It's your America: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929--1956

Glenn Delton Smith

Abstract

In November 1929, The Rise of the Goldbergs , a radio series about a New York Jewish family and its matriarch, Molly Goldberg, debuted on the National Broadcasting System (NBC). The brainchild of Gertrude Berg, the program was a precursor to the radio soap opera, with an audience measuring in the millions by 1933, and Molly's shouts to her imaginary neighbor--"Yoo, Hoo! Mrs. Bloom!"--a national catchphrase. By 1948, The Goldbergs had seen life as a book, jigsaw puzzle, comic strip, vaudeville tour, and a Broadway play, with Berg becoming one of broadcasting's highest paid personalities in the process. After creating at least three other series while on radio, she anxiously explored the new frontier of television. The Goldbergs , a prototype of the television situation comedy, first appeared on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in January 1949. The next year Berg found herself in a political battle to save the career of Philip Loeb, who played her television husband, Jake Goldberg. He was blacklisted, named in the publication Red Channels with 151 other entertainers in broadcasting, film, stage and literature for alleged Communist activities. Loeb committed suicide in September 1955, mentally exhausted from fighting the rumors and accusations. The Goldbergs also disappeared that year, a victim of the blacklist and the fickle nature of television. Berg's professional reputation was damaged as well; in 1952, because of her refusal to fire Loeb, she was listed as a "Communist fellow traveler" by at least one anti-Communist watchdog group. In her last decade, Berg was relegated to summer stock and the occasional role on Broadway or in television. This dissertation records Berg's broadcasting career between 1929, when The Goldbergs first aired, and 1956, the year of its demise. Since Berg spent much of her career playing Molly Goldberg, much of the dissertation will focus on the birth and evolution of that character. However, Berg's other radio and television productions, her life before, during, and after The Goldbergs , and her fight against the blacklist are also explored.