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DVD Review: Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

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A lot of people remember Gertrude Berg. Do you? I remember her by reputation only; I had never seen The Goldbergs, the iconic situation comedy that is all but collecting dust.

With the creation of The Goldbergs, Gertrude Berg is credited with the invention of situation comedy. She paved the way for I Love Lucy (which ironically got her time slot when The Goldbergs was canceled, thanks to blacklisting) and all the situation comedies of the last 60 years.

My feelings for Docurama films are similar to how some people regard Pixar—it seems they can do no wrong. I haven’t seen every documentary they’ve brought to the screen, but every one I’ve seen has been both informative and highly entertaining. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is no exception.

More a biography of Gertrude Berg, Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is also a documentary about The Goldbergs, which was such a large part of Berg’s life. She invented the characters and concept, wrote the scripts, and starred as Molly Goldberg. The Goldbergs began on radio and made the transition to television. Wildly popular, it featured a Jewish family being a family, much the same as Father Knows Best featured a WASP family being a family. In other words, they were just another family. They were also an inspiration and example to other immigrant families, especially those comprised of immigrant parents and first-generation American children.

Anti-Semitism (and xenophobia) were rampant when The Goldbergs was on television, but with its warmly drawn characters and humorous situations it garnered a large audience. Berg was a brilliant woman, an activist, and an artist who continued her acting career on stage (blacklisted professionals and “sympathizers” could work in New York, which was “not a company town”) after her show was canceled.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg includes interviews with some of the surviving cast members, insights on the dark days of McCarthyism (and sad stories about its effects), and a tremendous amount of archival footage and photos of the show, the woman behind the show and her family, and a variety of movies from the ’20s and ’30s (including the Marx Brothers). Some of the interviewees, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Norman Lear, are famous, some have faded from memory, all attest to the remarkable influence Gertrude Berg had on television.

Disc one extra features are a director’s commentary and trailer for the documentary. Disc two bonus features are “The Goldbergs,” tales about Gertrude Berg and some of the other actors on The Goldbergs — friends, relatives, fans, and coworkers — share memories of the show and those involved;  “Gertrude’s Legacy”, a collection of clips in which the interviewees discuss Berg’s impact on the television industry and on a personal level; “Episodes” (excerpts and episodes), the highlight of the bonus disc; “Guest Appearances,” in which Berg appears on Person to Person, with Steve Allen, and on The Ed Sullivan Show; “Aviva’s Goodies,” including a short on the Gore/Lieberman election ballot problems, Kempner Family outtakes, and the erection of a billboard for Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg; “Filmmaker Bio”; “About Docurama”; and “Credits.” Aviva Kempner is the director of Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.

Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent/stream Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg? Yes, it’s an entertaining look into television’s (and the business of entertainment, in general) history. The two-disc set is scheduled for release August 24.

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