Brothers Emanuel: Book Review

Brothers Emanuel Book Cover - P 2013
Random House

Brothers Emanuel Book Cover - P 2013

Older brother Zeke reveals what it was like growing up with future WME co-chair Ari and Chicago Mayor Rahm.

This story first appeared in the April 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Brothers Emanuel -- the youngest, Ari, the WME co-chairman; middle child Rahm, the Chicago mayor; and oldest Ezekiel, a noted cancer doctor -- are, as NBC's Brian Williams noted recently, likely the most accomplished trio of brothers in America today. What's the secret of their success?

Ezekiel, 55, tries to figure that out in his warm, engaging, Brighton Beach-esque tale of growing up in the Chicago suburbs and Israel during the '60s and '70s. More an extended wedding toast -- even the embarrassing anecdotes make the subjects look good -- than a critical self-analysis, the book offsets its lack of depth with charm and humor. The memoir is told as a series of antics -- the shared bedroom, the family road trip in a station wagon, the dinner-table arguments -- that inevitably feature the boys (separated by two years each) as rambunctious but well-meaning, their dad, Benjamin, as a bumbling henpecked husband and mom Marsha as a typical Jewish matriarch. There's a sitcom in here, or at least a good Barry Levinson/Neil Simon movie.

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Much attention is devoted to Ari, who is more interesting and more complicated than the fictional Ari Gold, memorably played by Jeremy Piven on Entourage. Half of the real Ari's childhood fights seem to involve sticking up for an underdog or punishing other kids for using racial slurs. And agents are born -- not made. Ari always was a hustler, whether it was sweet-talking his parents, selling his dessert to other kids on the playground or taking a 40 percent commission on lawn-mowing jobs found for other kids. Yet Ari struggled with dyslexia. Ezekiel writes empathetically about how hard it was for Ari to learn how to read and the pressure he felt in his academically gifted family. There's a particularly tender scene where a 7-year-old Ari is praised by his mother for an impressive throw. "Yeah, I can throw, but I still can't read," he replies.

At its core, this is a classic American story about immigrant assimilation and the middle-class journey from city to suburbs. Some of the best parts are about Ben's childhood in Jerusalem (where his family moved from Odessa in the early '30s), how he arrived in America and how he and Marsha poured everything into their kids. One interesting revelation: The family changed its name from Auerbach to Emanuel to honor Ben's older brother, who was killed in a skirmish with Arabs in 1933. It's ironic that the father of these three successful -- and fiercely close -- brothers came to the U.S. in part to escape the shadow of his dead brother.

At the end, Zeke tries to explain their secret, or, as he is jokingly asked, "What did your Mom put in your cereal?" He puts aside the notion of genetics and instead credits Ben and Marsha's "jazz parenting," which gave the boys plenty of freedom to roam within a set structure that emphasized school, hard work and ambition. It's not much of an answer, but the story of Zeke and his two "schmuck" brothers is mighty entertaining nonetheless.