Buyer and Cellar – The Streisand Companion Book

0670022136The one man play, Buyer and Cellar is being performed in NYC at least through AUgust 2014, and is now on the road with its original actor, Michael Urie.

The hilarious play tells the story of an underemployed actor in Los Angeles. Having been let go from his retail associate job, she applies (or auditions) for a position as a retail mall clerk. The only twist is that he is the only employee in the mall; there is only one customer at the mall; and the location is the basement of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu-area estate. Like the Smithsonian, Streisand has built a mall-like creation in her basement where she stores her collections. Urie is amazing, and throught the show, I naturally thought he was all the chatacters, including Streisand.

Interested in the book that is mentioned in the play? It is MY PASSION FOR DESIGN By Barbra Stresand (2010). In it, Barbra Streisand reveals the taste and style that have inspired her beautiful homes and collections. It focuses on the architecture and construction of her newest homes, the dream refuge that she has longed for since the days when she shared a small Brooklyn apartment with her mother, brother, and grandparents. The book contains many of her own photographs of the rooms she has decorated, the furniture and art she has collected, and the ravishing gardens she has planted on her land on the California coast.


Auditory Hallucinations on RadioLab

ImageOn National Public Radio today RadioLab featured a repeated story on auditory hallucinations including an interview with the late Leo Rangell, PhD.

The takeaway is that after surgery, the 94 year old professor and clinical psychologist heard musical hallucinations.  They began with Hebrew cantorial chants, and continued on to popular music for about two decades.  As a Psychologist, Dr, Rangell felt that his mond was communicating something to him subconsciously through the song selection.  I tend to agree with him, since when I start humming a tune, I also try to examine why my mind has selected that song.

A book on his experiences is called MUSIC IN THE HEAD: LIVING AT THE BRAIN-MIND BORDER

Leah Vincent: Memoir and Memory and Condensed Memories

leahvincentHow do we approach memoirs when some accuse it of not being accurate. I think all we can do it accept it as the author has packaged it, read it, and then make our own conclusions. Some readers saw the author, Leah, on Katie Couric and say her comments on the show contradict the words in her book, and are being said to promote sales. Others take issue with the promotional blurbs that say she was cut off from her family. If she was cut off, then why did her mother pay her rent and find her a job in NYC? If she was cutoff, why do her parents refer to their 11 children and not just ten?

These are tangential to the story, I think. Primarily, we have the memoir of a woman who as a teen found her ultra Orthodox life confining, and ended up making poor decisions, based on her education and desires, that led to sexual abuse, prostitution, illness, Harvard grad school, and mental illnesses.

Cut Me Loose
Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood
by Leah Vincent
January 2014
Nan Talese

In the vein of Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted, a memoir about a young woman’s promiscuous and self-destructive spiral after leaving her Yeshivash ultra-Orthodox Jewish family.

You can read it as memoir or semi fiction. Events have been compressed or changed to make it a better read. The fifth of 11 children, she says she was cut off from her family, but yet it also appears her other sent her funds and help, etc. etc. There are two sides to the stories, and of course, we are only reading one side, but nevertheless, it is an interesting, lurid, sex filled, triumphant memoir, but if you are planning to comdemn her family, you better read between the lines carefully.

Leah Vincent was born into the Yeshivish community in Western Pennsylvania. As the daughter of an influential rabbi, Leah and her ten siblings were raised to worship two things: God and the men who ruled their world. But the tradition-bound future Leah envisioned for herself was cut short when, at sixteen, she was caught exchanging letters with a male friend, a violation of religious law that forbids contact between members of the opposite sex. He was cute and the brother of her friend, and she had romantic and sexual desires that a 16 year old woman could not suppress

Leah’s parents were unforgiving. Afraid, in part, that her behavior would affect the marriage prospects of their other children, they put her on a plane and cut off ties. (note: the book’s description says they cut off ties, but the book itself says her mother got her a job, a room, sent her extra money. She wanted to be independent, so now she was independent. Also, her older sisters were sent to NYC too, so it is not as if this was unusual)

