Springstein? No, Springsteen.
Bruce Springsteen / Charlie Chaplin / Alan Alda / Milton Hershey / Ringo Starr / Rupert Murdoch / Ethel Merman / Mike Myers / “Weird Al” Yankovic / Joy Behar
Can you hear us, the many rock fans who assume that he’s Jewish? That’s Springsteen—“stepping stone” in old Dutch—not Springstein. Adding to confusion is Springsteen’s famous nickname, “The Boss,” which he earned in 1960s New Jersey because he was often in charge of distributing payment from gigs to his bandmates.
The Nazis included this international superstar of the silent film era in their 1930s propaganda compendium, Juden Sehen Dich An (The Jews Are Watching You). Plus Chaplin’s 1940 film, The Great Dictator, indicted fascism and underscored Jewish suffering at a time when the United States was still neutral in World War II. Despite his famous role as a Jewish barber, Chaplin wasn’t Jewish. But he was proud of his heritage in another persecuted group: the Roma, or Gypsies.
His name sounds Jewy, he played a brilliant surgeon, he’s an ardent feminist and liberal, and he’s married to a Jew. No wonder people mistake him for one of the tribe. But the actor who starred as Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on the long-running television series M*A*S*H was raised Catholic. His father, the actor Robert Alda, known for his role as George Gershwin in Rhapsody in Blue, was born Alfonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D’Abruzzo.
Why wouldn’t a self-made man with a name like Milton be Jewish? The founder of the chocolate empire who transformed Hershey, Pennsylvania, into the definitive company town and created America’s love affair with milk chocolate was originally included in the 2002 documentary Great Jewish Achievers. But as a Mennonite, Hershey didn’t make the final cut.
Is it the Liverpool accent? Birth name Richard Starkey? Jewish manager Brian Epstein? When the four mop tops arrived in Montreal on the morning of September 8, 1964, they learned from the local press that anti-Semites had made death threats against Ringo. “Some people decided to make an example of me as an English Jew,” recounted the drummer in The Beatles Anthology. The show went on with extra security, including a plainclothes cop hiding behind a drum riser. It was “one of the few times I was really worried,” said Starr. “The one major fault is,” he added, “I’m not Jewish.”
It’s true, not all media moguls are Jewish! Credited and blamed for swaying elections from Canberra to London to Washington, DC, Murdoch gave Americans the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel and gobbled up the social-networking site MySpace. “Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have assumed I am Jewish. At the same time, some of my closest friends wish I were. So let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell me I practically invented the word ‘chutzpah,’” the non-Jewish Murdoch recently told the American Jewish Committee. We rest our case.
Born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann in New York, New York, and still not Jewish! In 1930, the 22-year-old brunette of German Lutheran stock became an overnight sensation belting out “I Got Rhythm” in George and Ira Gershwin’s musical Girl Crazy. She never got stage fright, was quick with a quip— “ H o lly w o o d shoots too many movies and not enough blondes”—loved costume jewelry and lied shamelessly about her age. She’s got rhythm, she also had chutzpah, who could ask for anything more?
As Linda Richman, host of Saturday Night Live’s “Coffee Talk” Myers wore his make-up as thick as his stereotypical New York Jewish accent. He worshipped Barbra Streisand and got all verklempt when discussing her. And as the voice of Shrek (Yiddish for “scared”), the Canadian-born, Protestant-raised Myers made a new generation of children love a kinder, gentler version of the ultimate outsider. Then again, he also played Austin Powers—and Dr. Evil.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
He sounds like a Jew and looks like one, too. The eccentric, church-going musical parodist of Serbian ancestry got his big break with My Bologna, a rendering of The Knacks’ (yes, they’re Jewish) 1979 hit My Sharona. And then there are the Jewish musical references, like those in Pretty Fly for A Rabbi, which includes the lyrics: “So how’s by you? So how’s by you? Have you seen this Jew? Reads the Torah, does his own accounting, too.” And all together now: “How ya doin’, Bernie? Oy vey, oy vey! And all the goyim say I’m pretty fly (for a rabbi).” Oy vey, indeed.
She has shared the TV couch with Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and Roseanne Barr, so no wonder people think the woman born Josephina Victoria Occhiuto is Jewish. The fiery liberal comedian and co-host of The View is all New York and all Jewish humor all the time. One of her jokes goes: “A couple of years ago, I got a call: ‘Happy Hanukkah.’ And I said, ‘Ma, I’m not Jewish!”’ She came by her Sephardic surname by marrying into the clan (and then divorcing out of it).