CAPSULE: Aviva Kempner directs a 92-minute documentary about what was once one of America's most beloved radio and television programs, which was written by and starring one of America's then most beloved women, Gertrude Berg. Though her character Molly Goldberg is mostly forgotten today she and her fictional family have an important place in the history of American culture. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG is Aviva Kempner's story of the radio and television program "The Goldbergs". It is also the story of the powerhouse woman behind that program, Gertrude Berg. This is a very well produced documentary easily of the quality of PBS documentary programs like "American Masters" and "The American Experience". The story is told using original photographs and films of the period, excerpts from the program, and interview comments by people like Susan Stamberg (of NPR), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (associate justice of the United States Supreme Court), and Norman Lear. Also included are excerpts from a 1950s interview of Gertrude Berg by Edward R. Morrow.
The first popular situation comedy on the radio was also the first popular situation comedy on television. The program was originally titled "The Rise of the Goldbergs", and later shortened to just "The Goldbergs". The program was a sort of "Mother Knows Best" with the mother being the smart, wise, and big-hearted Molly Goldberg. It was written by and starred Gertrude Berg--born Tilly Edelstein--and became a sort of comedy/drama soap opera, at first 15 minutes a day and later expanded to a half hour. The stories were about the family of Molly Goldberg, a woman who was very much like Gertrude Berg herself. It had a real feel for everyday life and was spiced with aside comments on the action from Berg to the listener who was treated much like a member of the family.
The radio program premiered November 20, 1929, on the CBS Blue Network. It ran on the radio, including a network change, until 1950. But starting in 1949 the show also ran on television until 1956. While the program was about a Jewish immigrant family it had an appeal across all ethnic backgrounds. Its story of characters trying to get along on what little they had during the Great Depression. Its portrayal of an immigrant family resonated with the public. One interviewee says that she was Greek, but she saw much of her own family in the fictional Goldbergs. The Goldberg family could get along in hard times and come out OK, even with very little to live on. This is a message that is as relevant today as it was in Depression days.
Polls at the time said that the Gertrude Berg was second only to Eleanor Roosevelt as the most respected women in America. Central to the story throughout the radio days and well into the television days were the tenement setting which allow the character Molly Goldberg to talk with her neighbors by just putting her head out the window and calling "Yoo-hoo." Later in the fifties the setting was moved to suburbia but retained much of the same feel. In the late 1930s the film confronted the problems of ethnic bigotry. Many viewers learned about Kristallnacht and what was happening in Nazi Germany but also what was happening in the United States. One program had the family's Passover Seder ceremony interrupted by a rock thrown through the window. The character Molly Goldberg always remained calm and brought her own wisdom to the incident and any situation she found herself in. Gertrude Berg (who wrote every episode) let her own personality shine through.
Eventually, however, politics did intrude, not in front of the camera but behind. The part of Molly's husband Jake was played in the late 1940s and early 1950s by Philip Loeb. Loeb was accused of being a Communist and his name appeared in Red Channels. Sponsor General Foods demanded that he be dropped from the show for being too controversial. Goldberg absolutely refused, but lost when Loeb resigned. Soon after CBS dropped the television show. In the schedule hole it left open CBS put a new situation comedy, "I Love Lucy". Eight months later the Goldbergs were back on television. NBC picked up the show with Berg, though not with Loeb.
Gertrude Berg herself probably could not have made a better documentary of her life and her creations than YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG. Through decades on the radio, multiple TV series, and two plays Berg's Molly Goldberg gave America comfort and wisdom. Yet for most of this film's audience most of what it tells will be a complete revelation. I rate YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1334479
Wikipedia on "The Goldbergs": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Goldberg
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper