Jewish entertainers share stories of rescue, mentoring

Timothee Chalamet, the Jewish actor up for best actor this year, shown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, Jan. 21, 2018. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

By Nate Bloom

It’s Quite a Story: Here’s What I Know

I’ve previously reported that TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET, 24, who was nominated for the leading actor Oscar for playing a young Jewish man in “Call Me By Your Name,” is the son of an American Jewish mother and a French Protestant father. In an interview exchange, he seemed to call himself Jewish. I don’t usually report much on the non-Jewish side of a celeb’s family. But there’s a good, and maybe great “Jewish story” on that side of Chalamet’s family.  His father, Marc, and late paternal grandfather, Roger, came from a small French village called Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon (“Chambon”).  Growing up, Timothée spent his summers there.

 In 1990, Chambon was one of two municipalities (the other is a Dutch village) collectively honored as the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Israel for saving Jews during the Holocaust. These two towns remain the only to be so honored. As you may know, French Protestants, usually called Huguenots, were viciously persecuted by the Catholic kings of France during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and many fled to England and America. However, Chambon is in an isolated location and this isolation allowed the town to remain overwhelmingly Protestant.  In 1940, the Germans occupied France. Led by two Protestant ministers (André Trocmé and deputy pastor Edouard Theis), the villagers of Chambon did everything imaginable to help Jews, including hiding them in local homes and public buildings. Estimates vary on how many Jews they saved (800-3,000). Whatever the number, it was heroism with considerable risk to themselves. One of Trocmé’s cousins, Daniel, was sent to a concentration camp and murdered. 

A friend discovered that Roger Chalamet, who died in 1985, was a Protestant minister. He was born in either 1926 or 1928. In any event, he was clearly old enough to have witnessed the occupation and the heroism of his fellow villagers and perhaps he participated in this heroism himself. One can reasonably speculate that his decision to be a minister was inspired by the heroism of his hometown pastors. I am working on a way to get in touch with his grandson and learn more. So far, only one French publication has noted the actor’s ties to this town. There was little in the way of details—just that Chambon is proud of the young actor. As I learn more, I will report it, because, as I told my friend, “What are the odds that an Oscar-nominated American actor, with a Jewish mother, would have such strong ties to a French town of less than 3,000 people with such a wonderful Jewish story?” 

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TV Catch-Up

ZACH BRAFF, 42, the former star of “Scrubs,” returned to series TV with the ABC show “Alex, Inc.”  (Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.). He plays Alex Schuman, a radio journalist, husband and father of two who decides to quit his job and start his own company. 

Braff had a big hit with the 2004 film, “Garden State,” which he directed, wrote, and co-starred in with NATALIE PORTMAN, now 36. However, his film projects since then haven’t been commercial hits or that well reviewed. Still, it’s worth catching “Wish You Were Here” (2014). 

Like “Garden State,” Braff wrote and directed the film and again plays a Jewish character. The Jewish content is more extensive than in “Garden State” and while quite uneven, the film certainly has its moments. It’s now streaming on HBO. 

Also now streaming on HBO is the two-part documentary, “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.” It’s a biographical tribute to the late comedian GARRY SHANDLING, who died in 2016, at age 66. The director is JUDD APATOW, 50. Early in his career, Apatow wrote for Shandling and discovered in Shandling’s journals that he made a conscious decision to mentor him and others. Apatow told Variety, “He wanted to help people and he thought that was the win in life, to help people.”  The more than 40 interviewees include SACHA BARON COHEN, JON FAVREAU, JERRY SEINFELD and SARAH SILVERMAN

Also on HBO is the series, “Barry,” starring Bill Hader. Barry is a low-rent hitman who moves to Los Angeles where he finds a new outlook on life by getting involved in the community theater scene. Co-stars include HENRY WINKLER, 72, Canadian actress SARAH GOLDBERG, 32, and GLENN FLESHLER, 49.