In the age of “Reality Television,” it is easy to forget how magical the very early television programs were. Many of these series had originally been successful radio programs and therefore brought pre-existing audiences with them when they transferred media. One of the most successful of the early sitcoms was The Goldbergs, which aired its first television episode on January 17,* 1949.
The original radio program was named The Rise of the Goldbergs. It was first broadcast in 1929 and became a daily 15 minute program in 1931. It was written and directed by its lead actress, Gertrude Berg (1898-1966). The show revolved around the life of Molly Goldberg, a Jewish working-class wife and mother who resided in a Bronx tenement. Over the course of the show’s history, it dealt with both everyday situations and with issues particular to the immigrant experience -- including, toward the end of the series, moving out to the suburbs.
Molly Goldberg was the loving and sharp-witted, problem-solving matriarch upon which many future stereotypical Jewish mothers on television would be based. Her famous opening line was a call to her upstairs neighbor, “Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Bloom!”
Although there was some initial concern about the reaction to such an openly “Jewish” program, The Goldbergs was extremely popular. (In fact, Berg won the first Emmy Award for Best Actress in 1951.) On the whole, the storylines dealt with everyday issues, although Berg always insisted on maintaining an overall Jewish connection.
Berg is not only fascinating for her strong role in the early entertainment industry, but for her personal character. When, after months of refusing, she was finally forced by the network to fire the blacklisted actor Philip Loeb, Berg continued, for many years, to pay him a salary.
The final episode of the Goldberg’s aired in June 1956.
*Conflicting sources list both January 17th and January 10th as the date on which the first episode aired.
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