On This Day in 1941: Molly Goldberg Nearly Chickens Out

Today, I spent so much time updating my homepage, surfing for internet television channels, and catching up with yesterday’s X Factor (rooting for Brenda, Andy, and Maria), that I neglected to commemorate the birthdays of Eugene O’Neill and Angela Lansbury (and discuss their respective radio connections). Instead, given the temporal restrictions, I decided to take in a 9-minute episode of one of radio’s earliest domestic serials, The Goldbergs.

I don’t mind listening to daytime radio serials. I certainly don’t condemn them outright; nor do I call them “soap operas,” for the same reason I don’t label crime dramas or variety shows “after shave thrillers” and “cigarette follies.” True, the so-called soaps (or washboard weepers) were largely manufactured by the makers of bubble baths and detergents. Still, it is wrong to single them out as being mere product placement opportunities, since promotional efforts also defined (or at least influence the content of) Jack Benny’s Lucky Strikes Program, The Lux Radio Theatre, and a great many other sponsored series.

The main problem I have with serials, as opposed to episodic or anthology dramas, is that I don’t give them enough time to grow on me or that too many installments are no longer extant to assist me in fostering an appreciation. In other words, I do not want to get engrossed and could not, anyway.

I do like Molly Goldberg; but she can—and occasionally does—get on my nerves. She is too frazzled, too neurotic, too much of a stereotype at times; whatever her accomplishments as a wife and mother, she too often fishes for sympathy, rather than compliments. Take the confession, for instance, that she was nearly too embarrassed to make on this day, 16 October, in 1941.

The entire episode could be summed up in one sentence: With considerable difficulty, Molly can be induced to admit that she has invested money in a friend’s possibly dubious poultry business. In this particular script, Gertrude Berg left out the story and depended solely on her portrayal of the kindhearted matriarch she created.

The stalling becomes a bit too obvious, and eventually desperate and tiresome. I’ve got nothing tonight, you can just hear Berg saying as she sits at her desk (pictured above), but I’ll pull it off because my public loves to hear Molly struggle.

Sure, I love you, Molly, and I appreciate the fact that you didn’t expect I’d be listening to your radio program today (with avian flu on my mind); still, parcel out a more generous piece of plot for me and I might stop by for another visit. After all, quite a few successive installments are available from October 1941, a period rife with war anxieties and home front preparations for inevitable shortages in food and consumer goods. Don’t count your chickens, Molly—there’s trouble ahead!

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