The Popcorn Reel                                                                          
                                                                                                                                                         Friday, July 10, 2009

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

A Forgotten Trailblazer, With Abundant But Lonely Glories

Gertrude Berg (aka Tilly Edelstein).  A legendary first lady of American television whose signature character Molly Goldberg captured the hearts of millions during the Great Depression and beyond, Ms. Berg is profiled in the documentary "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg", directed by Aviva Kempner.  The film opened today exclusively in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in Manhattan.  (Photo: International Film Circuit)

By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE 
Friday, July 10, 2009

"Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" is one of those undiscovered treasures of a documentary: it illuminates the heart and broadens the mind.  Aviva Kempner constructs an affectionate portrayal of one of Hollywood's most unsung television artists, Gertrude Berg (aka Tilly Edelstein), who died in 1966 from a broken heart as much as from incredible hard work.  She pioneered what would be called the sitcom on American television, while fighting anti-Semitism and the McCarthy Era movement that kept many entertainers out of work in Hollywood for at least a decade during the 1950s, accused of being Communist sympathizers.  Ms. Berg's principal creation was Molly Goldberg, and her signature cry on her television comedy show was, "Yoo-Hoo!"  She also wrote and produced the show, receiving the first Best Actress Emmy Award in the history of the Emmys.  She went on to write 12,000 scripts and won a Tony Award in 1959.  "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" opened exclusively today at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York City and will be opening in other U.S. cities over the next few weeks and months.

Ms. Kempner ("The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg") weaves a sad, heartwarming and hopeful portrait of Gertrude Berg, featuring interviews with show business personalities, historians, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, members of generations of the Goldberg family as they fondly recall her dedication, single-mindedness and positive portrayals of Jewish women, which were rare to none at the time, while other women strongly identified with her.  Ms. Berg made her debut via radio just after the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 during the Great Depression, entertaining millions in the process.  The documentary features a lot of archive footage of Gertrude Berg, weaving excerpts from her show and her status as a pitch person for products on television, revealing Ms. Berg as a brilliant mind with a resolute strength of heart and courage.  The documentary also depicts her as a communal figure, not one who condescended to others, while maintaining a sharp and warm sense of humor, an infectious and engaging presence who influenced more than a bit of American culture.

The longer one watches "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg", the more one realizes just how much her incarnation of Molly overtook Ms. Berg's private life, which was full of personal pains and isolations.  The documentary traces Ms. Berg's emergence in the late 1920s right through to the 1960s, and her transcendence of racial, cultural and ethnic barriers.  Ms. Berg evolved during the era of the racist Amos & Andy radio and television shows, which her show was second to during the 1950s.  An activist and idealist, Ms. Berg successfully lobbied for her own show about a Jewish family not to be filled with stereotypes or anti-Semitic caricatures and defended performers like Philip Loeb, who suffered sadly at the hands of McCarthyism.  Ms. Kempner's film is touching, sentimental, illustrative and a beautiful tapestry of a courageous woman who never stopped, nor received the credit she richly deserved.  A popular woman at the height of her fame, Gertrude Berg, arguably the First Lady of television and radio, has never received the credit now that Lucille Ball still receives today.  Ms. Kempner's film works well as a fond corrective, and the filmmaker does right by Ms. Berg and examines the politics of Hollywood and womens' places in it. 

An affectionate yoo-hoo to Ms. Kempner for a job well done on a cherished and forgotten legend.

"Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.  The film contains a brief shot of Amos & Andy in blackface, which some may find offensive.  The film's running time is one hour and 32 minutes.

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