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Screened at SFJFF 2009

The playwright Leonard Spigelgass once remarked that Gertrude Berg was a “phenomenon in her own century, interpreting it, through another.” Indeed, through the Jewish matriarch Molly Goldberg, Berg voiced her opinion on any number of subjects and social issues, including women’s rights, public education, the New Deal and, most notably, the Holocaust. As producer, writer and star of The Goldbergs, one of radio and television’s most enduring and popular programs, Berg created a world in which the Jewish experience was celebrated, and people from all walks of life were welcome.

Quite simply, Berg was a prolific entertainer. The radio version of The Goldbergs, a precursor to the modern-day soap opera, spanned two decades, from its initial broadcast on NBC in 1929 until its final broadcast on CBS in the late 1940s. Never content with her station in life, Berg was one of the few performers who recognized television’s untapped potential. She charged headlong into the upstart medium, taking Molly and her family—husband Jake and their children, Sammy and Rosie—with her. The Goldbergs premiered on CBS in January 1949, becoming the blueprint for a new form of entertainment: the television situation comedy.

Behind the scenes of her successful media franchise, Berg ran a tight ship—more than one observer recalled the “iron fist” she used in holding together each radio or television production—but she was also quick to rise to any colleague’s defense. Berg’s decision to stand by co-star Philip Loeb, who was blacklisted in 1950, cost her dearly—CBS yanked The Goldbergs from the network lineup in June 1951—and she spent the rest of her life piecing together her shattered career. However, Berg’s stance against McCarthyism remains the most heroic, and tragic, part of a legacy that spans almost four decades, thousands of radio and television scripts and countless memories.
—Glenn D. Smith, Jr., Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Mississippi State University

Professor Glenn D. Smith, Jr., author of Something on My Own: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929–1956, will participate in a Q&A after the screening of The Goldbergs and a panel discussion after the screening of Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg on Tuesday, July 28, at the Castro Theatre.

To learn more about Gertrude Berg, click here to download a longer article by Professor Glenn D. Smith, Jr.

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