In New York City, Leah writes that she was unprepared to navigate the freedoms of secular life. She spent the next few years using her sexuality. One bf was a Jamaican drug dealer. Another liked too much porn, so she broke up with him. She gets a painful STD and is hospitalized. She also is hospitalized for a mental health issue. Fast-paced and mesmerizing, she gets a GRE, a college degree at Brooklyn College, and is admitted to Harvard, Cut Me Loose tells the story of one woman’s harrowing struggle to define herself as an individual. Through Leah’s recollections, we see what she found to be an oppressive adolescence and a world of religious fundamentalism, but also the broader issues that face even the most secular young women as they grapple with their sexuality, use of sexual intercourse for acceptance, and identity.

Harold Ramis: From Hebrew School Presidency to Comedy Genius

harold-ramis1Harold Ramis, the actor, writer, director – Chicago born – passed away today at the age of 69. The Washington U (St Louis) grad who helped to found Second City, mentor a generation of comedians, and give us Ghostbusters, Animal House, National Lampoon radio skits, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Stripes, Vacation, Club Paradise, episodes of The Office, Back to School, and more, was also the president of his Hebrew School as a teen. After working in a Saint Louis mental hospital for seven months after college (he said it was good training for life and working with actors and people in Hollywood), he returned to Chicago and worked as a substitute teacher and part time joke writer (Playboy Magazine’s Party Jokes column)

Did Hebrew School affect his writing? Maybe that is where he got idea to focus on the person who drops out of life after their bar mitzvah, the non mainstream rebel who leaves not becuase they can;t make it but because they sensed hypocrisy or it was something that wan not worth doing. Therefore you have the rebels in Stripes, the frat boys in NL’s Animal House, Chevy Chase in Caddyshack. Plus there was always the outsider-Jewish character in many films, especially all those that starred Rodney Dangerfield.


Conversation with Today’s Top Comedy Writers

By Mike Sacks

June 2014


If you can’t make it as a comedy writer… just write books about comics

What makes people laugh? How do you know if a joke will “click” with the audience? And how do you get a job as a comedy writer, anyway? In Poking a Dead Frog, top humor writers like Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Talladega Nights), Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation), and Glen Charles (Cheers, Taxi)—many of whom have never before been interviewed at this length, or at all—offer insight into their influences and creative processes, their self-doubt and breakthroughs, and how they managed to succeed in the mysterious, unpredictable business of comedy. Packed with behind-the-scenes stories, from a typical day in the writers’ room at the Onion to why a sketch does or doesn’t make it onto Saturday Night Live, Poking a Dead Frog is a must-read for comedy buffs, writers, and pop culture junkies

Click the book cover or title to read more or to purchase the book

Jewish Con Men, Nice Arabs Score Oscar Noms

I am voting for Nebraska (which was mostly filmed in Montana).

omar3Films depicting noble Arabs in the Middle East and Jews acting as con artists in America scored high among the Oscar nominations that were made public on Thursday morning, January 16, 2014 in Hollywood.

An Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film was received by OMAR, a film from Palestine directed and written by Hany Abu-Assad. The film will be released in the United States in February 2014, and tells the story of Omar, a young Palestinian baker who decides to fight Israel. He is beaten and interrogated by Israelis, and pushed into serving as an agent, or double agent. The love story stars Waleed Zuaiter, Adam Bakri, Leem Lubani, Samer Bisharat, and Eyad Hourani. Abu-Assad’s earlier film, “Paradise Now,” was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. OMAR was filmed in Nazareth, Israel, and in Nablus and other parts of the Palestinian Territories. The Palestinian and Emirati production was the opening film of last year’s Dubai International Film Festival (the DIFF); it received the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last May.

The film, OMAR, is similar in story to the Israeli Oscar candidate, BETHLEHEM, which never made it to the Oscars’ short list of semi-finalists. It is a reminder that films titled for people do better than those named for a town.

