Before Oprah, and before Lucy, there was the beloved Gertrude Berg, the entertainment genius who wrote, starred in and produced the first successful American sitcom and charmed a beleaguered nation. Aviva Kempner’s critically acclaimed YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG offers a humorous, captivating tribute to one of the most successful and innovative women in American broadcasting history.
Animated through a dazzling collage of vintage clips and interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and intimate conversations with friends, colleagues and family members, the box-office smash-hit YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG traces Berg’s rise to stardom from her childhood in New York to her early radio days in “The Rise of the Goldbergs” (1929-46) to her enormously influential sitcom, The Goldbergs (1949-56), which brought Berg the first Best Actress Emmy® in history. Berg’s passion and incredible productivity paved the way for a wide variety of causes—women in entertainment, Jewish-American identity and actors’ rights, to name a few—but she is most celebrated for singlehandedly proving that the American family transcends social, religious and economic divisions.
Admittedly there is a lot about the cover of this DVD that jumps out at you (like the interesting newspaper-like portrait on the cover), but my eyes immediately locked onto the “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Molly!” bit on the front cover. At first I thought it was just a very strange quote from a review, but it’s not credited and it’s just…kind of floating there next to a loaf of bread. Basically this cover makes a lot more sense once you watch the thing, but if you step into it like me with no knowledge of what to expect it’s a kind of a strange way to be greeted by a film.
The other bit of text on the cover is quite apt and probably the main thing that helps sell it: “The most famous woman in America you’ve never heard of.” There are a lot of those types of people in history, but I am truly blown away by how dead on that quote is after watching this film. I honestly had no idea who this woman was but after all she accomplished I’m kind of floored that we don’t still hear about her after all of these years. Hell, even after this documentary (which grossed an impressive $1.1 million considering it opened in only 25 theaters) came out you still didn’t hear about her so it’s really quite confusing.
In any case the documentary, which runs ninety-two minutes, is a very thorough look at the woman’s life and the impact she had on modern media as we know it. Not only is it a very touching look into her life, it’s also genuinely funny as well. It’s rare, I’ve found, to actually laugh at documentaries about people but you do it quite frequently with this one. It’s hard not to agree wholeheartedly with Leonard Maltin’s quote on the back of the DVD when he remarks that this documentary is a “joy to watch.”
Overall a Highly Recommended documentary for anyone remotely curious about it what such an oddly titled documentary could possibly be about.
The set itself is housed inside of a standard two-disc DVD case with a docuramafilms advertisement insert as well as a four-page booklet written by director Aviva Kempner. It’s more dialogue about Gertrude Berg and the directors journey to get the film made, but if you have an aversion to reading then you can just forget about it as a lot of this is covered in the extras feature on this set. Video is a mixed bag obviously because it documents the life of a woman who lived from 1898 to 1966, but overall it doesn’t look too bad. The audio is a simple Dolby Stereo mix and is more than adequate.
Over two hours of extras are included:
Audio commentary with the director
Gertrude Berg’s guest appearances with Edward R. Murrow, Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen
Additional scenes and interviews
Bonus Gertrude Berg recipe
Essay from the director
Episodes and Radio Shows
It’s a pretty nice mix of goodies, although I’m not sure why it was made into a two-disc set…it seems like they could’ve crammed it onto one disc. In any case it’s definitely a Recommended release regardless, as not only is the documentary genuinely entertaining as I’ve said previously but these extras (notably the commentary) really drive home the important of Gertrude Berg as well as offering a deeper glimpse into her work with the included episodes and radio shows.
Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is now available on DVD