The Bear Jew was one of many standout characters from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds but does Sgt. Donny Donowitz have a real-life counterpart? Inglourious Basterds was a project Quentin Tarantino spent over a decade developing, intending it to a man on a mission-style movie like The Dirty Dozen. Over the years, actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Sylvester Stallone, and Eddie Murphy were rumored for leading roles but the project languished as the director struggled to cut it down to a feature-length script.
The actual production of Inglourious Basterds went quite smooth, however, and while Adam Sandler was initially rumored for the key part of The Bear Jew, the role instead went to director Eli Roth (Hostel). The character becomes infamous among the Nazis in the movie for his habit of beating German soldiers to death with his baseball bat, and in the finale, Donny even gets to rewrite history by machine gunning Hitler personally.
The character quickly became a fan favorite, but what is Donny Donowitz’ backstory and does he have a basis in real life?
The Bear Jew’s Backstory
One of the issues Tarantino faced writing Inglourious Basterds was coming up with too much material and deciding what to trim. It’s no surprise he shot a number of sequences that didn’t make the final cut too, including scenes involving Maggie Cheung's Madame Mimieux, the original owner of the French cinema that forms a crucial location in the movie. During Donny’s killing of Sergeant Rachtman, there was originally an entire flashback detailing his backstory and that of his bat.
The scene reveals Donny worked in his father’s barbershop in Boston and before he was deployed, he went to his local store to buy the heaviest bat he could find. He then went around and asked his Jewish neighbors to sign the name of a loved one suffering in Europe on it. The movie doesn’t point this out, but Anne Frank’s name is among the signatures. Tarantino also revealed that Donny is actually the father of Lee Donowitz, the film producer played by Saul Rubinek in True Romance.
Is The Bear Jew Based On A Real-Life Figure?
While he doesn't have a direct real-life counterpart, Tarantino appears to have based Inglourious Basterds' Bear Jew partially on Sam Dreben, a World War I veteran dubbed the Fighting Jew. Dreben was both a decorated soldier and sometime mercenary, but unlike Donny, he was famed for his skill with a machine gun instead of a bat. In addition to fighting in WWI, he saw action in the Mexican Revolution, the Philippine-American War and the Boxer Revolution in China.
Drebin was well-known for his bravery and combat skills and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during WWI. Drebin’s life was tragically cut short from a medical mistake in 1925 when he was accidentally injected with the wrong substance during a hospital stay.