The Shmooze

Justin Bieber and the Most Jewish Drag Race

By Eric Schulmiller

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Drag Racer: Justin Bieber’s recent antics call to mind those of Fonzie and the cast of ‘Happy Days.’

Unless you lost power during the recent snowstorm, there was no escaping the recent story of Justin Bieber’s arrest, which flooded the airwaves with a barrage of breaking updates and speculation about the troubled (and possible retired) pop star. An MSNBC anchor even preempted an interview with a California congresswoman about NSA domestic spying to deliver important breaking news about the drag race, the possible alcohol use, and other minutia surrounding Bieber’s arrest.

In order to escape Biebergate, I decided do a little digging into the drag race that had the most lasting impact on me as a child: In a first season episode of “Happy Days” that aired almost exactly forty years ago to the day, The Fonz agrees to race Ralph Malph’s souped up car against the hated Skizzy in what Ralph calls “the greatest drag race of the century!” To my surprise, I found that this race, in the episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Visit?” easily qualifies as the most Jewish drag race of all time.

First of all, the episode was authored by two Jewish screenwriters - Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz. The two met at Queens College, and set out for LA together after securing a writing job on the “Odd Couple.” After being fired and briefly living in their car, the friends and writing partners were rehired by producer Garry Marshall, which led to their work on “Happy Days,” where Ganz would eventually assume the role of head writer (and also co-creator of two of its spinoffs, “Laverne and Shirley” and “Joanie Loves Chachi”).

The episode was directed by veteran Jewish actor and director Jerry Paris, who would go on to direct over 200 episodes of Happy Days over the next ten years. Paris’ daughter was quoted in a 2010 Jewish Journal article as affirming that Jerry and his family were all “very proud of our Jewish heritage.”

And, of course, nearly all the participants in the “Happy Days” “drag race” scene were portrayed by Jewish actors. The owner of the car, Ralph Malph, was played by Jewish actor Donny Most, who was born in Brooklyn and graduated from the celebrated Erasmus Hall High School about ten years after Barbara Streisand. Of course, the legendary Arthur Herbert “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (who was way cooler than Bieber back in the day) was portrayed by none other than Henry Winkler, whose German refugee parents helped found a Conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s 66th street. Even rival drag racer Skizzy was played by a Jewish actor (Alan Abelew)!

But perhaps the most Jewish thing about the “Happy Days” drag race was that…it never happened. Right before the race was set to begin, Richie Cunningham’s father (played by Jewish actor Tom Bosley) runs breathlessly to the starting line to stop it. Then the police show up, and everyone gets a stern lecture from the rather rabbinic police chief back at the station on the dangers of drag racing. Richie winds up “grounded for life” (or at least two weeks), and the lesson is learned. If that’s not an ending to make a Jewish mother proud, I’m not sure what is.

So there you have it - the most Jewish drag race of all time, forty years before Bieber. Then again, Justin does say the shema before concerts (as taught to him by his Jewish manager Scott “Scooter” Braun), and his race did take place in Miami Beach. So, who knows? Maybe he was just in a hurry to get to Jerry’s Famous Deli. Ayyyyyyy…..


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: drag racing, The Fonz, Justin Bieber, Jerry Paris, Henry Winkler, Happy Days

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.