BERG, GERTRUDE


BERG, GERTRUDE (Edelstein; 1899–1966), U.S. actress, scriptwriter, and creator of the popular radio family the Goldbergs. Born in New York, Gertrude Berg wrote, directed, and performed in The Goldbergs on radio for 17 years, in which she played Jewish housewife Molly Goldberg.

Berg began writing and performing skits at her father's resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains, later studying playwriting at Columbia University. In 1929, she submitted a script to NBC for a daily radio show called The Rise of the Goldbergs, which was an instant hit. Shortened to The Goldbergs, it was on the air six days a week, and in 1931 it picked up a sponsor and ran until 1934. As the writer and producer as well as star of the show, Berg created an entire neighborhood of characters and a series of situations that won an audience which eventually numbered in the millions. Producer Sol Lesser called her to Hollywood, where she wrote screenplays for him. In 1938, Berg received a five-year, million dollar contract to write and star in the Goldberg series, which aired on the radio from 1938 to 1945.

Concerned about the growth of Fascism in the 1930s and the welfare of European Jews, Berg became active in many Jewish groups and during World War II participated in the larger war effort.

Berg wrote a Broadway play, Me and Molly (1948), and a film version entitled Molly in which she herself acted (1951). From 1949 The Goldbergs, sometimes referred to as the earliest soap opera, had a five-year run on television. An idealized vision of the American melting pot, the show centered on the dreams and aspirations of a lower-class Jewish family in the Bronx. The older members of the family, including Molly, her husband, Jake, and Uncle David, spoke with thick Yiddish accents, while the two children sounded like typical young Americans. In 1950 Berg won an Emmy for her comedic performance. In 1951 she took a stand against the blacklist, refusing to fire her long-time co-star Philip Loeb, who resigned to prevent the show's cancellation.

In later years Berg appeared in Broadway plays, including A Majority of One (1959), for which she won a Tony Award. In 1961–62 she starred as Sarah Green in the TV sitcom The Gertrude Berg Show.

In 1989 The Goldbergs was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. Berg wrote The Molly Goldberg Cookbook (1955) and her autobiography Molly and Me (1961).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.