Remembering Charles Grodin and other celebrity news/notes



The Dreamworks animated film “Spirit Untamed” opens in theaters on June 4. The film follows a young girl named Lucy who bonds with a wild mustang named Spirit. JAKE GYLLENHAAL, 40, co-stars as the voice of Jim, Lucy’s widowed father.

Opening June 11 in theaters is “Queen Bees,” a dramedy. It stars Ellen Burstyn, 88, as a feisty senior who temporarily moves into a retirement home. She battles elderly bullies, makes a good friend (Ann-Margaret, 80), and canoodles with JAMES CAAN, 81.  The director is Emmy-winner MICHAEL LEMBECK, 72. His father, HARVEY LEMBECK, was a talented comedic actor (“Sgt. Bilko”). Michael, a practicing Jew, had a big recurring role on the ‘70s hit sit-com “One Day at a Time” starring the late BONNIE FRANKLIN. He has been a busy (mostly) TV director since 1989.

Comedic actor CHARLES GRODIN died on May 12, age 86. His big hits included “The Heartbreak Kid,” and the “Beethoven” movies. Not noted in any bio or obit is his Missouri connection. His wife (of 38 years), and widow, is novelist ELISHA DURWOOD GRODIN, 67. Elisha’s father, STANLEY DURWOOD, turned his family’s Kansas City-based theater chain into the huge AMC movie theater chain and he’s credited as the inventor of the multiplex.

The 2020 Kennedy Center Honors events were delayed several times because of the pandemic. The Honors are for lifetime excellence in the arts. Normally, the five winners receive their award certificate at a State Department ceremony early in December. A few days later, there’s a gala celebration at the Kennedy Center Opera House. A few weeks later, a two-hour video of the Opera House celebration is broadcast by CBS.

On May 21, the five winners finally received their certificates at a virtually empty opera house. Tribute performances/statements were recorded last week at remote locations and the full list of those who participated in these tributes has not yet been released. The Opera House ceremony and the remote tributes will be broadcast on CBS on Sunday, June 6 (7 p.m.).

Unlike most years, there are no Jewish honorees this year. But much more likely than not, Jewish celebs will appear to perform or just say nice things about those honored. The honorees this year are country singer Garth Brooks, actress/choreographer Debbie Allen, violinist Midori, folk singer Joan Baez, 80 and comedian/actor Dick Van Dyke, 95. 

BOB DYLAN, who just turned 80 (May 24), and Baez ceased to be a romantic couple in 1965. But they remain intertwined in the public mind. Baez was the bigger star when they met, and she gave Dylan critical help as he sought a larger audience. Dylan’s songs revolutionized the folk music scene, and he gave Baez extraordinary material to sing. The only song that Baez wrote that became a best-selling hit, “Diamonds and Rust” (1975), was about her three-year romantic relationship with Dylan.

In 2009, the normally reticent Dylan appeared in a PBS documentary about Baez. He praised “Joanie’s” voice and her commitment to social causes. He also apologized for his callous “rock star” behavior around the time of their break-up.

Dick Van Dyke, who is 95 and in great shape, should have been honored decades ago. His career was “made” by four Jews. The most important was CARL REINER (1922-2020), who produced, wrote, and directed “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-65), one of the best sit-coms of all-time. The character Van Dyke played was modeled after Reiner, himself. But Reiner didn’t turn Van Dyke’s character into a clone of himself. As Van Dyke has often said – a major reason the show worked so well was simple: Reiner wrote dialogue for him that was crafted for Van Dyke. It was Reiner’s words, but Van Dyke’s “voice.”

Van Dyke got his first big career break when he starred (1960) in the hit Broadway musical “Bye, Bye, Birdie” (turned into a film in 1963, co-starring Ann-Margaret). Amazingly, Van Dyke’s “Birdie” (stage) co-star Chita Rivera, 88, is not only alive—she sang a tribute number for this year’s Kennedy Honors. Also still with us are LEE ADAMS, 96, and CHARLES STROUSE, 92, who wrote the “Birdie” songs. I hope they will appear in the Kennedy Honors broadcast. The “fourth Jew,” MICHAEL STEWART, who wrote the musical’s script, died in 1987, age 63.

By the way, Van Dyke’s other big musical hits, “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968), also had Jewish songwriters: the late ROBERT SHERMAN and his brother, RICHARD SHERMAN, 92, wrote all the tunes.