Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner has carved out a nice little niche for herself as a director. Through The Ciesla Foundation (named after her grandparents who died during the holocaust), Kempner produces documentaries about the lives of unheralded Jewish heroes.
In 1999 she released the award-winning profile of a baseball great The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg and now she has returned with a film about the sadly forgotten television icon Gertrude Berg.
“For me the films are a way to comment on stereotypes,” Kempner told Metro. “Like countering the nebbish Jewish stereotype with Hank Greenberg, who was a powerful strong Jew. With Gertrude, I’m taking on the domineering ugly Jewish mother depiction that’s been the butt of jokes for years.”
Aviva Kempner’s latest movie Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg tells the story of Gertrude Berg who wrote and starred in the first American sitcom entitled The Goldbergs, about a traditional Jewish family sharing a small New York apartment.
The influence the show had on future sitcoms is vast. “The four most successful sitcoms of all time in America are Friends, Seinfeld, The Honeymooners, and I Love Lucy. They all share the same form and setting as The Goldbergs,” claimed Kempner.
Kempner describes Gertrude Berg as “the most famous woman in America who you’ve never heard of” and the label is appropriate. Berg was the Oprah of her time, writing and starring in the most popular television and radio show of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, while also proving to be a female icon with a vast media empire.
Fortunately Berg’s life and work is currently being rediscovered thanks to Aviva Kempner’s moving film and a retrospective DVD set of the series going to be released in December.