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Gertrude Berg debuts in "The Goldbergs"

November 20, 1929
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When she created Molly Goldberg and the Goldberg family for radio, stage, TV and film, Gertrude Berg introduced middle-class Jewish life to millions of Americans.

Institution: Private collection


Gertrude Berg's popular radio program, The Goldbergs, about an upwardly mobile American Jewish family debuted on NBC radio on November 20, 1929. Berg developed the kernel of the show as a series of live sketches to entertain guests at her family's Catskills hotel. It was produced in recurrent runs as a daily 15-minute program on NBC and other networks for nearly two decades before shifting to television in January, 1949. On both radio and TV, Berg served as the sole writer, producer, and star of one the nation's most popular programs.

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 combining old world wisdom, new world common sense, and a mother's humanity in confronting the perplexities of American life. 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 an un-hyphenated, simply "American" identity in the suburbs, programming explicitly grounded in ethnic cultures gave way to more all-American shows 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 for October 18, 1948: Molly Goldberg makes her television debut and January 10, 1949: Gertrude Berg's "The Goldbergs" premieres on television; Television in the United States.

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; You Never Call, You Never Write: A History of the Jewish Mother (Antler, 2007).

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Gertrude Berg debuts in "The Goldbergs"." (Viewed on April 16, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/20/1929/gertrude-berg>.