Tag Archives: Oscars

Jew of the Week: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Jerome Silberman (1933-2016) was born in Milwaukee, the son of Russian-Jewish parents. When he was eight years old, his mother fell ill and the doctor told him to try to make her laugh. This is when his passion for acting began. At 13, he started taking professional acting lessons, and his mother soon sent him to a school in Hollywood. As the only Jewish kid, he was often bullied and abused, and had to leave the school shortly after. Back in Milwaukee, he performed in his first official play (Romeo & Juliet) at 15. Silberman went on study theatre at the University of Iowa, where he became a lifelong member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi. After college, he went to acting school in England. There, he also studied fencing and became a fencing champion. Upon returning to the US, Silberman was drafted to the army and served as a medic. After this, he went back to acting school (in New York) and supported himself by working as a limo driver and fencing instructor. After three more years of study, he started getting professional acting jobs. During this time, he adopted the stage name Gene Wilder. It wasn’t long before Wilder appeared in a number of hit Broadway plays. In 1967, he got a leading role in The Producers. The movie became a comedy classic, and Wilder was nominated for an Oscar. After some more successes, Wilder was cast as Willy Wonka in the adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps his most famous role. Wilder went on to star in many more popular films, including multiple collaborations with fellow comedy legends Richard Pryor and Mel Brooks. All together, he appeared in 23 films, 9 television shows, and 5 Broadway plays. He inspired a generation of comedians, actors, and pastry chefs. Wilder also wrote 6 books. Sadly, the beloved actor passed away earlier this week. His film Blazing Saddles – which some consider the funniest movie of all time – will be playing in many theaters this weekend as a tribute.

Words of the Week

Most tragedy is misunderstood comedy. God is a great humorist working with a rather glum audience.
– Garrison Keillor

Jew of the Week: Louis B. Mayer

The Man Who Defined Hollywood

Louis B. Mayer (Photo Credit: LA Times)

Louis B. Mayer (Photo Credit: LA Times)

Louis Burt Mayer (1884-1957) was born Lazar Meir in Minsk, Belarus, to a Jewish family that immigrated to the US when he was just three years old. Unable to find prosperity in the States, the family moved to Canada and settled in New Brunswick, where Mayer grew up. At age 12, he dropped out of school to help in his father’s scrap metal business. Meanwhile, he spent most of his free time at the local theatre and opera house. At 19, Mayer set out on his own, moving to Boston and starting his own scrap metal business. After several years of struggling to make a living, he purchased an old, forgotten auditorium and turned it into a modern movie theatre. Business boomed, and several years later, Mayer partnered up with another company to form the biggest chain of theatres in the region. He soon started a film distribution agency and a talent booking agency, too. In 1918, Mayer made his way to Hollywood, founding his own film production studio. In 1924, he joined forces with Metro Pictures and Goldwyn Pictures to create Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, aka. MGM, which went on to become the most successful film production studio in history. Mayer himself became America’s highest-paid man, with a salary of over $1 million (which also made him the first person in American history to officially earn a 7-figure income). Under his direction, MGM made some of the greatest films of all time, including Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. In 1927, Mayer co-founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which inaugurated the Academy Awards, better known as “the Oscars”, two years later. Mayer is also credited with giving rise to the modern “movie star”, and personally handpicked and developed some of the greatest actors of his day, many of which saw him as a father figure. After World War II, MGM’s business slumped, and by 1951, Mayer resigned from the company. He continued to work in film until his passing from leukemia in 1957. Mayer was also a noted philanthropist, devoted much of his time to the Jewish Home for the Aged, and to LA’s Wilshire Temple. Variety magazine considered him “the greatest single force in the development of the motion picture industry” while his biographer would go on to write: “Mayer defined MGM, just as MGM defined Hollywood, and Hollywood defined America.”

Words of the Week

There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.
– George Orwell

The Famous MGM Logo