Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, and you too Mr. Mostel and even you, Phil Loeb

I went to see Aviva Kempner’s documentary film “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg” with limited expectations. I am not sure why this was, but I was looking forward to a pleasant, but probably not memorable, evening. I was wrong, and anyone interested in “The Goldbergs” or early television or McCarthy-ite Congressional blacklisting should see the movie, which was extremely well done. It opened last month in Washington and I know has been seen in festivals in various places. I am not sure what type of a general distribution it will have.

I am not going to go through the story line here; there have been several reviews which do that. Generally, it tells of a bright, but not educated woman, Tillie Edelstein/Gertrude Berg/Molly Goldberg, who was well ahead of her times, and who wanted to accomplish something noteworthy and did. A prodigious worker, she wrote and sold and starred in the show both on radio and television for over 20 years, often having to put together scripts for five shows a week.

The side story to my mind, however, is that of Philip Loeb, who played Molly’s husband Jake on the original CBS television version of the show, until he ran afoul of the Congressional black listers, and was forced off the show (in spite of Berg’s persistence in support of him) by the network and the sponsor, General Foods. Loeb was not a Communist (he was later actually cleared of the charge), but had been active in union affairs and thus was just as bad in the eyes of many.

Loeb did not recover from his ordeal, and in 1955, checked into the Taft Hotel in New York where he committed suicide. Loeb plays a featured role in “Yoo Hoo”, and Zero Mostel and his wife Kate play a smaller role, because Mostel and Loeb were best friends.

The day after I saw “Yoo Hoo”, I went to see “Zero Hour”, a one man show, written by and starring Jim Brochu as Zero Mostel. It opens the season at Theater J. “Zero Hour” has played in four other cities to good reviews and last night’s audience was very appreciate both during the show and after, where Brochu received a standing ovation. I wish that I enjoyed the show as much as most others seemed to, but I did not. Although I appreciated the apparent accuracy of the script (which tells the story of Mostel’s life and career), and although I will accept that Mostel was both a funny man and an angry man, I found the performance to be a bit to in my face, too bombastic, and not sufficiently reflective. Now this is just me, mind you; I am not speaking for the rest of the audience, who took to the character much more positively than I. (And I stayed for a talk-back with Brochu, artistic director Ari Roth and dramaturg Shirley Serotsky, which I thought was excellent, and helped me appreciate the show itself a bit more.)

Again, Philip Loeb was a major focus of the show, how much he did as an Actors Equity spokesman, his career, his friendship with the Mostels, his decline after the blacklisting, and his death.

I spent part of this morning looking at what there is about Loeb on the internet. It is surprisingly sparse. A Wikipedia entry is pretty basic. There are the New York Times articles about his travail on “The Goldbergs” and his death. A notice that his papers (which do not seem very extensive) are at the New York Public Library. And listings of his TV and stage performances on IMDB and IBDB.

But there is a story here that needs to be told, and that may not yet have had sufficient attention paid to it. A strong, if not stellar, acting career. A teacher of dramatic arts. A leading member of the Theatre Guild and Actors Equity Association. A supporter of rights for working actors, and of civil rights for all Americans. A victim of blacklisting. A husband. A father of a schizophrenic son. A man who could not, when all is said and done, hold it together.

A few personal notes. I remember The Goldbergs when I was quite young; I remember watching with my grandparents. But I don’t think I ever saw Philip Loeb. Loeb was on the show when it was on CBS. After he left, the show moved to NBC. In St. Louis, we did not get a CBS affiliate until 1954, so I assume that I only saw the NBC version, which would have been after Loeb’s dismissal.

Everyone seemed to love Philip Loeb, both for what he did and for the way he was, both works and personality. The same thing cannot be said for Zero Mostel, who was obviously quite feisty and did not suffer fools gladly. Mostel himself disliked a lot of peoplel Most were those who “named names” at the HUAC hearings in the early 50s. But those weren’t the only ones. Another was David Merrick, whom, in Zero Hour, he describes as something like “a brilliant man, but the biggest son of a bitch around”.

David Merrick was born in St. Louis, and attended Washington University there, where he was a classmate of my mother’s. He wasn’t David Merrick yet; that was the result of a name change. He was David Margulis. Margulis also happened to be my mother’s maiden name. She used to tell how for years people would ask her if she were related to David Margulis, perhaps his sister. My mother’s opinion of David Margulis was similar to Zero Mostel’s, and every time she had to repeat that she was not related to that guy whom nobody liked, she grew more and more upset.

