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Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg
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Reviewed on 2009-10-02
Received[3]  out of 4 stars
Most of us are too young to remember that before “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family,” a Jewish lady produced, wrote and starred in the most popular family-oriented comedy on radio and television. Her name was Gertrude Berg and her show, “The Goldbergs,” is the subject of the biographical documentary “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” written and directed by Aviva Kempner (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”).

The film’s title comes from the opening line of the television show, in which a neighbor from across the alley shouts out this greeting to commence a weekly, gossip-filled chitchat. Molly Goldberg (Berg’s alter ego) lifts up the shade, leans her head out the window and welcomes viewers into her home.

Before television, Berg was the first lady of radio, portraying the matriarch of a middle-class Jewish family living in the Bronx. Berg’s daily radio show “The Rise of the Goldbergs” was broadcast live on NBC before it moved over to CBS following a bidding war. It debuted one month after the stock market crash of 1929 and aired until 1945, when FDR died and World War II ended.

Berg built a media empire and was considered the Oprah Winfrey of her era. Once she placed second behind Eleanor Roosevelt on a list of the most respected women in America. Her humorous brand of situation comedy transcended religion and race. The show stressed family unity and the value of a good education over material possessions. Besides the normal comings and goings of daily life, Berg placed a premium on being a good neighbor and frequent interaction with the community.

The live television show premiered in 1949, and Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy Award in history. This friendly, full-figured woman did much to create a positive image of a down-to-earth Jewish mother. She treated everyone with respect and used “dear” and “darling” in every conversation. Her outfit was not complete without pearls around her neck and an apron.

She was a workaholic, churning out more than 12,000 scripts, and her feminist viewpoint was way ahead of its time. She was like a modern-day therapist, bringing comforting warmth in offering practical advice for solving a variety of domestic problems.

Her leading man, Philip Loeb, founder of the American Federation of Radio Artists and an ardent labor activist, was blacklisted as a communist. Her refusal to jettison him despite sponsor demands resulted in her TV show being taken off the air for 18 months. When it returned with a replacement actor playing her husband and the family moving to the suburbs, the show was never the same, and viewers lost interest. Lucille Ball took over the time slot after Berg’s show ended in 1955 and supplanted her as the reigning queen of television.

Kempner did her homework in restoring from obscurity this trailblazing sitcom pioneer. The film is well-organized and filled with interesting trivia tidbits. It recalls a bygone era in broadcasting history and is entertaining and educational with universal appeal.

The restored archival footage is in black and white. The talking heads interviewed include Kansas City, Kan., native Ed Asner, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and esteemed television writer/producer Norman Lear.

Now showing exclusively for a limited engagement at the Leawood Theatre in Overland Park.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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