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Gertrude Berg's "The Goldbergs" premieres on television

January 10, 1949
Berg, Gertrude 2 - still image [media]
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The quintessential Jewish mother to millions of television viewers, "Molly Goldberg" (Gertrude Berg) is shown here in a scene from the film Molly, presumably giving out a taste of chicken soup.

Institution: Private collection


Gertrude Berg's popular radio program, The Goldbergs, about an upwardly mobile American Jewish family moved to television on January 10, 1949. Berg developed the original show as a series of live sketches to entertain guests at her family's Catskills hotel. In November 1929, the show began airing as The Rise of the Goldbergs on NBC radio. It was produced in recurrent runs as a daily 15-minute program on NBC and other networks for nearly two decades before shifting to TV. On both radio and TV, Gertrude Berg served as the program's sole writer, producer, and star.

Throughout its 30 years on radio and television, as well as in presentations on Broadway and on film, The Goldbergs dealt explicitly with Jewish life in the United States, joking about the cultural differences between "old world" immigrants and their American-born offspring. Berg’s Molly became a cultural touchstone, a figure who combined old world wisdom, new world common sense, and a mother’s humanity in confronting the perplexities of American life. Scholar Donald Weber has described the character as “an immigrant keeper of the American dream.” Over the show's three decades, the Goldberg family moved from a New York City tenement to the Bronx and later to suburban Connecticut, mirroring the upward progression of many Jews into the American mainstream.

Although Berg continued to produce The Goldbergs into the 1950s, the show's popularity declined. The demise of The Goldbergs reflects the homogenizing trend in postwar American society. As millions of ethnic Americans fled their traditional urban enclaves in search of un-hyphenated, simply "American" identities in the suburbs, programming explicitly grounded in ethnic cultures gave way to ostensibly generic programming like Leave it To Beaver and Father Knows Best. The Goldbergs went off the air in 1955.

To learn more about Gertrude Berg, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: This Week in History October 18, 1948, Molly Goldberg makes her television debut; November 20, 1929, Gertrude Berg debuts in "The Goldbergs"; Television in the United States; Gertrude Berg in the Virtual Archive.

Sources: www.museum.tv/archives/etv/G/htmlG/goldbergsth/goldbergsth.htm; www.museum.tv/archives/etv/B/htmlB/berggertrude/berggertrud.htm; www.radiohof.org/comedy/goldbergs.html.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Gertrude Berg's "The Goldbergs" premieres on television." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jan/10/1949/gertrude-berg>.