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LA Jewish Money

“The argument that all Jews have a heartfelt investment in the state of Israel is untrue. Some have a heartfelt investment in corned beef sandwiches.” — Judith Butler.

The Mendocino Film Festival took place these past two weekends and the little town was jumping with out-of-towners, some in the movie business, some wanting to be in the movie business, and some who enjoy watching movies on screens larger than postcards and wall calendars. Endemic rural funk collided with visiting urban slick, and being highly susceptible to ambivalent ambience, I avoided the commercial sector of town for most of the days the film festival was underway.

Didn’t I want to see the movies? Not really. The good documentaries are already, or soon will be, available to watch in the peaceful atmosphere of home, the fictional shorts shown at the festival are usually several years old and I’ve already seen the good ones, and listening to filmmakers pontificate about their creative processes makes my stomach gurgle, so no.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy the film festival coming to town. I was involved in the movie business for several years in my salad days, and the vibe in the town when the film festival is underway brings back loads of good and bad memories from those tragi-comic years. For instance, on Saturday, in search of a good chicken to bake, I entered the Mendocino Market, a most excellent deli and sandwich shop across the street from the post office, and was greeted by an ambience I am deeply familiar with: LA Jewish Money.

I am Jewish, genetically speaking, and throughout my childhood I spent part of each summer with my Jewish grandparents, my mother’s parents, in Los Angeles. My grandparents were in the real estate business and many of their friends were in the real estate business and show business, those two enterprises conjoined since the birth of the film industry in Los Angeles in the early 1900’s.

The author's Grandmother Goody with Red Skelton and William Bendix.
The author's Grandmother Goody with Red Skelton and William Bendix.

LA Jewish Money was the primary fuel of the American movie industry in the twentieth century, both in Los Angeles and New York. Indeed, LA (and New York) Jewish money has been the primary fuel for all of show business, with much of that money coming from the fantastic profits accrued from buying and selling and developing real estate in the greater Los Angeles area (and Manhattan and Miami.)

Thus long before I became professionally entangled with Hollywood, I had listened to and partaken of hundreds of conversations in which Jewish men and women discussed life and business with a vocabulary and style and energy that evolved over decades of first and second and third generation American Jews settling in Los Angeles to partake of the land and movie gold rush that made Los Angeles into the vast city state it is today. Jewish money financed most of the movie studios, record companies, Broadway plays, television networks, television shows, and magazine and book publishers in America from 1900 until today—Facebook and Google the inventions of smart Jewish boys.

“A story to me means a plot where there is some surprise. Because that is how life is—full of surprises.” — Isaac Bashevis Singer

Which is to say, when I walked into the Mendocino Market and found myself in the midst of a dozen gregarious young Jewish men and women, the men overweight and excited and funny, the women stylish and clever and droll, the air rich with frying pastrami accompanying those Los Angeles movie peeps buying bushels of cookies and wine and beer and chips and potato salad and pickled herring to go with their sandwiches, everyone talking loud and fast and sarcastically, I not only understood everything they were saying to each other, I recognized these young Jewish movie people as the great grandchildren, figuratively speaking, of the cohorts of my Jewish grandparents.

“Jews have a tendency to become comedians.” — Sacha Baron Cohen

So if Jewish movie people are so smart and funny, why are American movies today so uniformly stupid and unfunny and downright bad? I think the answer lies in the word business. Artists tend to have little or no interest in business. And most good artists who become big successes have a businessperson taking care of business for them. If you are of my generation, you will remember when Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro were major goddesses in the record business, but you may not know it was David Geffen who managed their careers and gave them the wherewithal to succeed. Business. LA Jewish Money.

Ergo: a good movie is a work of art, but the people in charge of financing and producing movies are concerned with profitability, not art. Thus a good movie is both a work of art and a miracle to emerge intact from the meat grinder of the ultra-commercial uncreative imitative movie business. This, I think, is the greatest irony about the movie industry and American culture in general. Smart people, very smart people, are responsible for the flood of dreck and mediocrity that is our culture today. Or maybe it isn’t so much ironic as tragic and pathetic and annoying.

“Jews don’t care about ancient rivalries. We worry about humidity in Miami.” — Evan Sayet

When Dick Donner, born Richard Schwartzberg, was directing the movie of my novel Inside Moves, he kindly allowed me to hang out on the set in Echo Park in Los Angeles for a week during the shooting. While I was there they filmed several scenes lifted unchanged from my novel, and one of those scenes was an emotional tour de force performed by the gifted actors Amy Wright and David Morse.

At scene’s end, the spellbound crew and cast members and show biz visitors to the set burst into applause and the air was filled with shouts of Bravo, to which Donner responded by slowly shaking his head and saying, “Not if we want to get a distributor.”

Because the name of the game is show business, not show art.

(Todd Walton’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com)

4 Comments

  1. LouisBedrock June 8, 2015

    “I am Jewish, genetically speaking…”

    Is Judaism genetic? Is it an ethnicity or merely a religion?
    When we say someone looks Jewish, do we mean she looks “Mediterranean”? I’ve been mistaken for Italian, Greek, Palestinian, and Moroccan—when I was in Morocco.

