by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
February 25, 2010
FROM OUR FAMILY TO YOUR FAMILY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Hasn't feminism taken some weird twists and turns since the Second Wave splashed over the U.S. back in the 1970s?
With all its successes - from Title IX to female snowboarders, from almost no political representation to Hillary Clinton's for the presidency, from virtually no women in law school to two women sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, et al - I find it amusing that I got a hate letter last week from a man who grabbed my photo from my Web site and then said, apropos of my column-writing, "Unless you can show that you have had major plastic surgery, we all know you couldn't land a man even if you bribed one with Sarah Palin's book royalties."
Leaving aside what my husband said about that letter (and even though we've been together for more than 20 years, I don't remember having to bribe him much), or what this guy thinks of my politics, or even about my right to a political opinion, what amuses me is that this man - an ignorant, arrogant, right-wing, sexist man - is totally supporting a woman to become leader of the free world. He might not see the irony in this, but I adore it. Yes, we've come a long way, ladies.
Which leads me to my topic for today, which is women's lives in general and Molly Berg's life in particular.
March is in the air, and along with March comes sugaring, Town Meeting, mud and the Women's Film Festival (not necessarily in order of importance). This fundraiser for the Women's Crisis Center has become a joy for film fans from western Massachusetts, western New Hampshire and southern Vermont. It has also become a mecca for the filmmakers who accompany their films here.
From March 12-21, in a number of Brattleboro venues (most of them handicapped-accessible), men and woman of all ages will laugh, cry, be disturbed, be entertained, be deeply moved and find transcendence. (The festival has a well-organized Website this year, so you can learn about all the films at womensfilmfestival.org.)
The one I've been waiting to see is Aviva Kempner's "Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," a warm and witty study about the life and work of Gertrude Berg (1898-1966).
Berg was an intrinsic part of my childhood. My mother tells me that she and her family gathered around the radio to listen to Berg play Molly Goldberg. Our family gathered around the television set to watch her.
Berg may not be well-remembered now, but she invented the family situation comedy, first for radio in 1929, and then on television beginning in 1949. She opened the doors for everyone from Lucille Ball to Bill Cosby to today's "Modern Family."
First and foremost, Berg was funny. She was the first person to win an Emmy for lead actress in a comedy. But she was many other things as well.
She was quite a saleswoman. Besides selling her own shows, first to radio and then to television, the sales of Sanka coffee spiked 60 percent when she started selling it on tv. She wrote more than 12,000 scripts. After she left television, she won a Tony award on Broadway. She fought the blacklist during the shameful Communist witch hunts of the 1950s. (She lost that fight - with tragic consequences).
The character Berg created and played, Molly Goldberg, was as warm, wise and Jewish as they come. She spoke English with a Yiddish accent (Berg didn't have one in real life), wore a full apron, was most often seen in her kitchen, and gossiped with her neighbors ("Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg") across the air shaft of her Bronx apartment - thus replacing the Midwestern white picket fence with its urban equivalent and the stock "Lassie Come Home" image of America with the realization that our cities were crammed full of people of different ethnicities crying to be recognized.
Berg's show began on radio just after the stock market crashed and went on - remarkably - all through the war. After decades of American anti-semitism, not to mention the long rise of the Nazis, having a Jewish family welcomed into America's living rooms was a major cultural revelation.
People of other cultures identified with her as well. African-American and Greek women speak in the film of recognizing the familiar symbol of a big-hearted matriarch doling out wisdom to her family while rolling out dough in her steamy kitchen. (Berg herself couldn't cook.)
Berg was so successful at making this maternal figure acceptable to America that Ed Asner complained she made it harder for his generation to assimilate. "I grew up in the Midwest, and it was blend, blend, blend," Asner said. "Molly Goldberg, with her accent, interfered with our blending."
When Edward R. Murrow interviewed Berg and her husband - a successful engineer - in their Park Avenue apartment in 1954, he asked Lewis Berg what it was like living with Molly; he never asked him about his own career.
I strongly recommend this film, which closes the festival on Sunday, March 25. But then, I strongly recommend that you see as many of the films as you can.
Molly Goldberg always closed her shows by saying, "From our family to your family." She was giving greetings from the Goldbergs, of course. But she also meant from all Jews, from all immigrants, and from all outsiders to an America we all have made.
American Reporter Correspondent Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist and columnist. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.