Molly and Me (Gertrude Berg) pdf, epub, doc

Aviva Kempner’s fine documentary about Gertrude Berg, titled “Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg”, led me to check out Berg’s 1961 memoir. According to Kempner, Berg was an important culture hero who translated the immigrant Jewish experience into a prime time nationwide radio and later television show that lasted a quarter of a century. A creative force acknowledged as the inventor of the sitcom, Berg conceived the characters, hired the actors, and wrote every episode.

Molly and Me is a charming, entertaining, and at times poignant portrait of Berg’s immigrant family’s struggles and strivings (sort of an “All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown”), her experiences growing up at her family’s Catskills hotel, and her entry into and life in show business. Unfortunately, about 60 pages before the end, the book runs out of steam. By now, she is a famous and accomplished performer and the only suspense she offers is how much will she worry and sweat and, by her own account, torment the people around her as opening night approaches, before finding out that she is again triumphant.

It turns out that the real reason that the book sags is that Berg omits the heartbreaking story of how the blacklist claimed her co-star, Philip Loeb and led eventually to the demise of her show, despite Berg’s efforts to protect him and keep the show going. For this story, you’ll have to go to Kempner’s fine film, to Glenn Smith’s biography of Berg, or to the thinly fictionalized account offered in the film The Front, in which Loeb’s best friend Zero Mostel portrays a character based on him.

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