The Ciesla Foundation
International Film Circuit release
A film by
International Film Circuit
2009 – 35mm – 1:85 – Dolby 5.1 – Color/B&W – 92 minutes
From Aviva Kempner, maker of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, comes this humorous and eye-
opening story of television pioneer Gertrude Berg. She was the creator, principal writer, and star of The
Goldbergs, a popular radio show for 17 years, which became television‟s very first character-driven
domestic sitcom in 1949. Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history, and paved the way for women in the entertainment industry. Includes interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Ed Asner, producers Norman Lear (All in the Family) and Gary David Goldberg (Family
Ties), and NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg.
Gertrude Berg became a cultural icon against the backdrop of the twentieth century‟s most difficult years for American Jews. Berg‟s radio show, The Goldbergs, which she created, wrote, and starred in,
premiered a week after the stock market crash of 1929. The show rose in popularity at the same time Hitler rose to power in Germany. She combined social commentary, family values and comedy to win the hearts of America. In 1949, she brought The Goldbergs to television, and it became the new medium‟s
very first character-driven domestic sitcom. She weathered yet another minefield of American history, Senator Joseph McCarthy‟s blacklist, which had a devastating effect on the entertainment industry.
When writer Judith Abrams brought a script about Gertrude Berg to the head of CBS, he did not even know who Berg was. Yet…
; Berg appeared on the cover of Billboard Magazine as “the first lady of radio”,
; Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history,
; Berg was polled the second most respected woman in America, after Eleanor Roosevelt,
; Berg appeared on Edward R. Murrow‟s landmark celebrity interview show “Person to
Person” on CBS,
; Berg was the highest paid guest star in television, appearing on the Kate Smith, Milton
Berle, Steve Allen and Perry Como shows, among others,
; Berg won a Tony in 1959 for her performance on Broadway opposite Cedric Hardwicke in
Majority of One, and
; Berg wrote a best-selling cookbook, an advice column, and had her own clothing line.
Gertrude Berg is truly the most famous woman in America you‟ve never heard of.
* * * *
Gertrude Berg was born Tillie Edelstein in 1898 and grew up in Harlem, then a Jewish enclave. She got her first taste of show business writing and staging skits in her father‟s resort in the Catskills, called Fleischmanns. She married a Jewish Englishman, Louis Berg in 1918 and they moved to a Louisiana sugar plantation, where they prospered after Louis invented instant coffee so soldiers could drink coffee on the front in WWI. Yet, Tillie wanted more, so when the plantation burned down, the couple moved back to New York. Tillie changed her name to Gertrude, and she set out on what has become a legendary entertainment career.
Berg‟s radio show, The Rise of the Goldbergs, debuted in 1929 and was an American favorite for
seventeen years. Her television show, The Goldbergs, was equally beloved. In 1950, Gertrude Berg won
the first best actress Emmy Award in history and The Goldbergs was nominated for Best Kinescope Show.
The show ran into trouble when Berg‟s co-star Philip Loeb was targeted by Senator Joseph
McCarthy‟s blacklist. The show‟s sponsors threatened to pull out, but Berg took a strong stand, long refusing to fire Loeb. Her efforts proved fruitless. In January 1952, a distraught Berg settled with Loeb, who left the show.
While the show recovered, The Goldbergs would never be the same, especially after the sad
passing of Philip Loeb in 1955 by suicide, memorialized by Loeb‟s good friend Zero Mostel in the 1976
film, The Front. After the show‟s cancellation in 1956, Berg continued to be successful on both television and stage. Despite the difficulties of the McCarthy Era, she was the highest paid guest star in television, appearing on The Milton Berle Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Steve Allen Show multiple times, as
well as giving an in depth interview on Person to Person with Edward R. Murrow. She won a Best Actress
Tony in 1959 for her performance opposite Cedric Hardwicke in A Majority of One on Broadway.
Gertrude Berg became an important public figure at a time when positive images of Jews, especially mothers, were rarely shown in public. The “Oprah of her day,” Berg was a media trailblazer with a cookbook, advice column, and clothing line in addition to popular radio and television serials. Her creation of a specifically ethnic, but far from atypical, American life in The Goldbergs carries through to
Among those interviewed for the film are actor Ed Asner, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, TV producers Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties) and Norman Lear (All in the Family), CBS
anchor Andrea Roane, and NPR commentator Susan Stamberg. Those who recall the show will recognize familiar faces from The Goldbergs, including Berg‟s talent discoveries, Anne Bancroft and Steve McQueen.
