It was 2018 and culture writer Travis M. Andrews was speaking with his peers at the Washington Post about the release of the first LP by jazz ensemble Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra.
“I said, ‘Why is Jeff Goldblum so popular right now? I understand, in the 90s, but he’s still ubiquitous,’” Andrews told The Chronicle. “So, I wrote this piece and I started to get more and more interested in him. This guy’s career makes no sense — you couldn’t plan this career. And I think that’s why people relate to him.”
The product of Andrews’ curiosity is a new book about the man who might be the most famous Pittsburgh Jew in popular culture: “Because He’s Jeff Goldblum: The Movies, Memes and Meaning of Hollywood’s Most Enigmatic Actor.” Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House, published the 320-page hardcover tome in May.
Jeffrey Lynn Goldblum was born Oct. 22, 1952, and lived his childhood in the Mon Valley suburb of West Homestead. After appearing in plays and an unlikely film turn in 1974’s “Death Wish,” he went on to star as a journalist in “The Big Chill” and played the leading role in David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.” His became something of a household name in the 1990s as he took on prominent roles in some of the highest grossing films of the decade, including 1993’s “Jurassic Park” and 1996’s “Independence Day,” and later their respective sequels.
Andrews did not conduct new interviews with Goldblum for the book, he said, but among the themes he tackles is the actor’s adversity and longevity — from art house performer to blockbuster superstar to internet sensation.
Andrews was also taken by his relationship with Judaism, something the writer said Goldblum typically does not discuss in interviews. Goldblum, who was born to Jewish parents and attended an Orthodox shul, has said he decided he wanted to become an actor while practicing reading Torah for his bar mitzvah, according to the Jerusalem Post.
“One of the things to note is that he’s talked a lot about growing up in West Homestead and growing up without knowing another Jewish family,” Andrews said. “He felt a little like an outsider and poured himself into the arts.”
Pittsburgh, recently at least, also has been central to Goldblum’s identity. Garfield tattoo artist Matt McKelvey has started an annual Jeff Goldblum Day, an iconic (and, true to the person it emulates, often quirky) celebration in Goldblum’s hometown. Pittsburgh City Council has formally recognized the day, and, in 2019, Goldblum himself got in on the action, appearing at a local tattoo parlor as someone was getting inked with a Goldblum tattoo.
Andrews said he thinks Goldblum “pretends to be mystified” about the attraction of Jeff Goldblum Day, “But I think he knows why people are embracing him in that way,” he said. “He’s talked about kind of loving it.
“It seems he’s tickled by it.”
Much of Goldblum’s love for Pittsburgh became apparent in the 2000s, Andrews said. In 2006, he starred in “Pittsburgh,” a mockumentary comedy that follows Goldblum, playing himself, as he attempts to get a green card for his Canadian girlfriend by appearing with her in a regional production of “The Music Man” in Pittsburgh. And, not insignificantly, Andrews said Goldblum is a self-professed Steelers fan.
Andrews understands the Pittsburgh draw. Though raised in New Orleans, Andrews lived for a while in Birmingham, Alabama, sometimes referred to as “The Pittsburgh of the South” because, like Pittsburgh, it underwent an industrial boom after the Civil War in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century.
Andrews visited the Steel City about two or three years ago for the first time and was taken with its charm.
“I liked it very much,” he told the Chronicle. “I felt very at home there.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.