(Gertrude Berg as Molly Goldberg)
The film opens just as the first episode of the television show did on January 10, 1949. Ample-bosomed Jewish mother Molly Goldberg (Gertrude Berg) leans out the kitchen window that faces the air shaft of a brick tenement building in the Bronx and greets her neighbors across the way -- what NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg calls the urban equivalent of neighbors talking across back fences -- "Hello! Such a little word for such a big feeling! I want to say hello to you in all the letters of the alphabet. That would be a hello!"
Washington, DC-based Aviva Kempner's richly detailed film about the life of Gertrude Berg isn't currently scheduled to screen in Central New York, but let us hope that changes. Opening on just two screens July 10th, it's up to a dozen theaters this week and has bookings through the end of the year. Intriguing in several ways, "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" also has enough Syracuse connections to make it a natural here.
Before Oprah, Ellen, Martha, Rachel Ray, or "I Love Lucy" (which, incidentally, replaced "The Goldbergs" in 1956) there was Gertrude Berg's creation, Molly Goldberg. Berg, a New Yorker who grew up at her father's Catskills resort and married the Englishman who invented instant coffee, produced, wrote the scripts -- in the end, some 12,000 -- and played the starring role in both radio and TV versions. Before transitioning to television in 1949, Berg's live 15-minute radio vignettes ran five days a week from 1929 -- beginning three weeks after the Stock Market crash that launched the Great Depression -- until 1945.
The Yiddish-accented Goldberg family comprised Molly, her husband Jake, Molly's Uncle David, and their first-generation American kids Sammy and Rosalie. Their stories provided solidarity and identification to Jewish listeners and to other Americans a window on how Jewish immigrants assimilated, found spots in US business and neighborhoods, navigated raising their kids in American culture while preserving their own, coped with a Depression economy laboring under 25% unemployment and lived through the rise of anti-Semitism both here and abroad and World War II.