Not a Pretty, Pretty Story: Larry David’s Slave-Owning Roots Revealed

Larry David
Photo courtesy of IMDB

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

The return of comedian Larry David with a new season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” on HBO—once again filmed in Pacific Palisades—has been greeted with, well, enthusiasm.

In contrast to the PBS SoCal program “Finding Your Roots,” first broadcast on Oct. 3, which dug into Lawrence Gene David’s ancestors leaving him, as he admitted on camera, shocked yet enlightened.

“You can see why my father did not want to tell me about my family,” he cracked.

The long-running genealogy show, presented by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., revealed that David’s roots not only included doomed Jewish communities in the old Austro-Hungarian empire but also a Southern slave owner.

In the 1850s his great-grandfather, Henry Bernstein, of Mobile, Alabama, a devout member of Sha’arai Shomayim Temple, was also recorded as owning a teenage female slave and a 4-year-old slave. The father of the child was not recorded.

Bernstein was one of just 3,000 Jews, Gates said, who enlisted with the Confederate States Army during the Civil War.

“I am a little more exotic than I thought. I am [from] Germany and Alabama—I’ve got some of the worst racist places in the world [in my lineage],” David said.

His mother’s family came from Poland and largely perished during the Nazi pogroms: He learned that his mother’s name was not Rose but Regina.

His paternal line came from the old dukedom of Hesse-Darmstadt, today in Germany, before they emigrated to the United States in the 19th century.

David said he was raised in Brooklyn during the 1950s, where there was much shouting but little information about the family journey.

They wanted him to be a mailman but he flunked the civil service exam.

He said he only found his “voice” when he escaped his family at the University of Maryland and, a few years later, on the stand-up circuit, where he first met fellow stand-up Jerry Seinfeld—and the rest is comedy history.

In “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he plays a more curmudgeonly (“braver”) version of his Palisadian golf-swinging, TV-writing, socially awkward self.

It won an array of awards but after a six-year absence, it was uncertain whether David would really return until last fall when filming started on Alma Real in The Huntington.

The ninth season started on HBO on Oct. 1 and will run for 10 tumultuous episodes.

And is that it? “I don’t know, I never look forward,” he said repeatedly in a round of promotional interviews.

Yet looking forward might have proven more comfortable than looking back.