Sisterhood Blog

Jewish 'Downton Abbey'

By Sarah Seltzer

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Shirley MacLaine of ‘Downton Abbey’

Last night, British period drama “Downtown Abbey” had its stateside premiere of the third season — to the accompaniment of thousands of excited tweets. And at least for this “Masterpiece Classic” fangirl, one of the highlights of the first episode was the arrival of Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson, the gilded American counterpart and foil to Maggie Smith’s zinger-slinging Dowager Countess. The genteel enmity between them was prefigured when Violet, the Dowager Countess, says before the American Levinson’s arrival, “When I’m with her, I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.” It was an absolute joy watching the two legendary actresses spar high-handedly over the relative merits of British tradition v. American inventiveness.

But even though Levinson’s bold outsider ways, her wry expressiveness and even her refusal to eat crab (as communicated by her maid) may have indicated otherwise in the premiere, it seems she is not a Jewish character. Not strictly, anyway. Many of us were convinced that — thanks to her husband’s name, “Isidore Levinson,” and his fortune as a Cincinnatti dry goods manufacturer — there was strong evidence for Martha’s and her offsprings’s Jewishness.

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