Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg 09/10/01 2:40
Gertrude Berg was thrust into adult responsibilities when still a teenager, helping her father manage summer hotels in the Catskills and Florida. Her mother succumbed to mental illness after the premature death of Gertrude's older brother. After marrying a rich instant-coffee magnate, she came up with the idea for a radio show about a Jewish family in New York, The Goldbergs, for which she unexpectedly won the starring role of Molly Goldberg, the plump, warmly loving matriarch of the family. The program was unabashedly Jewish, yet it managed to have a universal appeal in the troubled years of the Depression, when all ethnic groups and especially immigrant groups were suffering hardship. The television version pioneered the situation comedy form, opening with Molly talking to the audience from her tenement window, then going inside to the Goldberg living space. The material was much gentler, less manipulative, than later comedies in the genre. Berg wrote all the scripts, thousands of them, in the radio era a script a day, five days a week. She was addicted to her work, and behind her incredible energy was insecurity—she never allowed herself to be alone.
When right-wing ideologues attacked the entertainment industry during the McCarthy era, Philip Loeb, the man who played Molly's husband, was accused of communist sympathies. Berg fought for him to stay, and for awhile she was able to protect him, but the sponsors left, and she had to go on without him. We get an interesting glimpse of the change in national mood after the war, from togetherness and understanding to fear and suspicion.
The "yoo-hoo" of the title was a theme of The Goldbergs, when neighbors would call to each other across the alleyways. After the sponsors insisted that the show move to the suburbs instead, it died. Gertrude Berg went on to further success on Broadway. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg chronicles a more inclusive and understanding type of popular culture, and an immensely popular woman who is now almost forgotten.