Footage includes short clips from beloved motion pictures, such as The Marx Brother‟s The
Cocoanuts, Martin Ritt‟s The Front, and Charlie Chaplin‟s The Immigrant, as well as evocative footage
from the Depression, World War II, and the Lower East Side.
AVIVA KEMPNER’S DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT
For the past 30 years, my goal has been to make documentaries about under known Jewish heroes that counter negative stereotypes. My goal is to show them foremost in the cinema, not digital releases.
In Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg I‟m delighted to document the amazing accomplishments of the
talented Gertrude Berg. I am in awe of how this woman would wake up at six in the morning, write her shows, and then go off to the studio to produce. Without missing a beat she seamlessly performed Molly to
perfection. Here is a woman who wrote the most positive portrayal of a Jewish mother and her family during the decades that severely threatened American and European Jewry. It is more amazing still that she crafted such a warm maternal figure in spite of her own mother‟s mental illness. Berg created the “perfect mother” she never experienced in her own life.
You didn‟t have to be Jewish to love Molly! She was admired by millions of all backgrounds as
they sat with families and friends around their radios and televisions following The Goldbergs. As a
trailblazer in the male dominated entertainment world, Berg was the Oprah of her day. She invented product placement; audiences bought whatever products she suggested. She wrote compelling scenes and hilarious lines, especially her trademark malapropisms that audiences remember and recite to this day.
Berg is the most important woman in show business that many don‟t know about because her
enormous contributions to show business have been forgotten until this release of Yoo-Hoo, Mrs.Goldberg.
This summer the US Postal Service is issuing stamps commemorating the early TV shows, and unbelievably The Goldbergs are ignored.
I so admire Berg‟s courage in standing up to the destructive Blacklist, pursuing all avenues to save Philip Loeb‟s career. The Blacklist deprived Americans of many creative talents as it destroyed lives. The demise of Loeb as Jake Goldberg was the worst television story to come out of this witch hunt. The
detrimental effect of the Blacklist on Gertrude Berg‟s reputation is equally shocking.
Researching my own family roots in 1979 inspired me to become a filmmaker. I am dedicated to making films that span the years prior to and during World War II, since they so scarred my family. My Polish-born mother passed as a Catholic working at a labor camp within Germany. Her parents and sister perished in Auschwitz, and only her brother survived the death camps.
Upon liberation by Americans my mother met my Lithuanian-born father, a US soldier, in Berlin. My father's mother had been shot by the Nazis. They married, and upon birth I was anointed the first American-Jewish child. We came to America in 1950 and settled in Detroit. My father, who immigrated to America in the late 1920s, made me aware of our country‟s hardships during the Depression and the social discrimination against Jews and other minorities.
As a teenager I fantasized about fighting Nazis. In 1979, I felt an urge to make a film about Jewish resistance against the Nazis to answer the unfair question, “why didn‟t Jews resist?” I produced and co-
wrote Partisans of Vilna to show Jews had fought despite the moral dilemmas. It was released in theaters in 1986, and on DVD 20 years later. I formed a nonprofit foundation, naming it Ciesla after my maternal grandparents‟ last name to keep the name alive.
I chose Hank Greenberg, my father‟s baseball hero, as the subject of The Life and Times of Hank
Greenberg. Every Yom Kippur our father would tell us how Greenberg went to synagogue instead of the stadium. I believed Greenberg was part of Kol Nidre service. I was sick of seeing only nebbishy Jewish males on the screen. Due to the difficulty in raising funds, it took 13 long years to make.
What I realize now is that although both Hammerin‟ Hank Greenberg and Gertrude Berg‟s careers spanned the years when our country faced the enormous challenges of the Great Depression and World War II, they both displayed great courage in performing as positive Jews in spite of the negative atmosphere swirling around them. Most of all, they were heroes to all Americans. It‟s also greatly satisfying to now tell a woman‟s story.
I feel privileged to have spent the last 30 years making documentaries about such powerful heroic figures. I love how three generations can come together to view my films. In retrospect, I believe that Jewish baby born in Berlin was put on this earth to document such affirmative celluloid history.
