The Goldbergs is a comedy-drama broadcast from 1929 to 1946 on American radio, and from 1949 to 1956 on American television. It was adapted into a 1948 play, Me and Molly; a 1950 film Molly, and a 1973 Broadway musical, Molly.
The program was devised by writer-actress Gertrude Berg in 1928 and sold to the NBC radio network the following year. It was a domestic comedy featuring the home life of a Jewish family, supposedly located at 1038 East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. In addition to writing the scripts and directing each episode, Berg starred as bighearted, lovingly meddlesome, and somewhat stereotypical Jewish matriarch Molly Goldberg. The show began as a portrait of Jewish tenement life before later evoking such growing pains as moving into a more suburban setting and struggling with assimilation while sustaining their roots.
The Goldbergs began as a weekly 15-minute program called The Rise of the Goldbergs on November 20, 1929, going daily in 1931. The series moved to CBS in 1936 with the title shortened to The Goldbergs. Like other 15-minute comedies of the day, such as Amos ‘n’ Andy, Lum and Abner, Easy Aces, Vic and Sade and Myrt and Marge, The Goldbergs was a serial with running storylines. Berg’s usual introduction—in character as Molly, hollering, “Yoo-hoo! Is anybody…?”—became a catchphrase. In the 1940s, this was followed by Bud Collyer warbling, “There she is, folks—that’s Molly Goldberg, a woman with a place in every heart and a finger in every pie”.
When Gertrude Berg missed a couple of weeks due to illness, stations carrying the popular show were flooded with get-well mail. At the height of the show’s popularity, Life wrote: “For millions of Americans, listening to The Goldbergs… has been a happy ritual akin to slipping on a pair of comfortable old shoes that never seem to wear out”.
Radio historians Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, in The Big Broadcast 1920–1950, noted that The Goldbergs, which they considered a soap opera as much as a comedy, “differed from most of the other ‘soaps’ in that its leading characters lived through relatively normal situations. Even though it was the story of a poor Jewish family in the Bronx, New York, it had identification for a wide segment of listeners”. Of the 15-minute serial comedies, only Amos ‘n’ Andy enjoyed a longer radio life than The Goldbergs.
The role of husband Jake Goldberg was first played by Himan Brown and later by James R. Waters. When Waters died suddenly in 1945, Berg resisted recasting the role. Instead, she simply had Molly refer to Jake, occasionally setting up dialogue in which his reply was not heard when she spoke to him.
Berg’s portrayal of the Jewish mother stereotype emphasized the positive. “This series has done more to set us Jews right with the ‘goyim’ than all the sermons ever preached by the Rabbis,” wrote one Jewish educator.
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