A nomination for Best Documentary Feature was received by THE SQUARE, by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer. It follows half a dozen participants in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for nearly three years. Noujaim’s earlier acclaimed documentaries include and The Control Room. Noujaim, a resident of Cairo, began filming the demonstration in Tahrir Square and followed several charismatic protestors including a British actor/activist, a Muslim, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and more. Her team shot over 1,600 hours of Digital Video and edited it down to 90 minutes. After showing the gripping, bloody film at Sundance last January, she shot more video and re-edited the doc after President Morsi was forced out of office in 2013. Watching THE SQUARE, you get a on-the-street view of the protests, organization, lack-of-organization, and the story of how the most well-meaning, debate-filled activists can easily lose the war to a more organized group, like the Army or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Of course, my favorite part of THE SQUARE was the woman – a picture of Che on her bookcase in the background – who said she was so fed up with Egypt that she would even let a JEW be President if he could restore order. My only question is why did Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose own son was ordered to beat him and other protestors, always wear the same anti-Israel BDS movement t-shirt each day (when he wasn’t wearing a Morsi t-shirt).

The Square features Khalid Abdalla, Ahmed Hassan, Aida Kashef, Magdy Ashour, Ragia Omran, Ramy Essam, Aida El Kashef, and of course Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi

Major nominations for actors, actresses and films went to films that portrayed Jewish men as con artists. They included WOLF OF WALL STREET and AMERICAN HUSTLE.

In AMERICAN HUSTLE, a New York City small-time con man, Irving Rosenfeld, meets a lovely hustler named Miss Sydney Prosser and their scams are targets of FBI agent Richie DiMaso. They are forced into an even larger scam. Irving is based on the real life scams of Melvin ‘Mel’ Weinberg.

In WOLF OF WALL STREET, a broker decides to start a penny-stock scam/boiler room and generate millions of dollars in profits for him and his brokers. The story is based on the real life crimes of Jordan Belfort, a Jewish young man from Bayside, Queens who graduated from American University with a degree in biology, and generated millions of dollars before being sent to prison. His partner in the firm, Stratton Oakmont, was Danny Porush (played by Joanh Hill in the film), who served 39 months in prison.

The Oscars will be telecast in America on ABC-TV on Sunday, March 2, 2014.

Gates Criticizes Obama in New Memoir

DUTYRobert M. Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, who served Presidents Bush and Obama writes in a new memoir that President Obama was frustrated over his Afghan policy — expressing doubts about Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander he had chosen, and questioning whether he could do business with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. “As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his… For him, it’s all about getting out.”

In Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, Mr. Gates offers a detailed history of his personal wars with the U.S. Congress, the Pentagon bureaucracy and President Obama’s White House staff.

Shortly before he stepped down as secretary of defense, Gates harshly criticized PM Netanyahu’s Israeli government and called Israel an ungrateful ally of the United States. Should make for an interesting read.

Jewish Books from The Miami Book Fair International

Thirty years ago, a Book Fair was launched in Miami with three major authors and several hundred attendees. Thirty years later, the Miami Book Fair International – hosting 500 authors and 250,000 attendees – is vying with “Art Basel-Miami” as the defining annual high culture feature of Miami and Dade County, Florida.

Book fair chairman, Mitchell Kaplan, launched this year’s festival by introducing author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code; Inferno) at a seafood restaurant. Kaplan, a past president of the American Booksellers Association, is a co-founder of the festival, and owns the Books & Books chain of Miami (and the Hamptons) bookstores. The opening was given a royal flair with the presence of Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. They were present to celebrate the fair’s Spanish books and readings and mark the 500th anniversary of the Spanish colonization of Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon.

