The Museum of


The Screening Room
A Film by Aviva Kempner

About "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg"

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. 

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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 this day.

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 tem.  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.

For more on the film "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," please visit the film's website at



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