Did you know that goy god Steve McQueen got an early walk-on on a Jewish television sitcom? Thats just one of the tasty tidbits in Aviva Kempners celebratory but clear-eyed portrait of Gertrude Berg, the creator, writer, and star of The Goldbergs, which, against the odds, grew into a huge hit on the radio and television from the stock market crash through the 1950s. Berg was a complicated, labile woman, whose own mother never recovered from the early death of Bergs brother. Onscreen, she radiated a bosomy maternal warmth that brought to this unmistakably Jewish showabout the everyday joys and sorrows of a modernizing familya universal-immigrant appeal and badly needed optimism during the Depression. Kempner, who also made The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, blends footage from the show and Jewish New York with commentary from early fans, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Norman Lear, to show Berg as a canny, driven creature of her time. She knew how to adapt, but she also possessed grace under anti-Communist pressure. When the HUAC pushed the network to remove Bergs co-star Philip Loeb, she resisted until resistance became futile. Which didnt prevent Loeb from killing himself, but saved the series until suburbanization killed off working-class comedy, and Lucille Ballanother kind of mother altogetherstepped into the breach.
Aug. 7-13, 2009