Why isn’t Gertrude Berg’s name part of a major TV award? She was a pioneer of both radio and television yet she was left off the TV Early Memories stamps that featured her contemporaries. She won the first Emmy for Best Actress in a comedy. Where’s the respect? The box for Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg declares, “The Most Famous Woman in America You’ve Never Heard Of.” Often times I scoff at such hype. But it’s true. Gerturde Berg’s name might be too obscure for a Final Jeopardy answer. Yet there was a time when she was a national superstar. She was neck and neck with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Her creation of The Goldbergs ran on radio and TV for over 25 years. The series truly was her creation as she served both as star and screenwriter for every episode. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg brings much needed attention to Berg and her masterwork.
Gertrude Berg didn’t get the theatrical bug until she was put in charge of coming up with plays for the kids staying at her father’s hotel in the Catskills. She wrote skits and directed them. She married a chemist that was part of the team that invented instant coffee. But she wasn’t going to be a housewife. When they moved back to New York City, she dared to pitch her idea for a radio show to NBC. “The Rise of the Goldbergs” quickly became a hit that was at the top of the ratings with Amos and Andy. Berg wrote every script for the series that aired daily. She didn’t rely on dozens of writers like some stars. The show dealt with an extended Jewish family living in a Bronx apartment. Berg played Molly Goldberg, an immigrant wife that doled out sound advice to the neighbors that would call down to her apartment window. After 17 seasons, the series ended on the radio. Berg realized that there was a new frontier for her Molly with the rise of TV.
The show replicated it’s radio success when it debuted on CBS in 1949. Berg knew hot to properly promote her sponsor as Molly opened each episode in the window talking about the wonders of Sanka. Paramount put out a movie version called Molly. The studio played down the Jewish family aspect with Molly acting as a matchmaker for a bland, waspy couple. Things were going good for the TV show until right wingers went after Philip Loeb, the actor that played Molly’s husband. Loeb was a major player in Actor’s Equity. His actions led to better payments to actors. This leadership got him pegged as a communist. Berg wasn’t going to fire Loeb even with pressure from General Foods and CBS. She swore she’d bad mouth their products if they didn’t drop the issue. The companies conceded and let Loeb stay. But months later they canceled the series. No other sponsor would pick her up. She went to Cardinal Spellman to get help. He would put in a good word for her to J. Edgar Hoover if she converted to Catholicism. She refused. I Love Lucy took over her timeslot during this struggle. She finally had to let Loeb go if she wanted to get The Goldbergs back on the air. NBC was the new home before a final go around on DuMont. The show still did well, but it wasn’t the monster ratings hit before the blacklisting of Loeb. Ultimately Loeb killed himself as nobody dared hire him. Berg remained in the spotlight with other projects, plays and guest TV spots until her death in 1966. She was buried near her father’s Catskills resort.
Berg’s story is presented by a variety of relatives, biographers and cast members. They give a well rounded version of her. She was testy during pre-production of an episode because she was a perfectionist and each episode came from her. The most enlightening footage comes from her interview with Edward R. Murrow. She admits that she’s not Molly Goldberg, but she’d spent more time as Molly than Gertrude over the previous 25 years.
There are several reasons why The Goldbergs have vanished from even nostalgic TV. The biggest is that a majority of the episodes were broadcast live and preserved on kinescopes. TV stations rarely like running the format since it’s blurry and the audio isn’t that sharp. The blacklisting of Loeb made patriotic channels fearful of being linked to an accused commie. In the Southern states, there’s not much demand for a show about a Jewish family. These elements contributed to the series’ legacy diminishing over the decades. Luckily Aviva Kempner’s documentary polishes off the work of Gertrude Berg. The attention brought by this movie has allowed a boxset of the 71 surviving episodes to be released. After watching Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, you’ll write the Postmaster General demanding to know why she was left off that vintage TV stamps.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. This is good since we don’t have to deal with cropping of vintage video and archival footage. The quality varies with the source material. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. The levels are fine as they cut between new interviews with clips from The Goldbergs.
Audio Commentary with director Aviva Kempner lets her tell plenty of stories that she couldn’t squeeze into the documentary.
The Goldbergs features interview segments that had to be snipped from the film covering Gertrude Berg (14:11), Philip Loeb (9:25), Eli Mintz (8:05), Larry Robinson (3:16), Arlene “Fuzzy” McQuade (4:46), Cast Member Anecdotes (5:38) and Fanecdotes (10:15). These are finished moments complete with photos accompanying the interviews.
Gertrude’s Legacy (6:08) has people including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg testify to the impact of Gerturde Berg on their lives.
Pincus Pines (2:02) is just a clip from the show.
Mother-In-Law (29:35) episode guest stars Anne Bancroft (The Graduate) as a new bride that can’t bring herself to call her mother-in-law mom.
Rosie’s Nose (26:20) is from 1955 season when the family moved out to the suburbs. At this point the show was shot on film
Baby Naming (29:32) is another episode.
Victory Front Presents: The Goldbergs: The World of Tomorrow (13:48) is the radio show.
Person to Person with Edward R. Murrow (12:17) is the early version of MTV Cribs. Murrow sent a camera crew to Berg’s house to get a tour while he tosses her questions from his studio set. She takes us to the room where she wakes up at 6 a.m. to write the latest episode.
Molly Hitchcock (1:46) has Steve Allen propose what would happen if Gertrude Berg filled into for Alfred HItchock. Be prepared for bagels.
The Ed Sullivan Show “Hanukkah Bush” (3:38) has her tell about the time her kids wanted a Christmas tree.
Yoo-Hoo Kempner Family Outtakes (1:55) are family moments from the director.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg Billboard (0:28) is a time lapse to show how they put up a billboard for the documentary.
Today I Vote for My Joey (20:02) is a short fictional film directed by Aviva Kempner. A group of elderly women are eager to vote for Joe Lieberman in his vice presidential bid.
Filmmaker Bio gives Kempner’s background. She directed The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg revives Gertrude Berg and Molly Goldberg. The documentary will make you feel guilty that you’ve never been exposed to the early TV series. Having three complete episodes as bonus features will let you clearly understand the marvel of Berg’s acting and writing. This is a must watch for anyone that considers themselves a TV addict.
Docuramafilms presents Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg. Directed by: Aviva Kempner. Starring: Gertrude Berg, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Susan Stamberg. Running time: 92 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: August 24, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.