Accurately subtitled “The Most Famous Woman in America You Never Heard Of,” Aviva Kempner’s well-intentioned portrait of Gertrude Berg continues the director’s focus on unsung Jewish-American heroes (The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg). One of the first female hyphenates in the entertainment industry, Berg was the producer-writer-director of The Goldbergs, a sweet-and-schmaltzy TV show that’s considered the genesis of the domestic sitcom. Set in a simple Bronx Jewish household, the series had a remarkable run that began on radio in 1929 and ended on the boob tube in 1955. Berg built a media empire around her Molly Goldberg character, becoming a proto-Oprah who lived in the lap of luxury while creatively catering to nearly all corners (and ethnicities) of working-class America.
Though The Goldbergs found continued success for nearly 30 years (even during the rise of American anti-Semitism), both the show and Berg have fallen into obscurity, something Kempner fails to adequately explore. A tragic episode during McCarthyism is sensitively addressed, but the often repetitive accolades from the talking heads that dominate the doc quickly become tiresome. Berg’s talents are unassailable, but a more detailed study of the gender and cultural barriers she encountered might have resulted in the compelling profile this media pioneer deserves.—Andrew Grant