Tag Archives: Hollywood

Jew of the Week: Herman Wouk

America’s Tolstoy

Herman Wouk

Herman Chaim Aviezer Zelig Wouk (1915-2019) was born in New York to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. He studied at Columbia University and was the editor of its humour magazine. He also took courses at Yeshiva University. After graduating, Wouk worked as a radio actor, and when World War II began, wrote radio commercials in support of the war effort. Wouk enlisted in the army himself after Pearl Harbour, and served in the Navy in the Pacific. He fought in eight battles, won a bunch of medals, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. It was during this time that he wrote his first novel. He sent a copy to an old professor, who passed it on to a publisher, who sent Wouk a contract to his base near Okinawa. The book was published in 1947, shortly after Wouk returned from military service. It was an instant hit. Wouk’s second novel didn’t do so well, but his third, 1951’s The Caine Mutiny, sold a whopping three million copies, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was adapted to a Broadway play, followed by a Hollywood film. A few years later and after another bestseller (also made into a Hollywood film), Wouk was on the cover of TIME magazine. Throughout this time, he maintained strict observance of the Torah and was deeply religious. This was inspired by his grandfather, who taught Wouk the Torah and Talmud in his youth. Wouk would later state that his grandfather and the Navy were the two biggest influences in his life. In 1959, he wrote his first book of non-fiction, This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life. The book was credited with opening up Judaism to the American mainstream, enlightening the world about Jews, and helping to counter anti-Semitic myths. It also showed Jews that it was possible to be modern, American, and Orthodox. His third non-fiction book was about the interplay between religion and science. He also wrote a two-volume, 2000-page war drama likened to War and Peace. Altogether, Wouk wrote 21 books and plays, many of which were adapted into films or TV shows. His last was a memoir published when he was 100 years old. Wouk won countless awards and honourary degrees, and was described by the Library of Congress as an “American Tolstoy”. Stephen King wrote an award-winning short story called Herman Wouk is Still Alive. Wouk is considered by many to be the most successful Orthodox Jewish author to date. Sadly, Wouk passed away two weeks ago, just days shy of his 104th birthday, and in the middle of writing his newest book.

The Kabbalah of Exile and Terrorism

Words of the Week

That idea, that life is here purely for personal pleasure, that is a goal in life for a herd of swine.
– Albert Einstein

Jews of the Week: Sydney Pollack and Bruce Geller

Mission: Impossible

Bruce Geller

Baruch Bruce Geller (1930-1978) was born in New York City. Although he studied psychology at Yale University, he was far more interested in theatre, and ended up working as a screenwriter. Finding little success in New York, he moved to Hollywood and worked on a number of television shows. In 1965, Geller had an idea for a new secret agent thriller TV show, and created Mission: Impossible. The show ran from 1966 to 1973, with Geller as producer, writer, and director. The hit series went on to win 8 Emmy Awards, including two for Geller as producer and as writer. The show was resurrected in 1988 for another couple of seasons. (Its extremely popular theme song was written by former Jew of the Week Lalo Schifrin.)

Sydney Pollack

In the early 1990s, Sydney Irwin Pollack (1934-2008) began working on a film adaptation of Mission: Impossible. Starring Tom Cruise, the movie became a huge hit, and spawned five sequels, become one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time, and earning over $2.7 billion, so far. (The latest installment of the film series, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, opens tomorrow.) Pollack was born in Indiana to Russian-Jewish immigrants. After finishing high school, he moved to New York City and studied acting. Pollack served two years in the armed forces, then returned to theatre as a stage assistant. He moved to Hollywood in 1960 to coach child actors, and slowly shifted from acting to directing. Pollack first worked on television shows, then made the jump to feature films, and was hugely successful right from the start. His films went on to earn 48 nominations and 11 wins at the Oscars. Pollack eventually went back to acting, and appeared in numerous films and TV shows. He died of cancer in 2008. Both Pollack and Geller were avid pilots, and enjoyed flying their Cessnas. Sadly, Geller’s life was cut short when his plane crashed in 1978.

Tu b’Av Begins Tonight – Chag Sameach!

Why Tu b’Av Is More Important than Yom Kippur

Words of the Week

I’ve lived through Israel’s entire 70-year history and I believe it is one of the most remarkable countries in the world.
– Warren Buffett

Steven Hill in the lead role of the 1966 pilot episode of Mission: Impossible, and Tom Cruise in the lead role of the 1996 film, together with the film’s most famous (and oft-spoofed) scene.