By Nate Bloom
Zach Braff Responds to Me and Cousin Mitt Romney
On Feb. 9, a longer version of the following column item (written by me) appeared in The American Israelite. Actor ZACH BRAFF, as I will explain below, read this longer version. If you missed my Feb. 9 column—here’s the essence of the item:
Actor ZACH BRAFF (“Scrubs,” “Garden State”), 36, who is Jewish, and former Governor Mitt Romney, 63, a devout Mormon, seem worlds apart. Nonetheless, Braff and Romney really are (very distant) blood cousins and they are both direct descendants of Rebecca Nurse (1621-1692), a devout Puritan Protestant woman who was falsely accused of practicing witchcraft at the infamous Salem, Mass. witchcraft trials. She was hanged. Nurse is a central character in the famous play, “The Crucible,” by ARTHUR MILLER.
My friend Michael found interviews with Braff and his brother, novelist JOSHUA BRAFF, 42, in which they both said that their mother, who was born into an old New England Protestant family, converted to Judaism before marrying their Jewish father. On a hunch, Michael looked far back in Braff’s mother’s family tree and Romney’s family tree and found Rebecca Nurse in both. (End)
Postscript: The longer version of this column item that was in the Israelite also appeared in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, a paper based in Teaneck. Braff is from a town next door to Teaneck, and apparently some hometown friend sent Braff the actual newspaper page with the above column item about him. On Feb. 29, he posted a scan of the page on the new social network site “Reditt” under the following title: “So I guess I am related to Mitt Romney through a witch. Family Reunions just got a little crazier”…Later he added, “Mitt Romney and I have nothing in common.” And then he joked, “Incidentally… buying a broom later today.”
About 1,200 people commented on Braff’s posting. When you combine witchcraft, politics and weird family histories—you can interest almost everyone.
The 14th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” starts on Monday, Mar. 19 at 8 p.m. MELISSA GILBERT, 47, of “Little House” fame, is the sole Jewish (w/an asterisk) contestant. Gilbert’s adoptive mother, BARBARA, is Jewish and Gilbert grew up celebrating Jewish holidays and wed one of her two (non-Jewish) ex-husbands in a Jewish ceremony. On the other hand, she calls herself “Jew—ISH” in her recent autobiography because she had no religious training; her family also celebrated Christmas; and she discovered, as an adult, that her mother never had her formally converted to Judaism.
Actress SARA GILBERT, 37, is Melissa’s legal half-sister. Barbara is Sara’s birth mother. Sara is the daughter of Barbara’s second marriage and Sara’s original last name is Abeles. When she started acting, Sara opted to use Melissa’s last name. Confusing? No doubt. But not as weird as the fact that Melissa’s adoptive father, actor Paul Gilbert, who died in 1975, age 56, was married 13 times!
Also dancing is William Levy, a “beefcake” actor who was born in Cuba and stars in Spanish language soap operas. Levy’s paternal grandfather is his sole Jewish grandparent. Levy was raised without religion, but formally converted to Catholicism in 2009.
Mazel Tov and Back
to the ‘80s
Actress ELIZABETH BERKLEY, 39, and her husband, artist GREG LAUREN, 42, made public on March 5 that they are expecting their first child. Berkley wed Lauren in a huge Jewish wedding in 2003. Greg’s uncle, RALPH LAUREN, 72, designed her wedding dress. Greg’s father, JERRY, is Ralph’s brother and business partner.
Berkley first became known as a co-star of the high school hit sit-com, “Saved by the Bell” (1989-93). Then Berkley, who is quite beautiful, made a huge career mistake by playing a stripper in “Showgirls” (1995). Both she and the graphic movie got such bad notices that her career seemed almost dead. But it slowly revived as she did TV guest shots, acted in good indie films, and even did good work off-Broadway. (And let’s be frank: when you’re married to Jerry Lauren’s son, you don’t have to worry about getting steady acting jobs to pay the bills.)
Speaking of ‘80s TV: “21 Jump Street,” which began in 1987, was one of the then-new Fox network’s first hits. The premise was that young-looking undercover cops went to high schools, etc. and stopped crime. This is also the premise of a film of the same name that opens on Friday, March, 16, co-starring JONAH HILL, 28, and Channing Tatum as undercover cops who try to stop a violent high school drug gang. Hill co-wrote the script and the flick is described as a comedy/drama.