AVIVA KEMPNER BIOGRAPHY
Aviva Kempner has a mission in life: Her films and writing investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and focuses and celebrates the under known stories of Jewish heroes.
Ms. Kempner was the script writer, director and producer of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a
film about the Jewish slugger who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930‟s and 40‟s. It was awarded top honors
by the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. The film received a George Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy. Kempner will be the recipient of the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's Freedom of Expression Award in July. She is being given this award for her significant contribution to creating positive images of Jewish heroes in film and her work as a Jewish film curator.
Ms. Kempner also produced and co-wrote Partisans of Vilna, a documentary on Jewish resistance against ththe Nazis, which came out in DVD for its‟ 20 anniversary. She was the executive producer of the 1989
Grammy-award nominated record, Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of World War II Jewish Resistance.
And now from Aviva Kempner comes Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg, a humorous and eye-opening story of
television pioneer Gertrude Berg. Berg was the creator, principal writer, and star of The Goldbergs, a
popular radio show for 17 years, which became television‟s very first character-driven domestic sitcom in
1949. Berg received the first Best Actress Emmy in history, and paved the way for women in the entertainment industry. Included in the film are interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Ed Asner, producers Norman Lear (All in the Family) and Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), and NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg. There are grants for the film from The National Endowment of the Arts, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer and the Steven Spielberg‟s Righteous Persons Foundation.
Ms. Kempner lives in Washington, DC where she plays a prominent role in the artist and film community. She is also an activist for voting rights for the District of Columbia. She is the child of a Holocaust survivor and US army officer and was born in Berlin after WWII.
Her many accomplishments include: recipient of the 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2000 DC Mayor‟s Art Award: 2001 Women of Vision award from D.C.‟s Women in Film and Video chapter and the 2001 Media Arts award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
She writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, The
Forward, Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post. She also lectures about cinema throughout
SELECTED QUOTES FROM THE FILM
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “We all listened to Molly Goldberg on the radio.”
Margaret Nagle, screenwriter: “There was a list every year of the most respected women in America. Eleanor Roosevelt was first and Gertrude Berg would be second. There was also a list of the highest wage earners in America, and Gertrude Berg was first, and Eleanor Roosevelt was second.”
Dr. Glenn Smith, Gertrude Berg biographer: “Lucille Ball had inherited her time slot. I Love Lucy had
replaced The Goldbergs. Lucille Ball replaced Gertrude Berg as this first lady of television which Gertrude Berg was called early in her career.”
Norman Lear, producer All in the Family: “It‟s overwhelming that this woman could have done all of that, and so successfully, and for so many years.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “She was no shrinking violet. She was an assertive woman. She was out there doing things and leading others.”
NPR commentator Susan Stamberg: “She had that delightful little accent. She wore smart hats, from time
to time. Yes, she still had that apron, and that old world touch, but she was a modern woman that Molly!”
Artist Mindy Weisel: “My mother survived the camps, came to America, had…no family. It was kind of we'd come to America and there's Molly Goldberg. Every week we'd watch Molly Goldberg and she
became our American family. Especially when she would say "And greetings from our family to your family."
Norman Lear, producer All in the Family: “Yoo Hoo Mrs. Bloom is as familiar in my ear as my mother
Gertrude Berg (on Edward Murrow‟s Person to Person): “Molly learned everything from me. I taught
Molly everything she knows.”
Judith Abrams, family friend: “She was one of the very first women of television – and radio. She created
situation comedy. Twelve thousand scripts that she wrote every word to.”
NPR commentator Susan Stamberg: “There‟s a wonderful story - I don‟t know whether it‟s true or not -
FDR said „I didn‟t get us out of the Depression. It was The Goldbergs.‟”
CBS Anchor Andrea Roane: “It was something being from a black family. You didn‟t think about religion or even ethnicity listening to Gertrude Berg, the Molly Goldberg show, all you thought about was family”.
NPR commentator Susan Stamberg: “There were no role models really for Gertrude Berg. She just sort of stepped out and did it. Gertrude Berg was the working woman before feminism, before anything.”
