The Eulogizer: Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin and labor leader Gus Tyler

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Laura Ziskin, 61, ‘Spider-Man’ producer and cancer activist

Laura Ziskin, a groundbreaking Hollywood producer who took the same levels of energy and intensity she brought to filmmaking to fighting cancer for eight years, died June 12 at 61.

Ziskin’s Hollywood credits include the Julia Roberts romantic comedy “Pretty Woman” and the "Spider-Man" franchise, which has sold more than $1.5 billion in tickets, with a fourth film in the works for 2012. News reports said that Ziskin was actively involved in production work on the Spider-Man “reboot” even as her cancer began to spread in recent months. The film, now in post-production, likely will be dedicated to her memory.

Ziskin was based at Sony Pictures but previously headed Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox, which made dramas such as "Courage Under Fire," "Fight Club" and "The Thin Red Line." Ziskin, the first woman to produce the Oscars awards show, featured Woody Allen on the telecast in 2002.

Ziskin was perhaps even better known as the co-founder of Stand Up to Cancer. In 2007, the three major U.S. television networks donated an hour to a program Ziskin produced to raise funds for cancer research. The first show and a 2010 follow-up, which also included Fox and cable providers, featured film and TV stars, recording artists, news anchors and sports personalities, were seen in 175 countries.

When she won The Producers Guild of America’s Visionary Award this year for her film work and efforts to fight cancer, Ziskin said that "We realized we had the potential to make cancer the first-tier issue it needs to be and to impact how cancer is treated by using our skills as producers and quite literally ‘putting on a show.’ Stand Up To Cancer is my most important production.”

Stand Up To Cancer on its website said that “Though we shed tears from your absence in our lives, when we wipe them away we will remember what you have given us, we will see more clearly and our actions will be more deliberate than ever, as we stand up to cancer, as we challenge the status quo, as we dream our dream. … Until one day, we can live in a world where everyone diagnosed with cancer can be a survivor, living long and healthy lives — Until one day, we may tell our children’s children, there was once a killer called cancer.”

Hollywood talent manager Joan Hyler said this about Ziskin in 2009: “Thinking of Hollywood Matriarchs — I am impressed by many who semi-retire like Sherry Lansing, after a full career as a producer and studio head — and use their money and power in philanthropic pursuits. Laura Ziskin (still actively producing the “Spider-Man” series) is using her power and money to fight cancer. Both Jewish girls, these powerful women are worthy of our Torah female prototypes: They live in the world and use their accomplishments for the greater good.”

Ziskin was lauded as one of the first women to break into the “inner circle of A-list producers, for decades considered an all-boys club.”

Actress and filmmaker Jaime King said Ziskin was a woman whose example “I will look to for guidance in the face of my own challenges. The brief time that I spent with her has seeped deeply into my soul. Her knowing without proof, her faith and courage in the midst of her fiercest battle, her compassion and empathy that reached beyond the millions of hearts she touched and sailed into the stars that twinkle above us.”

Ziskin was born and raised in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and graduated from the University of Southern California. She was married to screenwriter Alvin Sargent, whose credits include the "Spider-Man" series.

Gus Tyler, 99, labor leader and journalist

Gus Tyler, a “firebrand” leader of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and columnist for the Forward newspaper, died June 3 at 99.

Tyler’s death in Florida brought forth tributes and florid writing from friends, family members, admirers and obituary writers. The New York Times wrote that “He tumbled through life like a Saul Bellow character, full of analytic thought and urban vitality. He wore multifarious hats: pamphleteer, professor and poet, but insisted on defining himself with a single word: agitator.”

The Times recounted the late Daniel Bell’s description of Tyler as “a brilliant but mercurial dialectician.”

Journalist Jonathan Tilove, Tyler’s nephew, wrote a lengthy and loving appreciation of his uncle in the Forward, the newspaper that provided Tyler with a media platform for his socialist and labor-centric ideals for more than six decades.

“To the wider world, Gus was a guiding force at the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and in left-leaning labor politics for more than 40 years," Tilove wrote, adding later that "Over his lifetime, he was a prolific lecturer, teacher and writer of more than a dozen books and countless articles for such small but influential periodicals as The New Leader and Dissent magazine."

Tilove also wrote, “A year ago, after a fall, Gus found himself in rehabilitation for a while, no longer able to put down his thoughts on his computer. But he told me that while lying in bed during his recovery, he had devised a plan in his head to stave off the coming world economic collapse. If he could get it down on paper, the world could be saved; if not, good luck to the world.”

Tyler wrote for the English-language Forward and was a longtime commentator on WEVD, the radio station named after Socialist Eugene V. Debs and once owned by the Forward Association.

Born Augustus Tilove to immigrant parents in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, Tyler chose his new last name in memory of Wat Tyler, leader of the English peasants’ revolt of 1381.

Tyler said he learned his socialist beliefs from his mother.

“As far as my mother was concerned, socialism was what God ordained,” Tyler said in 1988. “You didn’t learn it from Marx or anybody; it was just the natural thing. People are people and they shouldn’t be rich and they shouldn’t be poor. I just thought this was the way you live. You’re supposed to be a socialist and ultimately the whole world goes socialist.”

 

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