'The Deuce': Yids of the 1970s
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Paul Schiraldi/HBO

Here are a few Jewish facts about the HBO show you may have missed

Last Sunday, HBO wrapped up the first season of “The Deuce”, a show about the deplorable state of early-’70S Manhattan, rife with prostitution, porno movie houses and drugs on every corner. With an all-star cast (led by James Franco in a dual role and Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a sharp eye for period detail, the eight-episode first season was a tour-de-force of modern television, but not wholly unexpected as it comes from the guys behind “The Wire”, considered to be one of the greatest TV series of all time. 

 

That would be David Simon and George Pelecanos, and they’ve struck crime-drama gold once again with “The Deuce”. For more complete coverage of the first eight episodes, CLICK HERE. And despite the show’s gratuitous nudity and profanity, it has a bunch of Jewish elements to it, either overt or more hidden below the surface. 

 

Here are a few fun Jewish facts about the groovy new hit in honor of its first complete season.

 


 

1. Co-creator David Simon comes from a heavily Jewish background:

 

I mean, it was pretty obvious with a name like David Simon, but what you might not have known is that his father, Bernard Simon, was the PR director for B'nai B’rith — the oldest pro-Jewish organization in the world — for two decades. The Elder Simon was one of the 149 hostages taken in the Hanafi Siege of 1977, where three buildings in Washington, D.C. were stormed by 12 Sunni-Muslim gunmen. They were led by religious leader Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, who wanted to bring the spotlight onto the murder of his family in 1973. The standoff lasted 39 hours and resulted in the death of one radio journalist, Maurice Williams. The rest of the hostages were released. Simon’s family hails from Eastern Europe. 

 




Paul Schiraldi/HBO

 


 

2. The show has two openly Jewish characters:

 

Harvey Wasserman and Marty Hodas are played by David Krumholtz and Saul Stein, respectively, and their characters aren’t the best at exemplifying what we might call a “Kiddush Hashem.” Wasserman is the director of dirty films while Hodas is the mob-connected purveyor of those films. Having two money-loving, degenerate Jews in your show doesn’t do wonders for the stereotypes about Members of the Tribe, but Wasserman was one of my favorite people in the show from the moment we first meet him in a deli ordering kishka. Then there’s the coffee mug on Hodas’ desk in the season finale that clearly has an Israeli flag printed on it. 

 




Paul Schiraldi/HBO

 


 

3. Its main male and female leads are of Russian-Jewish descent in real-life:

 

Abby Parker, the love interest of one of James Franco’s characters, Vincent Martino, is played by Margarita Levieva, a Russian Jew who was born into the Soviet Union before immigrating to the United States at AGE 11 the age of 11. She and her family settled in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, the very place where my very own mother grew up in the ’70s. In the show, Abby is the embodiment of a new kind of woman in AT a time when the women’s liberation movement was just starting to gain momentum. Abby throws off the yolk of what’s expected of her, quitting school at NYU and forging her own path in life. Levieva’s co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays the prostitute, Candy, is also Jewish on her mother’s side, with origins in Poland and Russia. Moreover, the first name on her birth certificate is the Hebrew word for pearl, Margalit (מרגלית). James Franco’s mother also comes from a Russian-Jewish background.

 




Paul Schiraldi/HBO
from right to left: Franco, Gyllenhaal, Levieva 

 


 

4. Jews get a shoutout in the opening theme song: 

 

“The Deuce”’s opening credits are accompanied by the Curtis Mayfield song (Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go, which contain the following lyric:

 

“Sisters
[N-words]
Whiteys
Jews
Crackers Don't worry
If there's hell below
We're all
Gonna go”

 




The song comes off Mayfield's debut album "Curtis" from 1970, whose single of "Move on Up" was used in a promo ad for the show.

 

Mayfield was known for his extra funky, politically driven music in the 1970s, having recorded the soundtrack for the iconic blaxploitation movie, “Superfly”. His mention of Jews at the beginning of the song is a perfect indicator that no matter who you are, you’re not above the purview of a higher power. It’s especially relevant to the show where everyone, including the Jews, are not the best-behaved, selling drugs and sex. 

 




Paul Schiraldi/HBO

 


 

5. Jewish clergy make it into the show’s police speak:

 

The show is about the cops trying to clean up the streets or strong-arm local businesses into paying protection money just as much it’s about the smut trade. Everyone was corrupt back then, including the NYPD. In the seventh episode of the season, Captain Peter L. McDonagh (Ed Moran) takes on the role of the 14th Precinct’s new Commanding Officer who recruits Officer Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) to his noble crusade of eradicating corruption, which was rife within cop circles at the time. Why him? Well, it’s because he’s got “no rabbi,” a piece of police slang I was unaware of until watching this show, but a cool piece of lingo nonetheless. In cop speak, a rabbi is a high-ranking member of the department who serves as a mentor and confidant to a younger officer who, in turn, can use the rabbi to get ahead. McDonagh is looking for a young black officer who hasn’t made rank, and Alston fits the bill.




Paul Schiraldi/HBO

 

The Deuce

HBO

1970S

James Franco

women's liberation

Maggie Gyllenhaal

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