Among the authors present and books featured were the top books of 2013. The included:

arishavitAri Shavit. Author of “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” which was named a top book by The Economist and The New York Times Book Review. Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, draws on interviews, historical documents, private diaries, and letters, vignettes of yishuv figures, as well as his own family’s story, to tell the story of Zionism and Israel, and call – a scream – for a change in Israel’s narrative. Shavit introduces the reader to Shavit’s great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, a British Zionist leader who in 1897 visited Palestine on a Thomas Cook tour, reported back to Herzl, decided to stay, and later, bought land from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s to grow the Jaffa oranges that would create Palestine’s booming economy. He mentioned his great grandfather so much in his talk at the Miami Book Fair that I got the feeling that he had a “chip on his shoulder,” and was trying to distance himself from any other Israeli who came to the land in the various waves of aliyah or who did not purchase their land legally. He primarily asks what Israel is and what its future should and shall be. His stories set up the foundations for what became the current state and structures of Israel. he writes that Israel’s main problem is that it lost our narrative: “We were a story that became a reality, but we lost our sense of meaning. We need to love Israel in a new, authentic way.” Shavit will visit a number of American college campuses in 2014. He realizes that many young Jews “who see Israel as an embarrassment and he wants to make Israel attractive and sexy again, and to connect it with the heart of the Jewish experience. Essentially, he wants to renew Zionism. Should be interesting conversations.

A video of his talk at the Miami Book Fair International can be found HERE. Shavit appeared on stage with Scoot Anderson, the author of Lawrence IN Arabia: The Making of the Modern Middle East. Anderson tells the real story of T.E. Lawrence who toiled to unite the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks, which he said was a sideshow to the sideshow, and ignored by Britain, which was much more busy with WWI. Among the stars of his book is Curt Prüfer, an effeminate academic who worked for Germany in Cairo and tried to get the Arabs to revolt against Britain, and Aaron Aaronsohn, the renowned Jewish agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria and ran a complex Jewish spy ring that the British ultimately ignored, since they hated the Palestinian Jews, and Jews in general.

doubledMark Halperin and John Heilemann authors of “Double Down: Game Change 2012” read from their book on the 2012 U.S. presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is filled with gossip and jokes and big words that make the authors look wise. They expose the successes, gaffes, arguments, blunders, and background machinations on the campaign trail. You find out that the Romney’s actually liked that Ann Romney was said not to have ever worked; if Joe Biden was seriously considered being dropped from the ticket, and why New Jersey governor Chris Christie could never be Romney’s running mate (too many skeletons in his closet).

A video of his talk at the Miami Book Fair International can be found HERE.

I was excited by the book reading by civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). Part of the excitement came from bumping into him looking for umbrellas for sale as the rain poured down in Miami, and sitting next to him in a small coffee bar as we waited for the book reading to begin. What can i say, I am a sucker for political celebrities. Lewis was promoting his graphic memoir March – Book 1 which he wrote with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. March – Book 1, tells the story of Lewis growing up on his father’s farm, preaching to chickens and his younger cousins (the chickens never said AMEN), his letter to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., his college years, and his involvement with King and the civil rights movement. It was Rosa Parks’ lawyer who introduced the teenage Lewis to King and Ralph Abernathy. It was actually a MLK, Jr comic book that influenced the start the lunch counter sit-ins movement in Greensboro. Lewis, who met with President John F. Kennedy in 1963 after the March on Washington (Lewis is the last surviving member of the March’s main speakers), told the book fair attendees that he has been arrested forty times. Lewis told his readers to stand up, and get into trouble; good trouble and necessary (non violent) trouble.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) also was at the book fair and spoke to her constituents and readers about the book she co-authored, For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation’s Problems, in which she talks about her experiences in politics, and challenges the American people to address issues that face future generations. Her talk can be found HERE.

Chris Matthews, a pundit, media personality, author, and political speechwriter read from his book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Seriously, I thought he was a little inebriated during his hilarious reading. But I sense this is just his speaking style. More enjoyable than the book were his answers to audience questions, during which he told one fan to watch another television show if they weren’t happy enough with his. The reading can be seen HERE.

