Is a star’s embrace of Jewishness the ultimate celebrity endorsement? (See: Miley Cyrus’s Star of David getup). Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, who converted within a few years of each other back in the 1950s, kept their Jewishness relatively private rather than wear it, Kabbalah-Madonna-style, on their sleeves.
The current exhibit in the Jewish Museum of NYC, Becoming Jewish, shines a light on Taylor’s and Monroe’s celebrity through the gaze of Andy Warhol, whose art helped articulate the mythological aura surrounding the two actresses. Under the Technicolor surface, the exhibit also digs around for the reasons they were drawn to Judaism. For Taylor, the first impulse may have come from grief: her third husband Mike Todd (nee Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen) died in a plane crash shortly after she filmed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and she turned to a rabbi for guidance.
When she married Arthur Miller, Monroe’s conversion became famous. According to her rabbi, she was no Talmud scholar, but even after she and Miller divorced Monroe hung on to what appealed to her in Judaism: its “concept of close family life.” Possibly for both actresses, Judaism seemed to hold a stillness that contradicted the fever and worship of Hollywood.