Hanukkah is upon us, but before I go steal gelt from small children and bet money on the dreidels before passing out into a latke-induced coma, I've cooked up a small slice of Jewy goodness for you to enjoy and/or argue about. Although it's apparently cool to be Jewish these days, some of these ladies made it work even when it wasn't, bringing their savvy and sexy ways to the screen one way or another. While some particular laddy mags point out that Jewesses are so hot now because of more "exotic"-looking ladies like Mélanie Laurent (she's blonde!), I think they're just behind the times. But no matter how hard or easy the road to fame was for them, all of these ladies make me wanna bust out a giant gold Chai necklace and drink some Manischewitz in their honor. There are plenty I had to leave out for the sake of time and space, so add your faves in the comments.
1. Sarah Bernhardt
Madame Bernhardt was a dramatic presence on the French stage and silent screen, with a gorgeous voice and charisma to spare. Her most famous film role was as Queen Elizabeth in Les amours de la reine Élisabeth, the profits of which Adolph Zukor used to launch Paramount Studios. The Divine Sarah, as she was called, was as unforgettable in real life as well; she slept in a coffin, openly collected lovers, was painted and photographed by the most famous artists of that era, briefly made a living as a courtesan (her mother's vocation), collected wild animals as pets, and was an all-around wonderfully shameless bad-ass.
2. Theda Bara
Theda Bara, née Theodosia Burr Goodman, was one of the original silent screen vamps who could lead men to their ruin with a simple title card reading, "Kiss me, my fool!" as in 1915's A Fool There Was. Her character's name in that movie is literally The Vampire, which is admittedly not great press for women or for Jews, but I love this smoldering star nonetheless. She made over 40 feature films, the majority of which are lost, which makes reading about films like Cleopatra, The Serpent, and The Eternal Sappho all the more tantalizing.
3. Hedy Lamarr
Lamarr was not just another gorgeous face in the MGM stable of actresses. She stunned filmgoers with her role in the notorious Czechoslovakian movie Ecstasy, which featured shots of her face in the throes of passion and also running naked in the woods. She was a math whiz who escaped a controlling husband in Austria who was doing business with the Nazis to become one of the most glamorous stars of the '40s. On the sly, she and avant-garde composer George Antheil were busy developing a very early version of the technology that your cell phone uses -- frequency hopping -- in the hopes that it could be used against the types of weapons she had seen the plans for during her ex-husband's interminable meetings.
4. Madeline Kahn
The late, great Madeline Kahn! Monika has already written a fabulous Girls on Film tribute to the woman who gave us unforgettable characters like the "Bavarian Bombshell" Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles and Elizabeth, the uptight fiancée who eventually lets her hair down in Young Frankenstein. This operatically trained singer did Broadway musicals, goofed off with Mel Brooks, stopped by Sesame Street to sing with Grover, and hung out with the Cosbys. Her death at 57 from ovarian cancer was a huge loss to film, TV, and the stage.
5. Karen Black
Some of us might know her better as Mama Firefly from Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, but believe it or not, this scream queen was born Karen Blanche Ziegler way before she made her mark on the horror scene. The prolific actress got noticed for her roles in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, but has dipped into a variety of genres from drama (Portnoy's Complaint; The Day of the Locust; Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) to comedy (Rhinoceros, an adaptation of the Eugène Ionesco play; Nashville; Hitchcock's last film Family Plot) and, of course, horror.
6. Natalie Portman
Portman is every fanboy and fangirl's dream. She kicked open the door to Hollywood -- and our hearts! -- with her role as a hit-man's sidekick, tiny orphan Mathilda in Léon (The Professional). She's gorgeous with or without hair. She's smart as hell (hello, Harvard). And she loves, just loves, "really, really obscene hip-hop," as she told her interviewer, Brothers co-star Jake Gyllenhaal in Interview Magazine. And to those who disagree with her outspoken political views, she might invite you to "suck my d*ck."
7. Mélanie Laurent
Laurent is so Jewish she was on the cover of Heeb magazine, and so cool that, as Shosanna Dreyfus in Inglourious Basterds, she could sit at the table of the SS office who killed her family with barely a tremble. When the time comes, she puts on her makeup like war paint and prepares to sacrifices everything she loves in the name of sweet, sweet revenge, all set to the tune of David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)." And because it's Tarantino, she's barefoot.