JUF's Jewish Celebrities

Avi Arad

Avi Arad

Do you like superhero movies? So does Avi, except he gets to make them! This Israeli-born producer helps bring all the marvelous Marvel movies to the screen. He used to run the Marvel Comics movie division, but now he has his own production company.

Just some of the movies Avi produced: the Spider-Man movies, the X-Men movies (including prequels about Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X), the Fantastic Four movies, the Blade movies, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, and Electra. Plus Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and the movie that brought them all together: The Avengers. Whoa!

Coming up, look for Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, Silver Surfer, and Ant-Man. You might have to squint to see Ant-Man, but don't try to find him with a magnifying glass! Ouch!

Another upcoming movie (possibly inspired by the huge success of the Transformers movies) is based not on a superhero, but a much newer toy robot called RoboSapien. They look like robot astronauts to us! Earlier, Avi also produced another toy-based movie, Bratz, with Anneliese van der Pol and Nathalia Ramos, not to mention Lainie Kazan. Expect more toy-based movies, folks-- we're waiting for Zhu Zhu vs. Webkins!

Avi, like we said, was born in Israel, in a town called Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. He came to the US to go to college. After graduating, he worked for part of the Nabisco company.

Then, he started his own company to create TV shows, many of which spun off toys. He jumped into films, helping Marvel Comics beat bankruptcy by starting to make movies of their superheroes.

Then, Avi became an American citizen ... on the Fourth of July!

Even though he is moving into other kinds of movies now, Avi still loves those superheroes, and even wears a Spider-Man ring!

To learn about some more great Israeli action-movie producers, check out the Bonus section of Natalie Portman's page ... and read about the Golan/Globus company!


Even though the great superhero characters were all created by Jewish writers and artists as far back as the 1930s, none of them have ever been played by Jewish actors in the live-action version, either in movies or on TV. Think about it— with all the guys who have played Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Spiderman, Wolverine, Daredevil, The Fantastic 4, The Hulk, etc. down through the decades-- and all the great Jewish actors on our list ... the closest we ever got was Helen Slater (who we talk about here) as Supergirl and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl!

Well, superfans, we got even closer. Because Iron Man is played by an Oscar-nominated: Robert Downey, Jr., whose granddad is Jewish and who is very proud of his Jewish heritage.

Iron Man, see, is this superhuman iron who fights evil wrinkles in clothes and rides an Ironing-Board-Mobile and ... what? Oh! He's got a super-suit MADE of iron! You know, that's probably a better idea for a movie. Maybe he fights the evil Tin Man. Anyway ...

You may have heard a thing or two about Robert, or Bob as his friends call him, in the news. Although the trouble he kept getting into did not, amazingly, affect his career all that much, it did mean the end of his relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker (don't worry; she's happily married to Matthew Broderick now). Well, Bob is in a much better place these days; he's getting some great parts and is in a new relationship that he credits with helping him get his head on straight (he married a nice Jewish movie producer named Susan Levin in a Jewish ceremony in 2005). Asked what the difference was this time, he told Parade magazine: "What changed is that I cared!"

Robert is also in the new version of The Incredible Hulk, as his Iron Man alter-ego Tony Stark. And he's in Tropic Thunder, with fellow Jewish actors Ben Stiller and Jack Black, as actors in a war movie who end up involved in an actual war: "Wait, the script doesn't call for live grenades!"

And he's in Charlie Bartlett, with Anton Yelchin, Kat Dennings, and Jake Epstein, about a high schooler who acts like a therapist to his classmates. And he's in the crime thriller Zodiac with Jake Gyllenhaal. And he was in Good Night and Good Luck, with Alex Borstein, about the glory days of TV reporting. And… well, you get the picture-- Bob is one busy guy. He might actually need the Iron Man suit to do all of this!

Robert has been in a number of romancea and romantic comedies, too, like Only You, Baby It's You, Chances Are, and Soapdish. He's also been in some great just-plain-comedies like Bowfinger, Weird Science ... and Back to School with the legendary Jewish comic Rodney Dangerfield (see this Bonus). But we also like the gritty legal drama True Believer. His first starring role was in The Pick Up Artist, back in 1987.

His most Jewish role so far has got to be Albert Einstein in the not-much-seen film That's Adequate. But his Oscar nomination came for playing another historic figure, this time one of the great cinema innovators: Charlie Chaplin.

On TV, he spent a year as a cast member of SNL. And he was he boss of a quirky lawyer named Ally McBeal.

In that show, he got to sing. He performed a number of songs, including Every Breath You Take with Sting ... who later sang that at his wedding! Robert's songs showed up on the Ally McBeal album, and he went on to record a whole solo CD called The Futurist. Speaking of music, he has known Moby since they were kids. And on SNL, Robert specialized in impersonating singers, including George Michael, John Mellencamp, Jewish singer-songwriter Paul Simon (see this Bonus), and even Elvis!

Being nominated for an Oscar and starring in a blockbuster action film is a long way from where Robert started. He dropped out of high school in California and moved to New York. Like many would-be actors, he worked in a restaurant and a shoe store. But he also worked at parties ... not as an Iron Man but as a man of stone. That's right, his job was posing as a sculpture! Not for us, thanks; we'd rather clean up than go for hours without being able to move enough to scratch an itch!

Where there's a "Junior," there's a "Senior," and Robert Downey Sr. was a director (his most famous movie was a parody of advertising called Putney Swope) who put little Bob in a movie when he was only five. He played a puppy! As Robert Jr. told a reporter: "You know my father is Jewish. His name was Elias and he changed it to Downey. I have it tattooed on my ankle!"

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