The Reluctant Traveler: Hollywood star Eugene Levy reconnects with his family's roots in the Gorbals

The Canadian actor and comedian visited Glasgow for the new season of his travel series.
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In the episode “Scotland: My Mother’s Country,” Eugene visits the Highlands and later Glasgow, where his mother was born and spent her childhood, for the first time. The Schitt's Creek, American Pie, Splash and For Your Consideration actor was on a European tour for his travel show The Reluctant Traveler on Apple TV+. The show has Eugene pushed outside of his comfort zone, participating in adventures he normally wouldn’t, like ice fishing in Finland or staying the night in the Costa Rican jungle.

His visit to Glasgow is a more personal, emotional experience as he reconnects with his family roots. Levy was born in Hamilton Ontario in 1946. His mother, Rebecca Kudlatz was born in Glasgow to Polish Jewish parents before moving to Canada where she married Joseph Levy, who was Sephardi Jewish with ancestors from Spain and Bulgaria.

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The comedian's first stop in Scotland is Candacraig House, a 17th-century estate near Balmoral, where he meets with Michael Tobias, an expert in Scottish Jewish ancestry. Eugene is presented with a family tree and history of his mother Rebecca “Betty” Kudlatz. Michael also shows him photographs of his great-grandparents Samuel and Nellie and tells him that they came to Glasgow in 1891 from a small Polish town called Nasielsk. Michael also explains that Eugene’s family moved to Scotland before moving on to Canada because they could only afford to make the trip in two stages.

“I’m actually proud that I, you know, had relatives who wanted a better life for their family. And to think what they had to go through at the time, you know, that’s pretty major stuff,” Eugene says afterwards.

In Glasgow, Eugene’s spends time in the Gorbals, the area where his mother grew up. He later follows in his mother's footsteps, visiting the Garnethill synagogue. It's here that he feels a strong connection to his past: “Actually being here, a hundred years later, I’m feeling a bit of a, you know, tug,” he says before revealing that he thinks of his mother often: “My mum and my dad. There’s always one time in the day when, they just kind of, you know, come into mind.”

He adds: “I’ve never quite felt the attachment to where the family is from. It was only an attachment through stories. So I’m glad I came. I’m glad I’m here. And I’m glad I’m kind of reconnecting.”

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The next morning, Eugene visits the cemetery where Samuel and Nellie are buried. He leaves stones on the graves of “two of the bravest people.”

The four-time Emmy and Grammy winner told BBC Scotland: "There was a connection made, almost from the moment I got to Scotland. It was much more emotional than I expected. "

His mother moved to Canada when she was around 13 years old. Levy told BBC Scotland that she retained her Glasgow accent, but didn't talk about the challenges of her working class tenement upbringing: "She never talked about how difficult a situation it was growing up. That’s what hit a chord with me – it was four or five people in a room, sleeping in a kitchen, and she never talked about that. I’ve only seen some pictures of the Gorbals but I know it was a tough environment to grow up in."

He said he enjoyed hearing the accent in Scotland: "My grandfather lived with us growing up and he had the thickest Scottish brogue. My mom always thought she’d lost her Scottish dialect but she never did, it was always there. So there was this familiarity hearing this. Scots have a really dry sense of humour that really appeals to me too. My uncles and aunts had that too."

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