“Was Elvis Jewish?” is the title of a new book of fun facts by an amazing author named Paulette Cooper. I met her decades ago, when she was a senior at Brandeis University, at a soiree on a Boston rooftop. She was wearing a pleated white skirt. She drove a crimson convertible coupe she had bought with reparation money for the murder of her entire family. You can access the incredible saga of her survival online ... if you know how.
Cooper’s portrait in the book may astonish you, if you care to order this witty, surprising, colorful and charming paperback. I’ll let you know how to get the book after I sketch out the story of Paulette Cooper Noble’s life.
Her mother gave birth and then was promptly deported and killed. Her father, grandparents and other relatives all vanished, but through a series of coincidences, Paulette was taken from the interim detention camp just before her own turn in the cattle car bound for Auschwitz - and extinction in the ovens - and brought to an orphanage. From there, she was adopted by a Jewish family in New York.
Cooper writes in the preface to this most recent of the more than 20 tomes she has published: “I wanted nothing to do with what had caused the loss of my people, my kin ... but writing this book has made me much more interested in my heritage and proud to be a Jew. I hope it has the same effect on you and inspires friendship.” She dedicates this playful but also poignant mini-masterpiece to her editor-husband, Paul Noble.
I found many virtues among these “amusing anecdotes,” as she puts it in the book’s subtitle. And I wonder, how did she find the facts, the details, like that Prince Charles was circumcised, and by a proper Jewish mohel. That Walt Disney never paid a dime to Felix Salten for the rights to “Bambi.” That Christopher Walken ran away with a traveling circus at age 15 to become a lion tamer!
This cheerfully eccentric book of oddities has, however, a serious side and a sort of tidal movement: She lists the celebrities who have passionately embraced Zionism and the survival of Israel, and also lists famous folks who have done the opposite. Suddenly, the book has depth ... and so does Cooper!
If her name sounds familiar, it may be because she sued the Church of Scientology for the theft of the money sent to her by the German government and, beyond that, for a plot against her freedom of the pen.
Today, Cooper lives, contentedly and creatively, in Palm Beach, Florida, with her husband and pets. She dotes on those pets, both canine and feline, and writes about them in columns in area newspapers and magazines.
From time to time I hear from Cooper, and on one marvelous occasion, I invited Paulette and Paul to join us for dinner at the Frenchman’s Creek Beach and Country Club, a most hospitable haven in Palm Beach County and a welcome retreat from the troubles of the world. It was an unforgettable reunion for me, a chance to deepen my understanding of the courage and complexity of Cooper’s pursuits.
I have read some of Cooper’s memoirs and research reports. This new contribution to her oeuvre, “Was Elvis Jewish?,” will give you a thoughtful laugh or smile, and, into the bargain, insight into the wonders of those who have survived and flourished and brought both humor and humanity into our post-Shoah civilization.
You can order Cooper’s books at waselvisjewish.com or paulettecooper.com, or go to Books on the Square, in Providence, and they’ll do it for you.
MIKE FINK (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.