Woody Allen

Woody Allen

What can we say about Woody that hasn't been said? Even more than Steven Spielberg and Mel Brooks, he may be the most Jewish of major American directors. He puts out a movie a year-- In 2011, Midnight in Paris stars Oscar winner Adrien Brody. His 2010 movie is titled after a message you might get from a psychic or a fortune cookie: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Before that came Whatever Works, with stars Evan Rachel Wood and Larry David. Among Woody's other recent releases are Vicky Christina BarcelonaMatch Point and Scoop, all with Scarlett Johansen, which proves he still has an eye for new talent.

Almost all of his films have some Jewish character or theme. He works with some of the most important actors alive, and they take pay cuts just to act for him! So we'll do two things, here. We will talk about the movies you might like and the Jewish actors in them. (Remember, he wrote AND directed all of these movies AND starred in most of them!) Then we will tell you some Woody trivia.

Let's start with his most Jewish movies. Radio Days-- one of our Movies of the Month!-- is about growing up in New York, it has Julie Kavner (later the voice of Marge Simpson!), Seth Green, Larry David, and Wallace Shawn. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, there is a rabbi and also Jerry Orbach (later the voice of the candlestick in Beauty and the Beast!). And Broadway Danny Rose is about the life of a made-up small-time talent promoter, "remembered" by real-life famous Jewish comics, like Milton Berle.

While these movies are about radio and vaudeville, Woody's other showbiz-themed work includes Bullets Over Broadway (Rob Reiner and Harvey Fierstein) and The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which a movie character leaves the screen!

Woody's earliest movies were just-plain-silly and made fun of other movie types, like Mel Brooks' work. These include the true-crime tickler Take the Money and Run (1969), the political parody Bananas, the sci-fi spoof Sleeper… and his first, the gangster goof-off What's Up, Tiger Lily? which was really another movie that Woody just put new words in!

Some of Woody's recent movies, like The Curse of the Jade Scorpion with Helen Hunt and  Wallace Shawn, Small Time Crooks with Jon Lovitz, and the musical Everyone Says I Love You-- in which he makes Goldie Hawn, Natalie Portman, and Natasha Lyonne sing-- recall this earlier zaniness.

But while he had many romantic onscreen moments with both Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton, the true love of Woody's life is the city of New York. Manhattan is all about that, really. Manhattan Murder Mystery, featuring Zach Braff, is yet another crazy misadventure about two meddlers who try to solve what may not even be a crime.

Still, aside from Manhattan, Woody's greatest two movies have to be the ones about relationships, and Jews in relationship. Family, in Hannah and Her Sisters (Julie Kavner, Carrie Fisher, and Jewish comic Lewis Black)… and love, in the Best Picture Oscar-winner Annie Hall, which features Carole Kane and songwriter Paul Simon in small roles.

Woody started as a writer and stand-up comic; Chris Rock is a huge fan of Woody's stand-up material. As a writer, Woody put out books of comic essays and worked for Your Show of Shows. Also, he plays clarinet so well, he leads a jazz band that toured Europe! There's a funny documentary about that called Wild Man Blues.


Way before Saturday Night Live, in the days of black-and-white TV, Your Show of Shows was THE sketch comedy show. After all, the writers were Woody, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Larry Gelbart, who would later write M*A*S*H. The show's stars were Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, who also did some writing. The Your Show of Shows writing staff itself was the subject of the movie My Favorite Year and the Neil Simon play Laughter on the 23rd Floor. And they were all Jewish!

Bonus Bonus:

More Jews live in New York City now than have ever lived in one city in all of Jewish history, going back 4,000 years! Jews were living there since before it was even called "New York," back before America was a country, when the city was still called "New Amsterdam."

Not surprisingly, four of New York's mayors have been Jewish: Abe Beame, Ed Koch (who was later a judge on The People's Court!), Fiorello LaGuardia (yep, the airport is named for him) and the current one, Michael Bloomberg.

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