Margaret Nagle, screenwriter : “Gertrude Berg built a media empire and she was the first woman to do
that…Gertrude Berg was brilliant as Molly and brilliant as a businesswoman… Gertrude Berg at her height was the Oprah of her day. There was no stopping her.”
Chris Doweny, fan: “We never noticed she was Jewish. She was more like our Greek family.”
GERTRUDE BERG’S BIOGRAPHY
From Tillie to Gertrude, Mrs. Berg became forever immortalized with the character she wrote and played for over twenty-five years, Molly Goldberg. She was the Oprah of her day but is virtually
forgotten today. Gertrude Berg is the most important woman in entertainment you‟ve never heard of.
Gertrude Berg was born Tillie Edelstein in New York City in 1898. She had one older brother who died when she was very young. Her mother never adjusted to this loss, becoming very protective of Tillie, and was institutionalized in later years.
Her father, Jake Edelstein, went through various careers. One of his long-standing enterprises was running a resort in the Catskill Mountains where Tillie worked and eventually created and performed skits to amuse the guests‟ children. She met an older Englishman, Lewis Berg, one summer at the resort. He wooed her, and when she turned eighteen they married. They moved to New Orleans for his career as an engineer on a sugar plantation until a fire burned it down.
Tillie and Lewis returned to New York City. It became her home and her creative muse. She started to pursue her writing and acting full time and changed her name to Gertrude Berg, taking her husband‟s last name.
She began writing radio scripts, starting with two forward thinking shop sales girls, but it was not optioned. Berg returned to a fictional family she had formulated as a young woman, now calling them The
Goldbergs, a combination of her mother‟s maiden name and her husband‟s last name.
The Goldbergs premiered eighty years ago on radio in 1929 with Gertrude filling in for the role of Molly until another actress could be found. She was so good that when she was sick for a week the public sent in mass amounts of fan mail asking, “Where‟s Molly?” Audiences loved listening to the stories and
struggles of the Goldberg family and their neighbors, and instantly took to the warmth and guidance of the accented Molly Goldberg.
CBS executives knew they had a hit. As scriptwriter and star, Gertrude Berg was one of the leading women in radio with the longest running show second only to Amos and Andy. Unlike Molly, Berg
lived on Park Avenue, owned a country house, and did not speak with an accent or recite malapropisms. She wrote early in the morning, and then went to the studio to produce and star in her show.
In 1947, following her 17 year run on radio, Gertrude saw television as a new exciting media, and a new opportunity to reinvigorate and reintroduce The Goldbergs following World War II. After a stage
play, The Goldbergs premiered on CBS in 1949. Gertrude Berg was lead writer, star, and producer yet again, and The Goldbergs climbed in popularity.
In 1950, Gertrude Berg won the first best actress Emmy Award in history and The Goldbergs was
nominated for Best Kinescope Show. She had a clothing line for housewives. She published a cookbook and wrote an advice column called Mama Talks. Her television show was made into a movie called Molly
by Paramount Pictures with Berg on set and in the editing room, exerting her influence as screenwriter and producer.
How quickly the good times can change. In the same year, The House on UnAmerican Activities
Gertrude‟s costar, published Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.the popular Philip Loeb (Jake Goldberg), an active union organizer among actors, was listed. The sponsors pulled their support for the show. Gertrude was faced with a dilemma: find new sponsorship or fire Loeb with whom she had great stage chemistry. She appealed to the sponsors, the network, and even Cardinal Spellman who told her he would help if she did one thing: convert to Catholicism.
It was at that point that Gertrude and Philip knew there was no hope for him continuing in the show. They settled out of court. The show floundered after that, having been put on hold for close to two years. It found its feet upon casting first Harold Stone for one season, and then Robert Harris as replacements for Loeb. In turn, Gertrude was also hurt for being associated with Philip Loeb. The whole entertainment community was under attack. In 1955, unable to work and support his schizophrenic son, Loeb committed suicide. This devastated Gertrude Berg. The Goldbergs, which moved from the Bronx to
the suburbs, ended a few years later.
Berg went on to star in theatrical productions. She played at summer stock, anything to keep working and acting. Eventually, she won a Tony in 1959 for best actress in A Majority of One. Blacklisted
actors came together for a television presentation of The Word of Sholom Aleichem in the same year.
