Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Bloom

The program was devised by writer-actress Gertrude Berg in 1928 and sold to the NBC radio network the following year. It was a domestic comedy featuring the home life of a Jewish family in New York City. In addition to writing the scripts and directing each episode, Berg starred as bighearted, lovingly meddlesome matriarch Molly Goldberg. The show began as a portrait of Jewish tenement life before later evoking such growing pains as moving into a more suburban setting and struggling with assimilation while sustaining their roots.
The Goldbergs began as a weekly 15-minute program called The Rise of the Goldbergs on November 20, 1929, going daily in 1931. The series moved to CBS in 1936 with the title shortened to The Goldbergs. Like other 15-minute comedies of the day, such as Amos 'n' Andy, Lum and Abner, Easy Aces, Vic and Sade and Myrt and Marge, The Goldbergs was a serial with running storylines. And Berg's usual introduction — in character as Molly, hollering, "Yoo-hoo! Is anybody...?" — became a catch phrase. In the 1940s, this was followed by Bud Collyer warbling, "There she is, folks — that's Molly Goldberg, a woman with a place in every heart and a finger in every pie".
When Gertrude Berg missed a couple of weeks due to illness, stations carrying the popular show were flooded with get-well mail.[ At the height of the show's popularity, Life wrote: "For millions of Americans, listening to The Goldbergs... has been a happy ritual akin to slipping on a pair of comfortable old shoes that never seem to wear out".
Radio historians Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, in The Big Broadcast 1920-1950, noted that The Goldbergs, which they considered a soap opera as much as a comedy, "differed from most of the other 'soaps' in that its leading characters lived through relatively normal situations. Even though it was the story of a poor Jewish family in New York, it had identification for a wide segment of listeners". Of the 15-minute serial comedies, only Amos 'n' Andy enjoyed a longer radio life than The Goldbergs.
The role of husband Jake Goldberg was first played by Himan Brown and later by James R. Waters. When Waters died suddenly in 1945, Berg resisted recasting the role. Instead, she simply had Molly refer to Jake, occasionally setting up dialogue in which his reply was not heard when she spoke to him.
Berg's portrayal of the Jewish mother stereotype emphasized the positive. "This series has done more to set us Jews right with the 'goyim' than all the sermons ever preached by the Rabbis," wrote one Jewish educator.
Berg was not averse to incorporating serious real-world issues that affected Jewish families. One 1939 episode addressed Kristallnacht and Nazi Germany (including a rock through the family window as the Goldbergs made their Passover Seder); other World War II-era episodes alluded to friends or family members trying to escape the Holocaust. But these were sporadic deviations from the show's main theme of family, neighborhood and the balance between old world values and new world assimilation.
The Goldbergs was so popular that performing stars in other arts sought to appear on it. Berg consented, for example, to cast Metropolitan Opera star Jan Peerce almost annually to sing on Yom Kippur and Passover. Another famous singer of the day, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, asked Berg directly if she could appear, and Berg wrote her into three episodes.
The radio cast included Roslyn Silber and Alfred Ryder as children Rosalie and Sammy, Menasha Skulnik as Uncle Davis, Arnold Stang (later famous as the voice of Top Cat) as Seymour Fingerhood, Garson Kanin as Eli Edwards, and Zina Provendie as Sylvia Allison, among others. In 1948, Berg wrote and staged a theatrical version of the show on Broadway, Molly and Me. A year later, she brought The Goldbergs to television.The television version ran on CBS Television from 1949 to 1951 and co-starred Philip Loeb as Jake Goldberg. He and Gertrude Berg reprised their roles in a 1950 film of the same name. The show almost didn't get to the small screen at all: CBS executives were uncertain that the show would work on television as well as it did on radio. Berg prevailed, however, and picked up General Foods as its sponsor. Berg, who continued to write every episode, insisted that no laugh track be used and made sure everyday events formed the base for the stories; she was once quoted as saying she avoided "anything that will bother people ... unions, fund raising, Zionism, socialism, intergroup relations. ... I keep things average. I don't want to lose friends."
The Goldbergs was destined to spend almost a decade on television — but not without disruptions. In 1950, Philip Loeb was blacklisted and pressure was placed on Berg (who owned the television version as she had the radio original) to fire him. When she refused, CBS dropped it from their schedule by June 1951.
Eight months later, however NBC — the show's original broadcasting home — picked up the series for the 1952-53 season (with another re-naming, to Molly, in due course), with Harold Stone and then Robert H. Harris replacing Loeb as Jake, though Berg quietly continued to pay a salary to Loeb. The rest of the television cast included Eli Mintz as Uncle David, Tom Taylor as Sammy, Arlene McQuade as Rosalie, Betty Bendyke as Dora Barnett, Susan Steel as Daisy Carey, and Jon Lormer as Henry Carey. On radio, Sammy and Rosalie had grown up and gotten married; on television, the characters were revived as teenagers.
In 1954, the show moved to the faltering DuMont network for a summer run. The shows were live, but a final version was filmed in 1955, moving the Goldbergs from the Bronx to the New York suburb of Haverville. In a way this mirrored the real life flight of many Jewish families from the Bronx to the suburbs and other parts of New York during this period. However, this was considered the death knell of the show, as it was felt that the Goldbergs were only the Goldbergs in the Bronx. That same year, Philip Loeb, beset by depression and unable to find other work, committed suicide.Gertrude Berg returned to television six years later in a situation comedy, Mrs G. Goes to College, playing Sarah Green, a Molly Goldberg-like character. Despite being retitled The Gertrude Berg Show in mid-year, the program was cancelled after one season. The Goldbergs is available to collectors and fans in a large number of surviving radio episodes and some surviving television episodes.


Chana said...

I enjoyed seeing this video. Thanks for posting it. :)

Anonymous said...

Who played the roles of Mrs Bloom, and Mrs Herman, or were they just fictional characters??

Anonymous said...

Oh what memories this brought back. I would have loved to see an earlier version in the Bronx apartment but just seeing Molly filled my heart with such joy. Watching The Goldbergs was a family tradition that my Grandma and Gramps, Mom and Dad and two sisters would share. Gertrude Berg was a brilliant woman who captured the soul of family with kindness and insight.