New and Noteworthy —New York Times Book Review
Must-Read Book of March —Entertainment Weekly
Best Books of March —HelloGiggles
“Leaps at the throat of television history and takes down the patriarchy with its fervent, inspired prose. When Women Invented Television offers proof that what we watch is a reflection of who we are as a people.” —Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls
New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia Jennifer Keishin Armstrong tells the little-known story of four trailblazing women in the early days of television who laid the foundation of the industry we know today.
It was the Golden Age of Radio and powerful men were making millions in advertising dollars reaching thousands of listeners every day. When television arrived, few radio moguls were interested in the upstart industry and its tiny production budgets, and expensive television sets were out of reach for most families. But four women—each an independent visionary— saw an opportunity and carved their own paths, and in so doing invented the way we watch tv today.
Irna Phillips turned real-life tragedy into daytime serials featuring female dominated casts. Gertrude Berg turned her radio show into a Jewish family comedy that spawned a play, a musical, an advice column, a line of house dresses, and other products. Hazel Scott, already a renowned musician, was the first African American to host a national evening variety program. Betty White became a daytime talk show fan favorite and one of the first women to produce, write, and star in her own show.
Together, their stories chronicle a forgotten chapter in the history of television and popular culture.
But as the medium became more popular—and lucrative—in the wake of World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee arose to threaten entertainers, blacklisting many as communist sympathizers. As politics, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and money collided, the women who invented television found themselves fighting from the margins, as men took control. But these women were true survivors who never gave up—and thus their legacies remain with us in our television-dominated era. It's time we reclaimed their forgotten histories and the work they did to pioneer the medium that now rules our lives.
This amazing and heartbreaking history, illustrated with photos, tells it all for the first time.
Television cultural critic Armstrong (Sex and the City and Us) reclaims in this enthusiastic outing the forgotten history of four women who shook up the staid ranks of mid-century television and set it on a course to become the medium it is today. Among the players are Gertrude Berg (1899 1966), who created, wrote, and starred in The Goldbergs, the first TV show to feature Jewish-American characters; it became a phenomenon and was adapted into a 1950 movie. Virtuoso Betty White ad-libbed her way into being one of the first women to develop a hit daytime talk show (Hollywood on Television) and now, with a career spanning 80 years, boasts the longest tenure in television history. Irma Phillip (1901 1973), meanwhile, created the longest running broadcast program of all time with the soap opera Guiding Light, which ran from 1937 to 2009. And jazz pianist Hazel Scott (1920 1981) became "the first black person to host a prime-time network television show" when she began hosting The Hazel Scott Show in 1950. Despite their successes, however, Armstrong drives home the point that her subjects (other than White) would not live to know the impact of their work on "the frontier of television." This fast-paced and fascinating group biography will enthrall pop culture, television, and women's history buffs.