Aug ’09 Spotlight

DC-based director Aviva Kempner, the filmmaker behind 1998’s award-winning doc The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, has finally released her long-awaited follow-up Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.

Tillie Edelstein took the first part of her mother’s maiden name (Gold) and combined it with her husband’s last name (Berg) to create the character “Molly Goldberg” (also choosing the new first name “Gertrude” for herself). Her first broadcast, in November 1929, turned “Molly” into one of the most popular matriarchs in American popular culture, first on her radio serial The Rise of the Goldbergs and then on her television series The Goldbergs (which ran almost without interruption until 1954). Remarkably, Berg served as writer, producer and star of both the radio and TV shows. She also brought her fictional family to Broadway in 1948 as Me and Molly, and to the big screen in 1950 as The Goldbergs.

In 1951, Berg won television’s first ever Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and in 1959 she won a Tony Award for Best Actress in the play A Majority of One. The Tony lead to her return to TV in 1961 (in Mrs. G. Goes to College), the same year she published her best-selling memoir Molly and Me.

 

Unfortunately, Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg suffers from a bit of a “three bears” problem. Whereas Greenberg was “just right,” Goldberg has a bit too much social history and not quite enough biography. I suspect this is partly because Hank Greenberg was a relatively straightforward guy, whereas Gertrude Berg’s life was filled with inner turmoil. Specifically, Kempner references issues with both parents, but she is mute about Berg’s relationships with her children. Nevertheless, it’s great to see all the old clips again, with insight from cast members Arlene McQuade and Larry Robinson, and commentary by such notables as Ed Asner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear, and Susan Stamberg. At the very end of the film, Ginsburg describes one specific incident which serves as a perfect punctuation mark, so make sure you stay through the credits.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg opens locally on Fri July 31 at the AMC River East (Chicago) and the Landmark Renaissance (Highland Park), and Aviva Kempner will be here for the weekend to personally attend selected screenings. For exact dates, times and locations, visit: http://www.mollygoldbergfilm.org.

FILMS: ONE NIGHT ONLY

Young Jewish-American authors are fascinated by the goings-on in Krakow, Poland, which has become one of Europe’s greatest destinations for “Holocaust Tourism” since Schindler’s List was released in 1993. Krakow has a starring role in Erin Einhorn’s book The Pages in Between (see my February ’09 column) and Roger Bennett, co-author of And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl (see my May ’09 column), has just posted an update on Tablet (Nextbook’s new online website).

Their words leap to life in Yale Strom’s 2002 documentary Klezmer on Fish Street. Strom and his group “The Klezmaniacs” went to Poland to participate in Krakow’s annual “Jewish Culture Festival.” Alta, the grandmother of the Klezmaniacs lead singer, came along to translate, and also to visit her home town of Bedzin. (The Fish Street in the film’s title is located in Bedzin.) The film counterpoints these twin searches for “Jewish roots” with the fact that almost none of the other musicians, spectators, or bystanders at the “Jewish Culture Festival” are actually Jewish. The Chicago YIVO Society will show this riveting doc on Thurs August 6 at 6:30 PM at the Harold Washington Library Center on State and Congress.

MORE FROM CHICAGO YIVO

With thousands of works of art to his credit, Marc Chagall’s best known painting continues to be the one simply called Music (originally created for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater in 1920). Broadway lovers know this image (appearing again in 1924 as Green Violinist) was the source of the title for Fiddler on the Roof, but it is now so ubiquitous that we take it for granted.

In 2014, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fiddler’s first Broadway performance, so it’s time to look with fresh eyes. Stempenyu, a virtuoso musician from Ukraine, also gave his name to one of Sholem Aleichem’s first major stories. So who is that fiddler, so prominent every time the curtain rises on a new performance of Fiddler on the Roof? Is he Stempenyu?

For answers, come to my lecture “Stempenyu: From Berdichev to Broadway,” at Evanston Public Library on Mon Aug 17 at 12:15 PM. And for more details on all the programs in this year’s “Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture,” visit the Chicago YIVO Society’s blog: http://chicagoyivo.wordpress.com.

CURTAIN CALL

Metro Chicago hosted some incredibly talented people this summer: the American Conference of Cantors/Guild of Temple Musicians (ACC/GTM), the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA), and the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) all had their annual conferences here, and I happily dipped into sessions sponsored by all three.

On Tues June 30, the crowds converged at Temple Sholom on Lake Shore Drive to hear Ruach: Music of Chicago’s Jewish Soul. The ACC/GTM Ensemble gave voice to famous local composers, performing Yiddish melodies like “A Din Toyre mit Gott” by Erwin Jospe (once of Anshe Emet), traditional prayers like “Birkat Hachodesh” by Max Janowski (once of KAM Isaiah Israel), and new arrangements like Gerald Rizzer’s “Vayiven Uziyahu” (with text from 2 Chronicles).

Special guests for the evening included Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago (who had us all clapping along to Riki Lippitz’ arrangement of “Let the Heavens be Glad”) and harmonica genius Howard Levy (who offered a blazing rendition of Solomon Secunda’s jazz classic “Bay Mir Bist Du Sheyn”). By the time all the performers got onstage for the grand finale (Scott Lavender’s version of “Oseh Shalom”), the whole audience was on its feet, stomping and singing along.

*****

Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com. Visit www.juf.org for online copies of prior columns.

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