I'll confess: I'd never heard of Gertrude Berg or Molly Goldberg until I saw Aviva Kempner's documentary. I'm likely not alone, and that's a shame. It's hard to sell young people on long-ago history, but any of us who have ever enjoyed a television sit-com owe a debt to Berg, one of the pioneering women of 20th-century entertainment. This engaging doc is a perfect way to catch up.
In the 1930s, Berg created, wrote and starred in a radio show that followed the daily lives of a Jewish family living in New York City. On it, Berg developed her alter-ego, Molly Goldberg, the warm mother hen to her own family of youngsters and oldsters (from the Old Country) as well as confidante to her many nearby neighbors. Molly dispensed malaprops and kitchen-sink wisdom, along with a cleverly crafted overlay of social commentary. In 1949, Berg moved the Goldbergs to the nascent medium of television, effectively establishing the template of all domestic sit-coms to follow (including the unlocked-front-door plot device that lets dozens of other characters pop by). She wrote the scripts, crafted the embedded advertisements and portrayed the popular Molly. She was seemingly indomitable ... until the entertainment industry became a target of the Red Scare. While I wished the film -- composed of contemporary interviews and archival footage -- had delved deeper into how Berg pioneered her way in a man's world, it's easy to forgive this celebratory portrait. It's simply too fun to discover Berg and her myriad achievements. Starts Fri., Sept. 4. Manor