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Movie Mom

Interview: Aviva Kempner of ‘Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg”

posted by Nell Minow

Aviva Kempner is the director of the outstanding documentary, “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” just out on DVD. I interviewed her about making the film and new material and surprising discovery she added to the DVD features.
What surprised you most in researching this film?
I never knew about the blacklisting and sad demise of fellow actor Philip Loeb, who played Jake Goldberg on first season of “The Goldbergs.” Very talented and union organizer Loeb was targeted and driven from the show even though Berg fought hard to keep him on. Losing his livelihood Loeb killed himself 55 years ago on September 1st. He taught many fine actors, including Kirk Douglas, and directed seasons of the Marx Brothers in “Room Service.” He lost his life to a disease called the blacklist.
What was it about the Goldbergs that made their stories seem so universal?
It was so delightfully about the joys and woes of family at a time that so many immigrant and accented speaking families were living together and struggling to succeed.
Is ethnic material handled differently now? What’s better and what have we
lost?

Sadly those ethnic characters are no longer the norm unlike those delightful characters on early radio and television. I was saddened to see “Ugly Betty” go off the air as it celebrated the aspirations of a Latin immigrant family. Hopefully more of those shows will emerge again.
Is there anyone today who is a performer/writer/producer the same way that Berg
was?

Tina Fey and Oprah are as multi-tasked and powerful women in popular culture today. I was honored to bring Gertrude Berg, the most famous woman in America you have never heard of, to the screen. I loved that a combination of senior citizens, who watched the show, and young viewers, especially feminists, flocked to the movie theatres. Now the DVD can expose the rest of America to talented Gertrude Berg.
What was her biggest challenge? Her biggest triumph?
Her biggest challenge was fighting the blacklist of Philip Loeb and the her biggest triumph was winning the first Emmy for an actress sixty years ago and then go on to also claim a Tony award for “Majority of One.”
What kinds of extras are on the DVD?
The jam-packed DVD includes interviews with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actor Ed Asner, producers Norman Lear (“All in the Family”) and Gary David Goldberg (“Family Ties”), and NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg, as well as early career appearances of Anne Bancroft and Steve McQueen. The bonus features are chock-full with over two hours of material including my own audio commentary, episodes of “The Goldbergs” (including a surprising 1954 episode featuring Molly and Jake in the same bed together!), Gertrude Berg’s guest appearances with Edward R. Murrow and on Ed Sullivan, additional scenes and interviews, a Gertrude Berg recipe, an essay from the director and much, much more.

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