    Are the “Conversos” Jewish? Cisneros, the Nazis, and Eugenicists would say they are. If the Conversos are Jewish, are all Christians with Jewish ancestors Jewish?

    When I’m asked my religion, I respond reductive materialist or secular humanist. I don’t like “atheist” which means without a god. How can one be without something that doesn’t exist. As you do in the article, I will concede under pressure that my parents were Jewish. I’m not ashamed of them—they were good people. However, I reject their religion.

    I enjoyed the piece and apologize for obsessing with one sentence. I guess we kind of share the same perplexity before the question, “Are you Jewish?” My response is usually, “No.” I will qualify it under pressure.

  2. BB Grace June 8, 2015

    Is being human Jewish?

    Ashkenazi, Farci, Sophardic, Kaifeng, Cherokee, Beta Israel, to name a few genetic (DNA) Jews, who practice many rabbinical paths from ultra orthodoxs, orthodoxes, conservatives, reforms, reconstructions, messianics and cults which embrace particulars of spirituality, for example the study of chakras, and Jewish rituals that become mainstream fads which the practicioners have no idea they are embracing a Jewish ritual, for example vegan/vegetarianism, types of gardening, types of bathing, types of dressing, types of grooming, for what is Jewish is being born or, like Ruth, converting and accepting God/ Adonai/HeShem who gave humans this world and how to make it work explained in Torah/Tannach/RamBam/Hayom Yom, etc. that span the ages. Hebrew is the only ancient language that continues to thrive (spoken by all I mentioned above in that they were able to communicate in their native tongues). Is it because each letter has a Yod (the hand of God)?

    I reject the term self hating Jew, rather I prefer the term “Flavian”, as in Josephus Flavius https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Josephus.html

    While the world from the perspective of the West lives under Roman Rule in the name of a Gregorian Calendar, observant Jews continue to follow the ha’luach ha’ivri which continues to be a better almanac (explaining today’s drought, global warming, and more, like how to thrive).

    Truth seekers eventually embrace Judaism for they find undiusputed truth, least we forget how many great people, inspiring people, in every culture a Jewish connection, and why Jews are blamed and loathed by those who never learned how to reason beyond what they feel is truth, or work to mislead others against what is Jewish for their own benefit.

    The article about L. A. Money doesn’t begin to touch on the breadth of Jewish Money. Since the Shaw of Iran was overthrown 1973, Farci Jews flocked to Los Angeles building Persian palaces, becomming THE dotors, engineers, bankers, as they are the only Jews to come to America with money and furthermore can help explain Obama’s administration deals with Iran today, for the Persian Jews want the right to return home (least we forget the US has a long history of rejecting Jews from US shores, as explained well in Solzhenitsyn’s, “Gulag Archipelago”: Jews seeking refuge in America letters were returned unopened to Stalin, who them eliminated the senders). Also Ayn Rand (born Jewish) confirms Solzhenitsyn, and her philosophy, Objectivism, is an important study for those who embrace atheism.

    Finally the question, “Are you Jewish?” deserves another question, “Why do you ask?”

    • LouisBedrock June 8, 2015

      “There is no known “Jewish gene,” and the same comments I have made about the evidence concerning genes for “high intelligence” and “creativity” apply to the existence of those properties in alternative genetic forms.”

      Richard C. Lewontin

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/06/is-there-a-jewish-gene/

      The idea of a Jewish gene or Jewish DNA is the primarily the brainchild of two Zionist geneticist charlatans, Harry Ostrer and Raphael Falk, whose real agenda seems to be to provide Zionism and Israel with a biological justification.

      “Self-hating Jew” serves as an ad hominem attack on people like Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky or anyone else with Jewish parents who effectively refutes the apartheid illogic of the Jewish state.

      “Truth seekers” do indeed embrace Judaism. They also embrace Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, and Scientology among other moronic dead end mythologies for those who seek simple answers to complex questions. I prefer the ever evolving truths provided by the scientific method: they may be imperfect and short-lived, but they’re the best we have. They are certainly better than the “truths” of Abrahamic religions which are the products of illiterate savages who knew nothing of atoms, molecules, genes, DNA, or microbes and who imagined a world of demons, fairies, bogeymen, and gods.

      You want to throw Stalin and Ayn Rand in my face? Well how about Pacelli, Cisneros, Hitler (a Catholic), Ariel Sharon, Henry Kissinger, Baruch Goldstein, and half the Muslim population? No ethnic group has a monopoly on psychopaths, but a majority of them—from Project Rescue to the IDF, from ISIS to the American military, have strong religious motivation.

      Screw them all.
      And screw you, BB.

      • BB Grace June 8, 2015

        My sincere apologies LB, as I was not intending to provoke or insult your experience or perspective.

        Your post inspired me to reflect on my own experiences and perspectives, however, as I see that I have offended you, I accept your grievance against me, and leave you to your peace.

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