Tag Archives: Jewish Hollywood

Jew of the Week: Michael Bay

Hollywood Blockbuster

Michael Benjamin Bay (b. 1965) was born in Los Angeles and adopted by Jewish parents. A big lover of dogs, he donated his bar mitzvah gifts to an animal shelter. As a child, he once rigged a toy train with fireworks and recorded the explosion with an old camera. Although it caused a fire and got him grounded, Bay knew he was destined to make big blockbuster movies. At 15, he got a menial job filing storyboards for George Lucas on his production of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He went on to major in film studies and English, and did graduate work at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design. Two weeks after graduating, he got a job to film commercials. His first breakthrough was a popular ad for Coca-Cola, followed by an ad for the Red Cross in 1992. His 1993 “Got Milk?” ad won an award for Commercial of the Year. Meanwhile, Bay directed a number of hit music videos. This caught the attention of Hollywood producer (and former Jew of the Week) Jerry Bruckheimer, who hired him to direct Bad Boys. This was Bay’s first feature film and was a massive success, making $141 million in the summer of 1995 alone (against a budget of just $19 million). The movie thrust both Bay and Will Smith to international fame. His next film, The Rock, was another huge hit, as was the following Armageddon with Bruce Willis, the highest-grossing movie of 1998 and nominated for four Oscars. Bay also got four Oscar nominations for Pearl Harbor. In 2007, Bay teamed up with Steven Spielberg to make Transformers, another huge blockbuster that launched an entire film franchise. In 2018, he directed 6 Underground, then Netflix Studio’s largest-ever production. Bay has recently ventured into augmented and virtual reality games and films. While some have criticized his movies for being too childish, outlandish, and explosive, others have praised his artistry, ambition, and vision. Altogether, his films have raked in over $7 billion, putting him in the top-5 highest grossing directors of all time.

The Intersection of Science and Mysticism

Words of the Week

We must no longer isolate ourselves from the great scientific movement that stirs souls in so many ways; [Judaism] can remain orthodox only by becoming scientific.
Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh (1823-1900)

Jew of the Week: William Fox & Joseph Schenck

William Fox

Wilhelm Fried (1875-1952) was born in Hungary to German-Jewish parents that soon immigrated to the U.S. Growing up in New York City, Fried worked in various odd jobs in the fur and garment industry, and even as a newspaper boy. In 1904, having renamed himself William Fox, he purchased a “Nickelodeon” – the earliest kind of movie theatre (often just a converted store front) that showed short films for five cents (hence the term nickelodeon). In 1915 he founded Fox Film Corporation, which originally focused more on building theatres and studios than producing movies. In 1929, Fox attempted to buy out a major share in fellow company MGM. However, a scandal ensued and Fox’s opponents convinced the Justice Department to investigate him for violating anti-trust laws. At the same time, Fox was severely injured in a horrific car accident. Immediately after this, the stock market crashed (sparking the Great Depression). The combination of these three events drove Fox into total bankruptcy, and by 1930 he lost all control of his company. During his bankruptcy hearing several years later, Fox attempted to bribe the judge, and was thus sent to six months in prison. He never returned to the film industry, and died quietly with no Hollywood producers at his funeral.

Joseph Schenck

Fox Film would be taken over by Joseph Michael Schenck (1878-1961), a fellow Jew, born in Russia. Like Fox, Schenck’s family immigrated to New York City. While working at the concession stand of Fort George Amusement Park, Schenck saw the potential of film, and saved up money, together with his brother, to buy Palisades Amusement Park in 1909. Soon after, the brothers parted and Joseph headed to Hollywood for a fresh start. He rose to become president of United Artists (a company co-founded by Charlie Chaplin). He later founded his own company – 20th Century Pictures – in 1933, together with Darryl Zanuck. Two years later, they took over Fox Film to create ’20th Century Fox’. This giant production company is behind such classics as Star Wars, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, the Simpsons, Family Guy, the X-Files and countless other hits

Words of the Week

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.
Pirkei Avot 2:4