Year Released: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
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Aviva Kempner’s documentary “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” celebrates the career of Gertrude Berg, a long-forgotten pioneer in American entertainment. During the peak of her career, Berg was among the most influential women in the country. As the star, head writer, and producer of the weekly series “The Goldbergs,” Berg was a reigning influence on radio during the 1930s and 1940s and television from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s.
“The Goldbergs” was a curiosity of its time – a dramedy on the trials and tribulations of a Jewish family in New York City. Berg’s creation of Molly Goldberg, the family matriarch, solidified the notion (some might say “stereotype”) of the Jewish mother, complete with an none-too-assimilated Old World accent. Considering that anti-Semitism in pre-World War II America was barely hidden and overt displays of Jewish-American pride were uncommon in American popular entertainment after the war, the success of “The Goldbergs” was astonishing.
For her part, Berg took full advantage of the show’s popularity. She authored a newspaper advice column, published a cookbook, and put her name on a line of women’s clothing. Even Hollywood got into the act when Paramount Pictures produced a 1950 film based on “The Goldbergs.”
In 1950, however, disaster struck when actor Phillip Loeb, who played the patriarch Jake on the high-rated television version of the show, was listed in the Red Channels publication. Berg’s clout and popularity was not enough to break the blacklist, and sponsors would not go near the show with Loeb in the cast. Reluctantly, after exhausting every possible avenue, Berg dropped Loeb and resumed “The Goldbergs” with replacement actors taking the role. Loeb, unemployed and financially ruined by the blacklist, committed suicide in 1955.
“Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” provides a wealth of rarely-seen kinescopes from the television version and even more elusive recordings from the radio show to offer an idea of why “The Goldbergs” were so popular. To be frank, it is hard to understand why the show was so popular – its excessive mix of schmaltzy plots and dull observations of human behavior make it seem as subtle as an anvil.
Nonetheless, Berg was a dynamic and compelling force of nature, and one wishes the film could have devoted more attention to the post-“Goldbergs” work that provided intriguing flashes of her versatility as an actress, including a 1959 TV production “The World of Sholom Aleichem,” where Berg bravely co-starred with blacklisted actors including Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, and Lee Grant.
For those who never heard of “The Goldbergs” and its amazing star, “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” will provide a special introduction to a special person. And for those who recall Berg from her halcyon days, this will present a warm reunion with a beloved entertainer.
Posted on June 24, 2009 in Reviews by Phil Hall
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