For the past 30 years, my goal has been to make documentaries about under known Jewish heroes that counter negative stereotypes. My goal is to show them foremost in the cinema, not digital releases.
In Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg I’m delighted to document the amazing accomplishments of the talented Gertrude Berg. I am in awe of how this woman would wake up at six in the morning, write her shows, and then go off to the studio to produce. Without missing a beat she seamlessly performed Molly to perfection. Here is a woman who wrote the most positive portrayal of a Jewish mother and her family during the decades that severely threatened American and European Jewry. It is more amazing still that she crafted such a warm maternal figure in spite of her own mother’s mental illness. Berg created the “perfect mother” she never experienced in her own life.
You didn’t have to be Jewish to love Molly! She was admired by millions of all backgrounds as they sat with families and friends around their radios and televisions following The Goldbergs. As a trailblazer in the male dominated entertainment world, Berg was the Oprah of her day. She invented product placement; audiences bought whatever products she suggested. She wrote compelling scenes and hilarious lines, especially her trademark malapropisms that audiences remember and recite to this day.
Berg is the most important woman in show business that many don’t know about because her enormous contributions to show business have been forgotten until this release of Yoo-Hoo, Mrs.Goldberg. This summer the US Postal Service is issuing stamps commemorating the early TV shows, and unbelievably The Goldbergs are ignored.
I so admire Berg’s courage in standing up to the destructive Blacklist, pursuing all avenues to save Philip Loeb’s career. The Blacklist deprived Americans of many creative talents as it destroyed lives. The demise of Loeb as Jake Goldberg was the worst television story to come out of this witch hunt. The detrimental effect of the Blacklist on Gertrude Berg’s reputation is equally shocking.
Researching my own family roots in 1979 inspired me to become a filmmaker. I am dedicated to making films that span the years prior to and during World War II, since they so scarred my family. My Polish-born mother passed as a Catholic working at a labor camp within Germany. Her parents and sister perished in Auschwitz, and only her brother survived the death camps.
Upon liberation by Americans my mother met my Lithuanian-born father, a US soldier, in Berlin. My father's mother had been shot by the Nazis. They married, and upon birth I was anointed the first American-Jewish child. We came to America in 1950 and settled in Detroit. My father, who immigrated to America in the late 1920s, made me aware of our country’s hardships during the Depression and the social discrimination against Jews and other minorities.
As a teenager I fantasized about fighting Nazis. In 1979, I felt an urge to make a film about Jewish resistance against the Nazis to answer the unfair question, “why didn’t Jews resist?” I produced and co-wrote Partisans of Vilna to show Jews had fought despite the moral dilemmas. It was released in theaters in 1986, and on DVD 20 years later. I formed a nonprofit foundation, naming it Ciesla after my maternal grandparents’ last name to keep the name alive.
I chose Hank Greenberg, my father’s baseball hero, as the subject of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. Every Yom Kippur our father would tell us how Greenberg went to synagogue instead of the stadium. I believed Greenberg was part of Kol Nidre service. I was sick of seeing only nebbishy Jewish males on the screen. Due to the difficulty in raising funds, it took 13 long years to make.
What I realize now is that although both Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg and Gertrude Berg’s careers spanned the years when our country faced the enormous challenges of the Great Depression and World War II, they both displayed great courage in performing as positive Jews in spite of the negative atmosphere swirling around them. Most of all, they were heroes to all Americans. It’s also greatly satisfying to now tell a woman’s story.
I feel privileged to have spent the last 30 years making documentaries about such powerful heroic figures. I love how three generations can come together to view my films. In retrospect, I believe that Jewish baby born in Berlin was put on this earth to document such affirmative celluloid history.