3 thoughts on “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, and you too Mr. Mostel and even you, Phil Loeb

  1. It is NOT TRUE that Phillip Loeb committed suicide over blacklisting–although that’s a convenient “untruth” for left-wing ideologues and the useful idiocy associated with them.

    What IS true is that Loeb was distraught over some impending eye (cataract) surgery and the prospect of losing vision in one eye–Loeb had already had surgery in the other eye.

    But Loeb was once again employed on stage at the time of his death (theater was never affected by the blacklist, only film & TV), earning about $85 per week (which at the time was good pay for Off-Broadway) in a revival of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” for three months in 1955, and was signed to appear in the musical “Reuben Reuben” at the time of his death in September of that same year.

    Loeb had also acted in Groucho Marx’s “Time Out For Ginger” for six months from 1952-53. All these jobs were ones for which Loeb was contracted after his termination on “The Goldbergs.” So this notion Loeb never worked after “The Goldbergs” is just patently false.

    And although his salary from “The Goldbergs” was not the astronomical sum that today’s TV actors receive, Gertrude Berg nonetheless offered Loeb a lump settlement of $85,000 to walk away from the series (so that the rest of the show’s 40 employees could be spared), which Loeb eventually accepted in late 1951, as he needed to pay the medical bills of his son, a schizophrenic.

    Also, from the time news of Loeb’s blacklisting broke (1951) until his death (September 1, 1955) from an overdose of sleeping pills at New York’s Taft Hotel, four years had passed since his departure from “The Goldbergs.”

    I refer anyone so interested in the facts of this case to read both Loeb’s obituaries and “Buyer’s Guide To Fifty Years Of TV On Video,” by the late Sam Frank.

    Frank was a real fan of “The Goldbergs,” and his book’s section on Gertrude Berg and her radio and television programs is exhaustive. Although Frank’s unique reference compendium, overall, is fraught with typographical errors (largely of the paging) and some of his suggestions for releases on DVD now dated, the content is nevertheless an excellent historical look at the days of the early television medium.

    The popular notion of Loeb’s suicide being related to his dismissal from “The Goldbergs” was fictitiously perpetuated by Walter Bernstein (himself a blacklisted writer), screenwriter for Woody Allen’s “The Front,” to suit that film’s propaganda.

  2. Sorry, Jim, but you are absolutely incorrect. Time for you to face facts: the McCarthy hearings destroyed lives. He was hired by Groucho Marx, and you think that supports the notion that he worked after being blacklisted? Please.

    • Who are you kidding, Gwen? You are not one bit “sorry,” were only too happy and pleased with yourself to post your self-gratifying comments.

      But it is you who are incorrect. It is as if you have not even read the “facts” I already stated. Phillip Loeb, as I already wrote, had at least two other sources of employment after “The Goldbergs,” besides the Groucho Marx play.

      You have obviously been drinking the Kool-Aid so long, you are unable to confront propaganda, even when presented with facts that contradict your years of leftist brainwashing.

      The left needed a villain then to further their cause, just as they use FOXNews and any other entity that dares to challenge their agenda today.

      “McCarthyism” was concocted by the left to advance their propaganda, because every smear campaign needs a common enemy/villain around which to coalesce. Senator Joseph McCarthy never caused one person in the film industry to lose his job, as that was the purview of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which investigated such matters of possible treason on the domestic front.

      McCarthy’s scope of inquiry was relegated to the armed services and foreign afairs arenas, looking into legitimate leaks of national security, and where his conviction rate was 100%.

      If you knew your history of the arrangement of the United States government, Gwen, it should be perfectly obvious that since Senator McCarthy was a member of the U.S. Senate, the upper chamber of the federal legislative branch, he could not possibly have sat on the “House” Un-American Activties Committee, which was of the lower chamber.

      Furthermore, it was no act of government which caused screenwriters or actors to lose their jobs, but through a voluntary action of the broadcast networks who capitulated to the wishes of their advertisers (as perfectly permissable as a boycott by consumers), to not hire alleged subversives listed in such publications as “Counterattack,” and its sub-publication, “Red Channels,” at least until such time as those suspect parties had testified of their innocence before HUAC.

      “Please,” indeed.

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