovsky (Credit: Sony Animation)

Gennady “Genndy” Borisovich Tartakovsky (b. 1970) was born in Moscow. His family escaped the Soviet Union to Italy when he was still a child, and were soon forced to move again after experiencing tremendous anti-Semitism. They ended up in Chicago, where Tartakovsky grew up, enjoying his new-found comic books, American cartoons, Japanese anime, and comedy shows. Tartakovsky had a difficult youth. He was made fun of for being an immigrant, and always felt like an outsider. His father passed away when he was a teenager, and the family barely scraped by living in subsidized housing. Although he wanted to be a businessman and get his family out of the gutter, Tartakovsky was placed in an animation class and decided this was his life’s work. He would go on to study at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. After finishing his studies, Tartakovsky got a job in Spain working on a Batman cartoon. His big break came when he was hired by Hanna-Barbera and given the chance to come up with a show. Tartakovsky brushed off an old student project, Dexter’s Laboratory,which ended up on television and became hugely popular. It won three Annie Awards and was nominated for four Emmys. It would later be ranked among the 100 best cartoons and credited with launching ” a new generation of animated series that played on two levels, simultaneously fun for both kids and adults.” Tartakovsky then co-produced The Powerpuff Girls, followed by the hit Samurai Jack, which won him an Emmy and was also ranked among the 100 best cartoons. Tartakovsky’s shows boosted the Cartoon Network’s viewership from 12 million to 72 million. In 2005, Tartakovsky was hired by George Lucas to direct Star Wars: Clone Wars. The show won three Emmy Awards. In 2012, Tartakovsky made his film debut with Hotel Transylvania (originally created by Todd Durham), which was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes. Hotel Transylvania spawned two sequels, earning the trilogy nearly a billion dollars at the box office. Tartakovsky has worked on many other films and shows, including The Flintstones and Iron Man 2, and even wrote and illustrated for Marvel Comics. The key to a good comedy cartoon, he says, is writing with parents in mind and remembering that kids are really smart, too.

Words of the Week

I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct… I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people – more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.
– George Lucas

Jew of the Week: Shelley Berman

Sheldon Leonard Berman (1925-2017) was born in Chicago. After serving in the navy during the Second World War, he went to study drama and theatre. Berman soon moved to New York in search of his big break, and in the mean time made a living as a taxi driver, dance instructor, speech therapist, and drug store worker. Failing to find success, Berman returned to Chicago and joined the Compass Players actors group. This group would transform into The Second City, an improv troupe that became one of the most influential in the world, eventually spawning Saturday Night Live, and many other hit shows and comedy clubs. In 1957, Berman started doing stand-up comedy and was soon signed to a record deal. His first three albums all went gold, and Berman won the first-ever Grammy for a comedy recording. With this, Berman launched an industry, making comedy albums popular and paving the way for countless future comedians. Berman starred on Broadway, and appeared on multiple TV shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Twilight Zone, and MacGyver; as well as Friends, The King of Queens, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Grey’s Anatomy later in his career. Berman also appeared in 11 films, wrote three books, two plays, and numerous poems and TV scripts. For twenty years, he taught humour writing at the University of Southern California. Berman was famous for his clean, innocent jokes; for making the annoyances of everyday life hilarious. Great comedians like Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and Jerry Seinfeld followed in his footsteps, and credited him with both being an inspiration, and “changing modern stand-up”. Sadly, Berman passed away last month from complications related to Alzheimer’s. Berman left behind a daughter, and a wife to whom he was happily married for an incredible seventy years. This was the achievement he was most proud of, and said: “The love we have and the way it has grown, that’s what I’d like to be remembered for.”

Words of the Week

Humour uplifts the mind from a state of constricted consciousness to a state of expanded consciousness.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

Jew of the Week: Abe Saperstein

Abraham Michael Saperstein (1902-1966) was born in London and grew up in Chicago, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants. From a young age, Saperstein was fascinated with sport, and played on his high school’s baseball, basketball, football, and boxing teams. Forced to drop out of university to support his struggling family, Saperstein never lost his dream of an athletic career, despite being just 5’3″ tall, and being a Jew in a time of rampant anti-Semitism. While working as a playground supervisor, Saperstein was given an opportunity to play for a semi-pro basketball team. He did well, and soon became the team’s coach, manager, and booking agent. In 1926, Saperstein founded his own basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters.”Harlem” was not for its geographical location – it was based in Chicago – but because it was an all-black team. At the time, most sports leagues were for whites only, with separate leagues for black people. Basketball in particular was considered a “white sport”, with black players banned from the NBA. Saperstein and his original five players made just $8 (split evenly between them) in their first game. Throughout the difficult years of the Great Depression, Saperstein was the team’s coach, manager, driver, publicist, and even substitute player! The team was once described as “Four clean-limbed young colored men and a squat bandy-legged chap of Jewish extraction”. To make ends meet, the team had to play just about every night. Since most hotels did not allow black guests, Saperstein often snuck his players into his own room. The team quickly built a reputation for “ball-handling wizardry” and showmanship. In 1948, the Globetrotters played against the all-white NBA champions, the Minneapolis Lakers. To everyone’s shock, the Globetrotters won. A year later, they won a rematch. This proved once and for all that black players were just as good (if not better) than white players. The following year, the first black player (a former Globetrotter) was signed to an NBA team, finally breaking basketball’s colour barrier. That same year, the Globetrotters played in Madison Square Garden, the first time a basketball game sold out at MSG. Saperstein then established two more basketball teams in the US, as well as an international one. He also founded and owned several baseball teams. His ultimate wish was to own an NBA team, but he was thwarted time and again. Instead, he started his own competing league, the American Basketball League (ABL). To make it more exciting, Saperstein added a new line to the court and invented the three-point shot. The ABL did not last long, but the NBA soon adopted the three-point shot into its own league, forever changing the game. Saperstein was both a visionary and a tireless labourer. He took just one day off a year – Yom Kippur – and died of a heart attack while at work. Saperstein has been credited with revolutionizing basketball, making sports more entertaining, and most importantly, playing a key role in ending athletic racial segregation. One former player said the Globetrotters had “done more for the perception of black people, and the perception of America, than almost anything you could think of.” The Globetrotters still put on 450 shows a year, and have played over 26,000 exhibition games, in over 120 countries, making them one of the most popular and well-known basketball teams of all time.

Words of the Week

He that waits upon Fortune, is never sure of a dinner.
– Benjamin Franklin

The 1950 Harlem Globetrotters team, with Saperstein at right