Friday, October 2, 2009

Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg (Rhoades)

“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” Recalls First TV Sitcom
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few weeks ago, Solares hill editor Mark Howell interviewed Ed Asner on KONK AM. The “Mary Tyler Moore” co-star is a good friend of Key West.

That’s why I enjoyed the recent Pixar animated film “Up,” with the little old man who ties balloons to his house voiced by Asner. And why I got an extra kick out of “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” the documentary about old-time actress Gertrude Berg that features comments by Ed Asner.

For those of you who are old enough to remember this popular television pioneer – like Ed Asner and I do – “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema. Heck, it’s worth seeing even if you don’t remember her. She’s been called “The Most Famous Woman in America You’ve Never Heard Of.”

Born Tilly Edelstein in 1898, she gained the Berg name by marriage. While producing comedy skits for her father’s Catskills resort, she developed a semi-autobiographical character called Molly Goldberg, an archetypical bighearted Jewish matriarch.

In 1929 she created and starred on a daily radio show called “The Rise of the Goldbergs.” Later shortened to “The Goldbergs,” it told the adventures of a lower-middleclass Jewish family in New York City.

Gertrude Berg became a big star, earning $2,000 a week at the height of the Great Depression. Polls placed her as the most beloved woman in the United States, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt.

After writing and starring in more than 5,000 radio episodes, as well as a Broadway adaptation, Berg brought the concept to television in 1949, creating the very first character-driven domestic sitcom. Winner of the first Best Actress Emmy in history, she broke new ground for women in the entertainment industry.

German-born filmmaker Aviva Kempner (“Today I Vote for My Joey”) has captured the meteoric career of Gertrude Berg in “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.” In addition to Ed Asner, the documentary features interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Viola Harris, Radio Hall of Famer Susan Stamberg, and TV producer Norman Lear.
Kempner funds her films through the Ciesla Foundation, an organization that educates people about the Holocaust. However, the Foundation has expanded its mission to include broader topics. Like Gertrude Berg.

Early on, Kempner produced and co-wrote “Partisans of Vilna,” a documentary about Jewish resistance against the Nazis. She also wrote the narration for “Promises to Keep,” the Academy Award-nominated documentary on the homeless.

Her best-known film is “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” a documentary about the Detroit Tigers first baseman who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930’s and 40’s.

While Kempner likes to say she investigates “non-stereotypical images of Jews in history,” Gertrude Berg was herself the basis of a stereotypical view of Jewish-American mothers. With her heaving bosom and meddlesome nature, Molly Goldberg was described as “a woman with a place in every heart and a finger in every pie.”

Ed Asner, who grew up Jewish in Kansas City, says his family wasn’t crazy about the show. “Molly Goldberg with her accent interfered with our ‘blending,’” he grumbles.

Nonetheless, “The Goldbergs” offered a positive view of Jewish family life. As one educator put it, “This series has done more to set us Jews right with the goyim than all the sermons ever preached by the Rabbis.”
[from Solares Hill]

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