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    Hot Summer Reads and the Jewish Film Festival

    By Jan Wahl–

    How fabulous to be able to kick back and enjoy a juicy summer read. I tend toward non-fiction, stories about real people and really big, outrageous lives. 

    Let’s begin with a guy who brings classic Hollywood alive, from Elizabeth Montgomery to Carolyn Jones (two of my favorite TV actresses) to how a top agent survives in “the business” then and now. Budd Burton Moss’s two books, Presenting Hollywood:  Sometimes the Reality Is Better Than the Dream and All I Got Was Ten Per Cent, are a fun ride through Hollywood from the fifties to now, giving a sense of business and the world at that time. Moss is a vibrant ninety-year-old today, but was smart enough to do what I should have done: keep notes from his encounters with the greats. 

    He meets kings and ambassadors, especially in Spain and South America on a trip with Rita Hayworth, while hobnobbing at every glamorous event from Cannes to the Oscars with former wife Ruth Roman, costar of the wonderful Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train and survivor of the Andrea Doria disaster. The stories tell us how movies are packaged and cast to this day, and the people who didn’t get the parts (Melvin Belli as the Don in The Godfather?). Details about Rita Hayworth’s headline-making challenges, originally referred to as alcoholism but finally diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease in 1980, make us feel we are there with her as Budd was. 

    Sally Kellerman, an underrated jazz singer, had to be practically forced to play Hot Lips Houlihan in M*A*S*H, while many of Budd’s clients made decisions that made one wonder how agents live through temper tantrums and insane demands. Any would-be agents out there, or just people that love Hollywood dish and details? These are for you, from Amazon.

    It took seven years of research, combing through personal correspondence, unpublished manuscripts, and scrapbooks, but talented writer William J. Mann has proven that the LBGTQ community was one of the most influential forces in Hollywood history. In Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910 to 1969, Mann highlights directors from Dorothy Arzner (let’s get her name on the Rainbow Honor Walk!) to George Cukor, stars from Marlene Dietrich to Rock Hudson, designers from Adrian to Bob Mackie, and colorful characters from Clifton Webb to Cole Porter and the great Miss Bankhead. Some struggled, some sashayed; all were interesting and terrific to read about. After this one, check out Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood.

    Growing up in West Los Angeles, there were so many famous people and movie stars at my synagogue that people faced the door instead of the Rabbi to see who was coming in. From Sammy Davis, Jr., to Edward G. Robinson, from Michael Landon to Don Rickles, it was great fun. Another way to celebrate not only Judaism but culture, humor, and genre-bending madness is the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the first and largest in the country. Now in its 41st year, it has a remarkable rundown of films, tributes, shorts, and documentaries.  

    According to its Executive Director, Lexi Leban, “This is a year like no other. We are back in the Castro for two days and cannot wait to see everybody live in person! For those who still are indoors, they can screen all but two films at home. As a proud LBGTQ person, I am proud to once again have some great movies for our communities. Our centerpiece documentary The Conductor is a wonderful tribute to a groundbreaking lesbian. Prognosis: Notes on Living is about the Bay Area’s Debra Chasnoff (1957–2017). [It’s] a brave film where she turns the camera on herself. We have movies big and small about the Holocaust, Jews of color, music of the Jewish community, and, of course, the ubiquitous Jewish Palestinian conflict. Whatever subject floats your boat is there!” 

    Lexi added something that had me thinking about what movies my parents exposed me to that had me loving motion pictures.  Lexi told me: “The Sting, Gallipoli, Ragtime, Reds … my parents exposed me to every kind of movie. My love of the cinema is bound to my love of them.”

    I’d say Auntie Mame, My Fair Lady, Judgement at Nuremburg, and Some Like it Hot.  How about you?  Our love of cinema began somewhere for us, so let’s connect and celebrate that we found the movies!   

    For more information about the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival:               

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Published on July 15, 2021