Following this success, she returned to television as writer and star in Mrs. G Goes to College, which later
became known as The Gertrude Berg Show. She was the highest paid guest star at the time, and appeared with Steve Allen, Milton Berle, and Perry Como.
She died in 1966 from what her family termed “over work” as she was in production on another Broadway show. She is buried in the Catskills, where her enthusiasm for the written word, acting, and The
Goldbergs all began.
Judith Abrams was a Berg family friend. She is the niece of Fannie Merrill, Gertrude Berg's best friend and personal assistant who worked as casting director and general “Gal Friday” on all Berg's projects.
Joyce Antler is the Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture at Brandeis University, where she teaches in the American Studies Department and Women's and Gender Studies Program. Her major fields of interest include women's history, American Jewish history
and culture, the history of education, and history as theater. She is the author or editor of ten books, including, most recently, You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother.
Ed Asner is a film and television actor and former Screen Actors Guild President, primarily known for his role as Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spin-off series, "Lou Grant". He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family. He played a prominent role in the 1980 SAG strike.
Adam Berg is a grandson of Gertrude Berg.
Anna Berger is an actress who got her start on Gertrude Berg‟s television show.
Chris Milanos Downey is an educational consultant who lives in Washington DC.
Madeline Lee Gilford was an American film and stage actress and social activist, who later enjoyed a later career as a theatrical producer. Gilford was the widow of actor Jack Gilford. Both Madeline and Jack were subpoenaed and blacklisted during the McCarthy Era for much of the 1950s. Gilford continued her role as a social activist in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and was more recently arrested for civil disobedience in 1999 while protesting the police shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York City. Gilford co-authored a memoir in 1978 with Kate Mostel, the wife of Zero Mostel, entitled 170 Years in Show Business.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman named as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the first Jewish woman to serve there. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton with the support of Judiciary Chairman Senator Orrin Hatch in 1993.
Gary David Goldberg is a television producer best known for the series "Brooklyn Bridge". He got his start on the hit sitcom "Newhart". He also produced the critically acclaimed series "Lou Grant", and created the sitcoms "Family Ties" and "Spin City".
Viola Harris appeared on "The Goldbergs", and has performed in many movies including "Choke", "Whiffs" and "High School Hellcats", released in 1958, in which she portrayed Linda Martin. In 2003 she appeared in the off Broadway production "Oh Boy!".
Norman Lear is an Emmy-winning televison producer known for the creation of hit sitcoms such as "All In The Family", "Maude", "The Jeffersons", "One Day at a Time", "Sanford and Son", and "Good Times". He also directed Dick Van Dyke in two films, “Divorce American Style” and “Cold Turkey”.
Arlene “Fuzzy” McQuade is an actress who portrayed Rosalie on the series "The Goldbergs" from 1949 to 1956. She is also known for her work in "Telephone Time", "Fight for the Title", and the "Hawaii Five-O" episode Full Fathom Five. Her credits also include the role of "Ginnie" in the film “Touch of Evil” (with
Charlton Heston, 1958), the TV Westerns "Death Valley Days" "The Lawless Years" and "Have Gun - Will Travel", the movie “The Nick Joseph Story” in which she played Billie North.
Zero Mostel was a popular stage actor known for his work in "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum", "The Comedians", and "Fiddler on the Roof". He was a close friend of Philip Loeb. Kate Mostel was the wife of Zero Mostel and close friend of Philip Loeb. He stayed at their house for awhile shortly before his death.
Margaret Nagle is a writer, producer, and actress. Nagle wrote the script for the HBO film, “Warm
Springs”, which won her the 2005 Writers Guild of America Award for Long Form Original Screenplay.
She was also nominated for the 2005 Emmy Award for the same film, which was nominated for a total of a record-breaking 16 Emmy Awards. The film won 5 Emmys that year including the award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie. She is a mother of two and has been researching Gertrude Berg for a biopic that has yet to be produced.
Larry Robinson was cast as the son of Molly Goldberg, "Sammy Goldberg", for the television series "The Goldbergs". He went on to perform that role for the majority of the series and in the Paramount Picture film, "Molly". His credits also include the TV series “Kitty Foyle” (1958), and episodes of
Anne Schwartz is a granddaughter of Gertrude Berg.
Dr. David Schwartz is the son-in-law of Gertrude Berg.