Gertrude Berg portrayed and was the personification of the "Jewish mother" on radio, television, the stage and the screen. Millions of radio listeners were tuned in to her daily fifteen minute program, The Rise of the Goldbergs, when it went on the air on November 20, 1929. This show elevated her to celebrity status and made her one of the most successful women writers in the history of American entertainment.
She was born in the Jewish Harlem section of New York City, on October 3, 1899. She was the only child of Dinah and Jacob Edelstein. She attributed her major source of humor and Jewish life to her grandfather, Mordecai Edelstein, who was an immigrant from the Russian occupied area of Poland.
Prior to World War 1, her father took over the operation of a boarding house in Fleischmanns, New York. Her mother supervised the kitchen and bookkeeping and Gertrude entertained the guests by writing and performing skits, pantomimes and fortune telling acts.
It was here that she met Lewis Berg, a chemical engineer, who was regarded as an expert in his field as a sugar technologist. In 1918, they were married and for a while they lived on a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Their stay was brief and they returned to New York City where they had two children: a son, Cherney Robert, 1922, and a daughter, Harriet, in 1926.
In 1929, she submitted her script for a daily radio show called The Rise of the Goldbergs, which was an instant hit. It was on the air six days a week and in 1931 it picked up a sponsor and it ran until 1934. Sol Lessor called her to Hollywood, where she wrote screen plays for him and child star, Bobby Breen. In 1938, she received a five-year, million dollar contract to write and star in the Goldberg series. It was on the air from 1938 to 1945. The problems of the Goldbergs became those of the listening audience.
Berg was concerned about the growth of Fascism in the thirties and the welfare of European Jews. She became active in many Jewish groups and during World War II and participated in the larger war effort.
In her transition of The Goldbergs from radio to television, she achieved another success. Her opening television show line "Yoo hoo, Mrs. Bloom," became a national cliche. Gertrude Berg wrote and co- starred in the film, Molly, in 1951.
It was while in production of her starring role in The Play Girls that she had a heart attack and died on September 15, 1966. Brooks Atkinson, of The New York Times, in describing her writing and role of Molly said: "In her code of values, Mrs. Berg is more nearly right than Noel Coward, who is an expert playwright; and her family makes better company than the over-civilized family J.B. Priestly introduced to us in The Linden Tree. Gertrude Berg was a writer and actress who brought out the humanity, love and respect that people should have toward each other. Her contributions to American radio, television films and stage will always be remembered, especially by those who experienced hearing and seeing her perform.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.