Gertrude Berg was once one of the five most famous women in the United States. Her heyday was a little before my time, though not by much. I certainly remember seeing her on her television program "Mrs. G. Goes to College (a.k.a. "The Gertrude Berg Show") in 1961 and 1962, and I seem to remember that my parents knew all about her. At the time I never appreciated who she was and how influential she really had been in the years before my birth. Berg was a star of radio, TV, and the Broadway stage. But her longest running contributions and what made her name a household word were the various radio and television programs that chronicled the fictional New York Jewish family the Goldbergs. Berg played the irrepressible Molly Goldberg with no little part of herself in the character. In her time Gertrude Berg was considered the second most beloved woman in America, just after Eleanor Roosevelt.
Berg had essentially invented the situation comedy or perhaps more accurately what is now called a "warmedy". The saga of the Goldbergs began November 20, 1929, with a fifteen-minute episode of the radio series "The Rise of the Goldbergs." And with various incarnations in different media that saga continued to the 1950s. Berg, who always wrote the show as well as starred in it, was writing about issues of intolerance, of settling refugees, raising a family in the Depression, and of the difficulty of lower middle class life in general. It has been mostly forgotten how popular this program really was. The show was Jewish, but many ethnic groups, particularly recent immigrants, could see their own conditions and problems reflected in those of the characters.
Last year I was pleased to see and review Aviva Kempner's documentary YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG. Kempner wrote, produced and directed the documentary chronicling the life and career of Gertrude Berg. The review is at http://leepers.us/goldberg.htm.
YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG has now come to DVD, released August 24, 2010. The DVD has the 92-minute film, of course, and it has with it a set of additional special features.
Kempner does a running commentary of the film. She follows along with the film broadening and expanding on the material with historic detail about Berg, the other actors, the writing of the show, the conflicts with the black list, etc. A trailer for the film follows the film and commentary.
The second disk has interview segments of people involved with the TV series and their families and fans. These pieces, generally about 1-5 minutes in length, probably total to more than the length of the film. These segments are not really a whole lot different from the interview segments used in the film. Some of the actors of the series are still alive and appear before the cameras. These constitute a collection of somewhat scattershot details, but they give a fuller picture. There is, however, some overlap among the film, the commentary, and the interviews. Expect to hear some stories two or even three times.
My first viewing of YOO-HOO left me somewhat anxious to see episodes of the original program. The film had several short excerpts from the TV series, but, of course, it could not have entire episodes. The DVD comes with three thirty-minute TV episodes, and a thirty-minute radio segment. For those who wish to see or hear more of the episodes, I have created a link to archive.org's collection of show material for those who have download facilities. Go to http://tinyurl.com/The-Goldbergs and follow the links from there. There is also a link to the recording of an interview of Aviva Kemper for New York's WBAI radio station.
Included on the DVD also are recordings of three very different appearances Gertrude Berg from other television programs. There is also some material about Aviva Kemper herself. In all it makes a very nice supplement to a very engrossing documentary. The DVD is being released by Docurama Films.
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper