If you think that Lucille Ball was the first lady of television, the pioneering funny lady who gave birth to the TV sitcom, you're sorely mistaken.
Gertrude Berg secretly holds that title. She wrote, produced and starred in TV’s first domestic comedy, a hit sit-com about a flagrantly Jewish family. In the documentary “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” --which played as part of the Jewish Film Festival last night-- we learn that Gertrude Berg was in fact the Oprah of her day.
She was second only to Eleanor Roosevelt as the most admired woman in the country. She was the richest woman in the country at that same time. And before June Cleaver, Donna Reed, and the like, Berg’s TV mom – Molly Goldberg, was America’s happy homemaker.
Unlike sit-com fare that followed, The Goldbergs reflected the cultural and political climate of the times. The Depression was directly addressed, as was the growing anti-Semitism here and in Nazi Germany. There was even a Hanukkah episode. (Seinfeld never had a Hanukkah episode. Nor did Rhoda.)
As a producer and creator of her own show, Berg pioneered the modern-day sit-com playbook; She choreographed the in and outs of apartment life, the prototype for every “Lucy, I’m home” or Kramer-Busts-In entrance, now the staple of situation comedy-com.
Berg’s “Goldberg” was the Jewish mamala embraced by all in her day – she had cookbooks, jigsaw puzzles, comic strips…Even so, Gertrude Berg is virtually unknown and mostly unsung.
The Goldbergs, which started out as a 1928 radio program, continued through the Depression, through WWI and into the McCarthy era of the 1950s where it was mortally wounded by the Black List. I Love Lucy then premiered to fill the void.
The Jewish Film Festival gives Berg her props with a Salute to Gertrude Berg spotlight series.