A Hollywood Back Story

Sharon’s great-grandfather, Fox Studio Production Executive Sol M. Wurtzel (#23), with wife Marian to the right and Fox Director Frank Borzage to the left, at the first Academy Awards banquet in 1929. Courtesy of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“I enjoyed reading your columns about your grandmother (Lillian Wurtzel Semenov), and your great-grandparents (Sol and Marian Wurtzel). (Your aunt) Marina (Semenov) and I used to go swim in the pool in Bel-Air in that amazing house your great-grandmother lived in. I have so many Semenov memories I can’t begin to tell you. Thank you for sending your pieces. You have a wonderful voice and it was a pleasure to read them.”

—Nora Ephron

Prolific Author, Screenwriter, Director

What does it mean to be the descendant of a pioneer Jewish Hollywood mogul?

What does it mean to be the descendant of a pioneer Jewish Hollywood mogul?
A fierce pride in family history; a knack for storytelling; the ability to ferret out pretense, suck-ups and fair-weather friends (aka Hollywood survival skills).
Memories of my lovingly tough-as-nails Wurtzel family elders continue to reverberate through the generations.
For all these reasons, when I previewed the elaborate new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in September 2021 and found no meaningful mention of Hollywood’s Jewish founders, I felt betrayed. My ghosts of Hollywood past agitated for action. I heard their call and wrote an essay for The Forward, a legacy Jewish publication based in New York, that went viral and became a cause cèlébre
The essay made a difference. Movie moguls Haim Saban and David Geffen read it. Comedians Sarah Silverman and David Baddiel tweeted it. Television provocateur Bill Maher referenced the issue in his “Real Time” monologue.
In April 2022, the Museum announced plans to mount its only permanent exhibit featuring Hollywood’s Jewish founders. The exhibit, to be called “Hollywoodland”, is scheduled to open in 2023. Read the article here. 
I hear my Hollywood ghosts kvelling (Yiddish for expressing pride) and demanding further action – a full-length, nuanced treatment of their lives.
As a keeper of the Wurtzel flame, I’ve spent years maintaining the family archives, investigating and parsing the meaning of our Hollywood legacy. I recently finished a narrative nonfiction manuscript “Ghosts of Hollywood Past: A Family’s Journey Through Moviemaking , Antisemitism and  Anxiety” based on my research and lived experience.

Sharon Rosen Lieb in front of her great-grandparents house, pictures then (1935) and now (2018)

Please shoot me an email if you are an editor with an intriguing freelance assignment;  an organization/podcaster/host who’d like me to speak at an event or on Zoom;  someone with constructive feedback or wise insights. I’d like to hear from you! I’ll  reply as soon as I’m able.


Let's start a conversation