As Los Angeles luminaries poured into Atlanta for the Super Bowl, California is exporting round two with Atlanta Jewish Film Festival glitterati. Oscar-winning producer Howard Zvi Rosenman will be here Feb. 24 to introduce his movie “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog.”
With ties to Atlantans, Rosenman dished about his outrageous life as a seventh-generation Jerusalemite who dropped out of medical school to work for Leonard Bernstein and eventually Katherine Hepburn – all before busting out as an A-list film and TV producer. “Call Me By Your Name,” about a gay Jewish relationship in Italy, put him at the top of his game.
Rosenman bears it all as he eschews political labels and talks about the mega stars he has befriended. The headline of the “Tablet Magazine” article by James Kirchick (June 21, 2018) sums it up: “Howard Rosenman says ‘F* You: What’s it like to be a Gay Right-Wing Zionist Liberal Oscar-Winning Producer in Hollywood These Days?’”
See life through his lens.
Jaffe: How did you chose to produce “Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog,” the AJFF movie being shown here Feb. 23 and 24? It’s not typically your genre.
Rosenman: In conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, I taught a master class on producing (production) for Israelis. One of the students had a manuscript about this boy and his bond with his faithful family dog being put to the test in wartime Berlin. It is family-friendly as it is a story of love, courage and loyalty, and it treats the Holocaust age-appropriately.
By the way, those Israeli students have been amazingly successful with what they took away from the class.
Jaffe: You’re a judge here for the AJFF. Who are your faves for the upcoming Oscars?
Rosenman: I think Lady Gaga is terrific. I’m all about “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Rami Malek for top awards.
Jaffe: You went to school with a very prominent Emory professor and author.
Rosenman: Deborah Lipstadt and I were in the same yeshiva in Far Rockaway, New York and the same shul, [Temple] Shaaray Tefila. I have cousins here. Can’t wait for our Atlanta family Shabbat dinner.
Jaffe: You’ve acted?
Rosenman: I’ve been in eight films. The one most would remember was MILK, (California 2008) where Harvey Milk, the first gay activist elected to public office, was assassinated.
I loved doing it, but it’s too much of an “all day job” – running around, auditioning, etc.
Jaffe: Much is written about your feud with Gore Vidal.
Rosenman: Plain and simple, he was a dyed in the wool anti-Semite. At one time we were friends, and I was his right hand man for his Senate campaign in California. He wrote an article for The Nation with this statement: ”I am the pin that punctures the balloon of Israeli (aka Jewish) arrogance and pomposity.” I called every one of my friends to draw battle lines. He deeply regretted it, but never apologized. The hypocrisy was that his lover was Jewish.
Jaffe: What do you do for fun?
Rosenman: Work! I’m a workaholic. I’m tired of the LA party scene and I’m working now on several new TV series/projects:
“Man’s Man” – Framed in 1967 about a Rock Hudson-like star who has a male lover, and the studio creates an alternate life. … A gay “Mad Men.”
“Thrones of Europe” 1880s to 1945, and an Israeli detective series by Batya Gur.
I’m producing a movie exposing the real story of Anita Bryant, the runner-up to Miss America who was known for her anti-gay sentiments. She’s 83 now and cooperating. Her motto is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Jaffe: You have a charitable foundation?
Rosenman: I founded Project Angel Food with Marianne Williamson, which originally started as a meal program for HIV and AIDS patients and now serves various terminal illness sufferers. We just served our 11 millionth meal.
Jaffe: Leonard Bernstein was a pivotal force in your career?
Rosenman: In 1967 after the Six Day War, he conducted Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” on the newly reconquered Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem, then visited Hadassah Hospital, where I was a volunteer. He hired me as a gopher on his documentary about the Maestro conducting for the Tzahal [Israel Defense Forces] in Judea and Samaria. He encouraged me to drop out of medical school by urging, “You should go into the arts. You will never bow to the mistress of science.” We remained lifelong friends on many levels.
Jaffe: Do you ever regret not being a physician?
Rosenman: Sometimes I do. I was going to be a plastic surgeon.
Jaffe: That would have come in handy in Hollywood!
You’ve worked with some top stars. Throw out a quick round of comments.
Katharine Hepburn, for whom you worked: When she interviewed me, we just clicked. She had one question. “Can you be on time?” Other than that, she was very blunt, honest and brilliant.
Diana Ross: A legend.
Dakota Johnson: I think she will be a superstar. I worked with her mother Melanie Griffith on a couple of projects.
Ben Kingsley: Jewish, very talented.
Shirley MacLaine: I was very ill in her Broadway dressing room, fretting that I had AIDS (remember the decade). She figured out that I was bingeing on cheese sandwiches and ultimately lactose intolerant. That was a relief.
Robin Williams: Fastest mind I ever met.
Michael Douglas: Best all around guy in Hollywood.
Barbra Streisand: Greatest singer in the world, but you know that.
Audrey Hepburn: The most elegant, chicest actress with whom I worked.
George W. Bush: Karl Rove sought me out to meet with him prior to his reelection. He gets a bad rap as a “shallow type” cowboy. Let me assure you that he is quite bright and every inch a top-shelf articulate Ivy Leaguer. That Texas swagger is somewhat of an act.
If they made a movie of your life, who would play you?
Warren Beatty, a young Warren Beatty (laughing).