Top pop culture Jewish moms

Are you up for a little fun this week? In anticipation of Mother’s Day, let’s consider some notable Jewish mothers in popular culture. Tell you what I thought we could do. I’ll present my Top 10 favorites, then you weigh in with yours. Feel free to take me to task, point out ones I missed or, if it so moves you, agree with me completely (yeah, right, like that’s going to happen). Next week in N &S, I’ll run some of your responses. OK, here goes:

10. Sophie Baker in “Come Blow Your Horn.” Although it’s Lee J. Cobb as the Jewish father who steals the film — he constantly tells his son, Alan (played by Frank Sinatra), “you’re a bum” — Molly Picon, as the neat-obsessed, long-suffering Jewish mother, is no shrinking violet.


9. Ida Morgenstern, Rhoda’s mother in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” While it’s true that Ida Morgenstern did little to squash the Jewish mother stereotype — pushy, overbearing, guilt inducing — watching Nancy Walker’s portrayal was must-see TV.

8. Daisy Werthan in “Driving Miss Daisy.” At 81, Jessica Tandy won a best actress Oscar for her masterful take on a stubborn, independent, white-gloved Southern Jewish widow who is not the least bit thrilled that her son (Dan Akroyd) has employed a chauffeur (Morgan Freeman) to drive her around.

7. Liz Metzger in “Prime.” Of course it was just a matter of time before Meryl Streep, the best actress in America, would play a Jewish mother (her Sophie in “Sophie’s Choice” was Polish but not Jewish). As a Jewish mother who also happens to be a top New York psychiatrist unknowingly counseling her son’s older girlfriend (Uma Thurman), Streep is spectacular. The Q-tip conversation between Streep and Thurman is classic.

6. Yiddish actress Reizl Bozyk thoroughly charms in “Crossing Delancey,” as a Bubbie bent on cementing a match between her bohemian granddaughter (Amy Irving) and a Lower East Side pickle man (Peter Riegert).

5. In the hilarious “Keeping Up with the Steins,” Jami Gertz plays Joanne Fiedler, a grounded Jewish mother and the voice of reason as her manic husband (Jeremy Piven) stops at nothing to impress his friends and enemies with the bar mitzvah of the century. Doris Roberts as grandma Rose Fiedler also shines as she graciously welcomes her estranged ex (Garry Marshall) and his much younger girlfriend (Darryl Hannah) back into her life.

4. Tovah Feldshuh in “Kissing Jessica Stein” is a Jewish mother who just wants her daughter (Jessica Westfeldt) to be happy even if it means accepting that her daughter is in love with a woman.

3. Although “The Goldbergs,” both on radio and TV, was before my time, I’ve had the chance to see Gertrude Berg portray the iconic Molly Goldberg, thanks to Aviva Kempner’s terrific documentary “Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg.” And I can safely say that upon meeting Molly it was love at first sight.

2. Confession time: “Beaches,” starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, is a guilty pleasure. I know it’s schmaltzy and maudlin, but I can’t help myself. Once a year I’ve got to see it. Part of the attraction is Lainie Kazan as Midler’s Jewish mother Leona Bloom, who is forced to tell her overbearing daughter that she is just too much to take at times. Kazan, by the way, also did a standout job as a Jewish mother whose daughter hires an actor to portray her Jewish boyfriend in the indie film “Beau Jest,” which played at last year’s St. Louis Jewish Film Festival.

1. While I never had the pleasure of seeing Ethel Merman in the original Broadway production of “Gypsy,” I’ve watched the 1962 film version directed by Mervyn LeRoy at least three dozen times. The film, much like the show, was based on the 1957 memoirs of Burlesque stripper Louise “Gypsy Rose Lee” Hovick. In the film, Natalie Wood stars as Gypsy, but it’s Rosalind Russell’s tour de force performance as “Mama Rose” Hovick that gets me out of my seat singing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” along with her every time. The pushiest, most egregious of all show biz mothers, Russell still manages to make Momma Rose likable, albeit in a semi-tragic way. It’s an amazing performance all around and one I remind myself of when I find myself nudging (OK, pushing) my kids about their futures a bit too aggressively.

So there you have it – those are mine. Just for the record, I did consider the seminal mothers in “Goodbye Columbus” and “Portnoy’s Complaint” but nixed them for being too obnoxious.

Now it’s your turn. Don’t feel as if you have to offer 10 choices; one or two is just fine. I’d prefer you to email me at [email protected] or send a note to Ellen Futterman, c/o St. Louis Jewish Light, 6 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur, MO., 63146. And don’t worry about me, I’ll just sit in the dark, waiting to hear from you . . .