Actress Anjelica Huston presented her memoir at the fair. It is titled A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York. It is the story of her youth and education and early acting career before she moved to Hollywood in 1973. She was raised on an Irish estate and was introduced to dozens of authors and actors. At age 17, precocious, vulnerable, and model thin, she was devastated when her mother died in a car crash. Months later Anjelica (who dreamed of being Morticia Adams) moved to Manhattan, fell in love with a much older, disturbed photographer named Bob Richardson, and became a model. They lived in the famed Chelsea Hotel. Her decision to write the memoir came when she was shooting a film in Prague, and felt bored. Acting, she said opens you to criticism, boredom, disappointment, and a lot of waiting. She began to trade e-mails with producer Mitch Glazer (the son of famed Miami writing coach, Zelda Glazer), and he began to coax her to to her memoirs (which she did, by hand… and in pencil.)

heartcheneyA late addition to the festivities was former Vice president Dick Cheney in a book discussion with his co-author and cardiologist, Dr. Jon Reiner, or George Washington University Medical Center. Their book is titled, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey. The book tells the history of modern cardiovascular medicine using Cheney’s life as the sample subject. He had his first heart attack in 1978 as a young adult, had several more heart atacks and bypass surgeries, lived with a pacemaker, and an artificial heart pump, and recently recovered from a heart transplant. In 1978, the White House was stock full of free cigarettes and Wite House matchbooks; there were no drugs to open arteries or stents. These are now standard tools. As a young teen, Cheney witnessed his grandfather die of a heart attack in their house. Did this affect his political outlook? Who knows. Their book is a fascinating account of a man who changes his lifestyle in order to live.

paulausterPaul Auster’s reading was a multimedia event, combining a slide show with a reading from his memoir, Report From The Interior. The book charts Auster’s moral, political, and intellectual journey as he inches his way toward adulthood through the postwar 1950s and into the turbulent 1960s. My favorite segment? He was distant from his father until he learned that his father had worked for Thomas Edison. For years, Auster felt second-hand esteem from that fact, until as a teen, he learned that his father had only worked for Edison for a few days. Edison learned that Paul’s father was Jewish and had him fired immediately. Auster evokes the sounds and smells of his early life in New Jersey.

Thane Rosenbaum read from Payback: The Case for Revenge. A legal scholar, novelist and professor, he is an outspoken critic of Holocaust literature. Revenge, he argues, is not the problem. It is a healthy emotion. Instead, the problem is the inadequacy of lawful outlets through which to express it. He mounts a case for legal systems to punish the guilty commensurate with their crimes as part of a societal moral duty to satisfy the needs of victims to feel avenged.

Just down the hall from Rosenbaum at Miami-Dade College, cultural critic Roger Rosenblatt read from his memoir, The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood. When he was nine years old, living on Gramercy Park in Manhattan, he imagined himself a private detective in search of criminals. With the dreamlike mystery of the city before him, he sets off alone, out into the streets of Manhattan, thrilling to a life of unsolved cases. A grown man now, he investigates his own life and the life of the city as he walks, exploring the New York of the 1950s. Rosenbaum was followed by Greg bellow, the son of author Saul bellow, and his book, Saul Bellow’s heart: A Son’s Memoir it is an affectionate and honest look inside the life of one of America’s greatest writers, his father the Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow, Greg Bellow offers a if a man known to be quick to anger, prone to argument, politically conservative, and vulnerable to literary critics.

Other authors of note at the fair included Dani Shapiro (Still Writing); Gary J. Bass (The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide); Peter Baker (Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney); Joshua Safran (Free Spirit: Growing Up On The Road and Off The Grid); Leslie Maitland (Crossing the Borders of Time); Rich Cohen; Samuel G. Freedman; Rabbi Solomon Schiff; Richard Breitman (FDR and The Jews); James Goodman (But Where is the Lamb? Imagining The Story of Abraham and Isaac); David Kaufman (Jewhooing The Sixties); and Dror Burstein (Netanya).