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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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The Jewish stories behind ‘Capote and the Swans’ and ‘Masters of the Air’

Photos courtesy of FX and Apple +

“Masters of the Air” premiered on Apple+ on Jan. 26. It follows the Allied air war over Europe during World War II. In an earlier January column, I discussed the series and focused on Robert Rosenthal, a Jewish Air Force bomber pilot who had an incredibly heroic record.

Reviews say that Rosenthal (the character) has a small role in the first half of the nine-episode series and is a major character in the second half. This makes sense: Rosenthal didn’t get into combat until 1943 and he joined the fight as a replacement for a crew member who was rotated out or was killed.

While we wait for the Rosenthal episodes, I thought I’d provide some more-than-fun facts that almost certainly won’t be in the series.

Rosenthal (1917-2007) was an outstanding college athlete, a lawyer and war hero. But there’s more. His story about meeting his wife has a cinematic feel to it — but it’s much more than a “meet cute.”

Rosenthal was in the States when “the bomb” was dropped and WWII ended. As previously noted, he went back to Europe (1946), where he prosecuted lesser-known Nazis at the trials that took place in Nuremberg, Germany. He was waiting for his Europe-bound ship to leave when he saw another passenger (the future Mrs. Rosenthal) drive up to the ship in her jeep. Their son, DAN, described his father’s reaction, “She was the most beautiful woman he ever saw.”  

That woman was PHILLIS HELLER (1919-2011). She was a U.S. Navy attorney who was joining the same American legal team as Rosenthal. They fell in love almost instantly and were engaged in 10 days. They had their wedding in Nuremberg and honeymooned near the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s notorious Alpine home.  Their wedding and honeymoon made a statement: we Jews are here—as victors.

The couple had three children, including Dan. He helped provide details of his late father’s life for the “Masters of the Air” filmmakers.


“It Ends Here” is a film based on a best-selling novel about Lily, a woman whose father beat her mother and, to her shock, her husband, a doctor, turns out to be a wife-beater, too. Lily’s best friend, Allysa (played by JENNY SLATE, 41), is also Lily’s husband’s sister (opens Feb. 9).


“Feud: Capote and the Swans” is an eight-episode, weekly series that began on Jan. 31 on FX and on Feb. 1 on Hulu. Reviews are all over the place but mostly very good. Here’s the capsule plot: author Truman Capote (Tom Hollander), who is gay, is close friends with six very attractive older women who move in the top of New York society. They are the “Swans.” Then, in 1975, Esquire published a Capote story that reveals nasty but true stories about most of them — names are changed, but everybody knows who he is writing about. Most of the “Swans” never talk to him again. Their reaction fuels Capote’s personal and professional decline. (All the “Swans” are now deceased, as are the real Jewish characters mentioned below.)

Here are Jewish angles:

Playwright JON ROBIN BAITZ, 62, wrote the series.

Naomi Watts plays Barbara ‘Babe’ Paley, a beautiful woman and Capote’s favorite Swan. Her husband was BILL PALEY (Treat Williams), the founder and owner of CBS. He constantly cheats on Babe, so Babe seeks solace from Capote. 

The recurring Jewish characters are top film producer DAVID SELZNICK (“Gone with the Wind”); brothers and documentary filmmakers ALBERT and DAVID MAYSLES and renowned photographer RICHARD AVEDON.  

Selznick, like Paley, has a gentile, beautiful “trophy” wife (actress Jennifer Jones, who is also in a character) in the series. I don’t know much about Scott Zimmerman, who plays Selznick, except that he’s usually cast in character roles.

The Maysles brothers’ best-known documentaries are “Gimme Shelter” (1970) and “Grey Gardens.” (1975). The later film began with Lee Radziwell (Jackie Kennedy’s sister and a “Swan”), asking the brothers to briefly film her eccentric cousins for a film about herself. The cousins lived in wrecked mansion in the Hamptons (Long Island), where the rich play in the summer. The Maysles soon realized that the cousins were great subjects for a documentary.

Radziwell is played by Calista Flockhart. A Polish-American “unknown” actor plays Albert. YUVAL DAVID, 38, an actor and filmmaker, plays David. Yuval went to a Jewish day school and is very active in Jewish organizations that represent the Jewish LGBTQ community.

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