Days of Awe

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

The days of awe are upon us, the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the time when Jews around the world will be called upon to look honestly at their faults and ask for forgiveness. Hollywood will come to a standstill as Jews go to synagogue, or at least don't go to work. Of course, if you really need to reach your agent, he'll be on his BlackBerry at Temple Beth David, but that's another conversation.

The tumbleweeds rolling down Wilshire Boulevard this time each year help exacerbate the notion of Hollywood as a "Jewish" business. I want to revisit my rant from a few years' back trying to put some perspective on that myth.

There's no doubt that Jews played a major role in the creation of the American entertainment industry. Many of the titans of early Hollywood – Harry Cohn, William Fox, Carl Laemlle, Louis B. Mayer, Jack and Harry Warner, and Adolph Zucker –, were Eastern European Jews. And so were many of the creative types they hired to write and direct their movies. Jews might have run Hollywood then. But now? Come on. Every major studio is owned by a giant, publicly traded conglomerate. There are no more Hollywood titans. These days, no one person has the power to green-light a $250 million movie.

Let's face it , you do run into a lot of Jews doing business on a day-to-day basis in Hollywood. And Yiddish -- the language of the shtetl -- has become a kind of Hollywood lingua franca. In this town, if you don't know what a putz is you're a putz.

In fact, while Jews represent just under 2% of Americans identifying with a religion, they account for something like 35% of the 50 most powerful people in Hollywood as determined by Premiere magazine in their 2007 Power List. They represent a similar percentage of Entertainment Weekly's "50 Smartest People in Hollywood."

While this is anything but a rigorous statistical analysis, we can all agree that Jews are disproportionately represented in Hollywood as a whole, but in control? Jews 35% - non-Jews 65%. The Democrats make up 53% of the House…and no one's saying they're in control.

Unlike the early days, the modern entertainment industry is a global, billion-dollar business employing millions of people, to even suggest that one group "runs" it is to side with the conspiracy theorists. You might as well believe that the Apollo 11 moon landings were faked by NASA. Well, that's a bad example but you know what I mean.

In the modern corporate world of mass media, if there is a god that the industry prays to, it is money. And before you go there, that's also true in, say, the oil business, which nobody accuses of being run by the Jews.

So while it's true that Jewish secular culture has lingered from Hollywood's early days, and it's true that Jews are still disproportionately represented amongst Hollywood's elite, let's not make the unacceptable and offensive leap to the erroneous conclusion that Jews "run" Hollywood. Ok? I humbly step down from my soapbox.

Finally, I want to put a shout out to that guy was reading Variety during Rosh Hashanah services at Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills a few years back. You know who you are. And to everyone else, I'd like to wish you all L'shanah tova, a good, happy and prosperous year filled with sweetness and abundance…whether or not you're in the business and whether or not you're Jewish.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at You can podcast this commentary, share it with a friend, or embed it on your blog with the click of a button from our new media player at For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman