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When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today

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The New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia 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 The New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia 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. 


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The New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia 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 The New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia 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. 

30 review for When Women Invented Television: The Untold Story of the Female Powerhouses Who Pioneered the Way We Watch Today

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    When Women Invented Television by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is a 2021 Harper publication. Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, Betty White, and Hazel Scott are true television pioneers. Before televisions were a staple in American households, these women saw its potential and helped to propel the medium into the mainstream… After women laid the foundation, men took notice of this new medium and swooped down to overtake it. This book pays long overdue homage to these four women and presents to us the wa When Women Invented Television by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is a 2021 Harper publication. Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, Betty White, and Hazel Scott are true television pioneers. Before televisions were a staple in American households, these women saw its potential and helped to propel the medium into the mainstream… After women laid the foundation, men took notice of this new medium and swooped down to overtake it. This book pays long overdue homage to these four women and presents to us the ways they changed television, and the impact they made, which can still be felt today. I am embarrassed to admit I was not aware of this history. This is a very interesting profile of these trailblazing women and I’m so glad their stories are finally seeing the light of day and they are being recognized for their contributions to television, even if it is a long overdue accreditation. We all know who Betty White is, but I had no idea she had her own talk show until after her death. The show aired in 1952-53 on one network, and in 1954 on another one- but the show was canceled soon after she refused to cancel Arthur Duncan’s appearance on the show. It goes without saying that Betty’s television career was a big success, but this book gives us more insights into her early days as a television performer and a glimpse into her past that few are aware of. One could talk for days about all the impressive work Betty left behind, but there were three other groundbreaking women in this book whose names I was not familiar with: Hazel Scott- Hazel, a jazz performer, was the first black woman to host her own television show in the 1950s- but her show ended abruptly after she had to testify before the House of un-American Activities Committee. Irna Phillips- If you ever enjoyed ‘As the World Turns’ or ‘The Guiding Light’ you have Irna Phillips to thank for that. Irna was a script writer who created her stories with women in mind. She got her start in radio, but eventually transitioned over to television. (A fun bit of trivia-That organ music so often associated with soaps was Irna’s creation as well. It was meant to mimic a church organ- and was first heard at the beginning of Guiding Light and was inspired by the spiritual sermons Irna took comfort in after suffering personal losses.) Irna Phillips created a huge soap empire and mentored others in that business. Gertrude Berg: Gertrude, like Irna, got her start in radio. She was the first woman that multi-tasked a series- which was called ‘The Goldbergs’. The show featured a Jewish family living in a Bronx tenement. The show was adapted for television in 1949 and was aired until 1954. (The show was well- received, and Berg won an Emmy for her role in the show) When I got to thinking about how truly incredible it was that these women broke through so many barriers at a time when those achievements were incredibly hard, I am amazed! Because men have long been given credit for advancements in television, they could not have achieved any of it were it not for these women who saw the potential television had. We owe a debt of gratitude to them, but it also boggles the mind that we don’t hear more about these women and their contributions and foresight. They stood up to bullies and brought loveable, diverse characters into American homes, something it took men decades to duplicate. I’m sad that, other than Betty White, I had never heard of the other three women featured in the book, but I’m so glad I found this book and was finally made aware of them, and their accomplishments. *The research is good, the history is enlightening, and it’s about time we were made aware of these women; the construction of the book, however, is not the best. The flow is not as smooth as I would have liked, and while the author’s work is obvious, the presentation is a little sloppy. Despite that, I recommend the book, for the history lesson and homage to these ladies who were ahead of their time.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    Of the four women on the cover of this book the only one familiar to me is Betty White. The book was a huge revelation. I didn’t know there was so much I didn’t know. Here are a few: I’ve been watching soap operas since the 1960’s and still watch one today and live in fear of it going off the air. I suppose because I never looked it up I didn’t know soap operas were envisioned and created by a woman – Irna Phillips. I didn’t know that a Black performer had her own show on TV in 1950 – Hazel Scott. I Of the four women on the cover of this book the only one familiar to me is Betty White. The book was a huge revelation. I didn’t know there was so much I didn’t know. Here are a few: I’ve been watching soap operas since the 1960’s and still watch one today and live in fear of it going off the air. I suppose because I never looked it up I didn’t know soap operas were envisioned and created by a woman – Irna Phillips. I didn’t know that a Black performer had her own show on TV in 1950 – Hazel Scott. I had never heard of the DuMont Television Network. I knew about the ‘Hollywood 10”, but I didn’t know that there was another blacklist "Red Channels" “Men have dominated TV in every decade after these women ruled the airwaves. But they have done so in formats invented and perfected by women.” (Pg.274) This book is a lesson in TV history and how women shaped much of what we watch even today. It’s informative as well as entertaining. Thanks to the author for preserving this essential history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    I read this for our local library book club. The book chronicles four female pioneers of early television: Irna Phillips, mother of the soap opera and creator of The Guiding Light; Hazel Scott, a Black pianist, singer and early activist; Gertrude Berg, America’s Jewish Mother on The Goldbergs; and Betty White, America’s Sweetheart. It also touched on McCarthyism, and how it affected the members of the entertainment industry. I love books where I learn about events or people that I didn’t know abo I read this for our local library book club. The book chronicles four female pioneers of early television: Irna Phillips, mother of the soap opera and creator of The Guiding Light; Hazel Scott, a Black pianist, singer and early activist; Gertrude Berg, America’s Jewish Mother on The Goldbergs; and Betty White, America’s Sweetheart. It also touched on McCarthyism, and how it affected the members of the entertainment industry. I love books where I learn about events or people that I didn’t know about before, and in this case, I couldn’t help jumping back and forth between the book and YouTube to watch an episode of The Goldbergs, or Hazel Scott playing the piano with her stylized version of The Caissons Go Rolling Along. Sadly, many of the performances will be lost forever due to the technology of the times or the lack of forethought to preserve their works. So reading about these women and their accomplishments was a real treat!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevidently

    I tweeted to the author: "I kind of didn't think TV really existed before I Love Lucy." And she tweeted back, "Me neither until I started researching this book!" But of COURSE there was television before I Love Lucy. Lucy tends to overshadow much of what went before because she was not only super popular in her day, but syndication makes sure she has remained popular in perpetuity. But it's not just Lucy that hid the early days of early television. See, as a culture, we tend to think of "early TV I tweeted to the author: "I kind of didn't think TV really existed before I Love Lucy." And she tweeted back, "Me neither until I started researching this book!" But of COURSE there was television before I Love Lucy. Lucy tends to overshadow much of what went before because she was not only super popular in her day, but syndication makes sure she has remained popular in perpetuity. But it's not just Lucy that hid the early days of early television. See, as a culture, we tend to think of "early TV" in the way that the advertisers and producers and, heck, politicians at the time thought about it: patriarchal, with the happy female homemaker in the kitchen and 2.5 kids running around like scamps. It's not how reality ever was, but because this was such a pervasive image in the formative years of TV, it sticks in our minds - both as what TV was and what America was. We were fed lies that made us forget the pioneering women who made television possible. Gertrude Berg, who took her radio serial, The Goldbergs, about the exploits of a Jewish-American family living in New York onto live TV. Irna Phillips, who invented soap operas, starting with The Guiding Light. Hazel Scott, the first African American to host a national evening variety program. And of course, Betty White, was one of the first women to produce, write, and star in her own show ... and who is still shining today. All these women helped force people to sit up and notice TV, and notice the women at the center of the programs they watched and loved. Hazel Scott refused to play pickaninny characters - or maids, or servants - preferring to play herself and to sing her swinging versions of classic songs. And she was heard. Betty White, who co-starred on a FIVE AND A HALF HOUR DAILY SHOW that was mostly improv, before she became a talk-show host and early sitcom star. It's kind of astounding to discover this rich history, and to learn how it was all swept aside in the wake of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and post-WWII patriarchy, as men realized they could wrest control over the airwaves. In a lot of ways, When Women Invented Television is frustrating. To learn that Gertrude Berg - who basically invented the sitcom - was seen as possibly "too Jewish" to hold down new shows is insane. Even more insane is how they tried to tone down the Jewishness of Fran Drescher and Jerry Seinfeld, believing that Jewish sitcoms could not be popular. And this is like FIFTY YEARS after Berg had her first successes. Hazel Scott should have paved the way for a whole generation of talented Black women, but she was labeled a Communist (though she was anti-Communist) and eventually the white men in charge decided she wasn't worth the hassle. These women's stories are structured as inspirational, and they are ... but the codas are a little sad. You start off with the knowledge that these pioneering careers are mostly forgotten, but you forget that as the stories continue and success starts to pile up. None of those successes were really built to last ... except, of course, in the case of Betty White, who is still going strong in her 90s. At least, the book seems to be saying, one slipped through. It's not enough, but it'll do.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Allison Maier

    women are the COOLEST it’s so upsetting that i had never heard of 3/4 women that were covered in this book. this book wonderfully weaved together the stories of these incredible women with the social climate of the US during the 1940s and 50s and i loved it. i haven’t learned this much from a single book in a long time

  6. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Such an interesting book about early television. The author cleverly focuses on a few women and their impact on television. Armstrong has also woven in the background of the tumultuous post WWII years and the HUAC hearings. I was totally fascinated by this book and I admire the authors discipline in limiting the focus to four women. Those are Hazel Scott, Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg and Betty White. She has thrown in a bit about Lucille Ball. The anecdotal reportage is delightful. I remember Ge Such an interesting book about early television. The author cleverly focuses on a few women and their impact on television. Armstrong has also woven in the background of the tumultuous post WWII years and the HUAC hearings. I was totally fascinated by this book and I admire the authors discipline in limiting the focus to four women. Those are Hazel Scott, Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg and Betty White. She has thrown in a bit about Lucille Ball. The anecdotal reportage is delightful. I remember Gertrude Berg from my own childhood and certainly Betty White is still a national treasure. This is a historians’ dream, reading so much about the social and media history within a delightful framework. The author has done a remarkable job and I highly recommend this to college classes interested in media history and women’s studies. Bravo! A fine piece of scholarship wrapped in an easily read non-fiction book. .

  7. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    Fascinating from start to finish...to say nothing of enlightening. If you think you know the story of the golden age of television, you may be surprised about what you actually don't know, especially about the role of women. Triumphant and tragic in equal measure. Fascinating from start to finish...to say nothing of enlightening. If you think you know the story of the golden age of television, you may be surprised about what you actually don't know, especially about the role of women. Triumphant and tragic in equal measure.

  8. 4 out of 5

    emma

    this entire book was a revelation from start to finish. it details the lives and careers of gertrude berg, irna phillips, betty white, and hazel scott, who each broke the glass ceiling, prevailing in the Television industry at a time in which women, particularly black women, struggled to further and fuel careers in an industry and world overpopulated by white men. other than betty white, i had never heard of the other three women featured in this book - their careers, their inventions, their hist this entire book was a revelation from start to finish. it details the lives and careers of gertrude berg, irna phillips, betty white, and hazel scott, who each broke the glass ceiling, prevailing in the Television industry at a time in which women, particularly black women, struggled to further and fuel careers in an industry and world overpopulated by white men. other than betty white, i had never heard of the other three women featured in this book - their careers, their inventions, their history-making decisions and appearances erased from conversation, but thanks to this book their awe-worthy legacies are cemented in writing forever for us to retell and continue post all four of their deaths. it was about time something like this was written.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Galloway

    Even though I'm not much of a tv watcher, I found this completely fascinating. I had no idea that television started out with such an opportunity to be more diverse and equal (though the women in this story all had to fight for their places) before all that was quashed. These are women to be admired and remembered. I listened to this one as an audiobook and found the narrator to be fantastic. Even though I'm not much of a tv watcher, I found this completely fascinating. I had no idea that television started out with such an opportunity to be more diverse and equal (though the women in this story all had to fight for their places) before all that was quashed. These are women to be admired and remembered. I listened to this one as an audiobook and found the narrator to be fantastic.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    When we think of women in early television most people think of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy, but there were women both on camera and behind the scenes before her. In this book Jennifer Armstrong tells the stories of four women who helped invent television - Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White. These four women were very different, but were all trailblazers as women and in the new field of television. They all struggled with being working women in the 1950's when being a m When we think of women in early television most people think of Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy, but there were women both on camera and behind the scenes before her. In this book Jennifer Armstrong tells the stories of four women who helped invent television - Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White. These four women were very different, but were all trailblazers as women and in the new field of television. They all struggled with being working women in the 1950's when being a mother and housewife were the societal norm. They also struggled with racism, anti-Semitism, and being blacklisted during the McCarthy/anti-Communist era. It's sad that several of the early shows these women created and starred in have been lost because early television was live and not recorded (Lucille Ball was one of the pioneers of filming and editing her show which is why it's still around in syndication today). But, Armstrong does a great job of telling these women's stories and showing the impact they had on television and society during their lives. And amazingly one of them - Betty White - is still around and about to turn 100 years old! This is a unique look at the beginning of television and how these four women helped shape it into what we know today. Some quotes I liked: "[Irna Phillips] $300,000-per-year pay put her into the upper echelons of all American earners at the time but was particularly astonishing for a woman. (An average nonfarm family took in about $3,000 per year in 1946, for comparison. In 2020 terms, she was pulling in nearly $4 million a year.)" (p. 32) "[I Love Lucy] was all recorded on film to be edited later, which was significantly more expensive than broadcasting live. Arnaz and Ball agreed to a pay cut to help offset the costs, a deal that in exchange gave them ownership of the film of the show itself. For decades their method would be the industry standard for half-hour comedies...A significant unforeseen benefit of shooting on film emerged later: it preserved the show in pristine recordings, which allowed it to be shown in syndicated reruns for decades to come and now even to be shown via streaming services...The bargain Arnaz and Ball made to shoot on film so they could remain in Los Angeles also paid dividends for the rest of their lives; they owned the films, so they reaped the syndication profits...Her undeniable influence as a creator, producer, and visual comedy genius would grow larger over the decade as many of TV's early female pioneers faded from view. She was the explosion that came at the end of a long line of women before her, and she would shine so brightly that those women's contributions would be forgotten." (p. 170-71) "White did, however, have more radical plans afoot. She invited the dancer Arthur Duncan, who had been a guest performer several times on Hollywood on Television, to appear on her show several times. The difference this time was that a Black tap dancer would be seen nationwide, rather than just in Los Angeles. That included the American South...[when stations complained and threatened to boycott her show] Her response: 'I'm sorry. Live with it.' She used Duncan as much as she could. The network, at least, backed her decision...White's casting of Duncan would lead to his becoming one of the first Black regulars on a variety program, The Lawrence Welk Show from 1964 to 1982, and a major inspiration for the future tap superstar Gregory Hines." (p. 219-21) "But no one who knew Gertrude Berg ever knew the woman to cook. Her hired cook, Louise Capers, was the one who made the food in the Berg residence. That didn't stop Berg from agreeing to coauthor a cookbook. Nor did her penchant for fine dresses, furs, and pearls stop her from putting her name on a popular line of housedresses. Empire building required perpetuating such illusions at times - that is, if you were a woman building an empire...As her granddaughter said, 'She would never have worn a housedress. I mean never.' This woman had her hair done, in her classic chignon style, even when she was at home with her family. Her grandchildren never saw her hair down. In fact, they never saw her bare feet, either. She owned dozens of dress gloves, hats, fur coats, and opulent pins. She would have no use for a low-cost, simple frock meant only for a housewife to do her housework in. But Berg did not pass by an opportunity when it presented itself to her." (p. 236-38) "The Guiding Light would eventually run continuously on radio and television for seventy-two years, making it not only the longest-running soap opera but also the longest running of all scripted programs in broadcast history. Phillips created the genre itself and is credited with several of its innovations: professionals such as doctors and lawyers as main characters with endless story possibilities, episode-ending cliff-hangers, organ music cues, and characters who crossed over from one serial to another. The daytime soap never truly gained the respect Phillips deserved, likely because it was associated with female audiences." (p. 263)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carly Friedman

    I LOVED this book. My favorite books, as I have said before, are those that integrate biographical info about a select few fascinating people with cultural, economic, and social history. This was the perfect mix! The information regarding Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White was absolutely fascinating. I also loved the background information about early television, the impact of McCarthyism, and post WWII culture. Although I was learning a ton, the book felt like a joy to r I LOVED this book. My favorite books, as I have said before, are those that integrate biographical info about a select few fascinating people with cultural, economic, and social history. This was the perfect mix! The information regarding Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White was absolutely fascinating. I also loved the background information about early television, the impact of McCarthyism, and post WWII culture. Although I was learning a ton, the book felt like a joy to read. Highly recommended!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Sensational. Absolutely sensational. I had never heard of Gertrude Berg or Hazel Scott. Betty White of course is known to everyone and I vaguely knew of Irna Phillips' work but not her. The women talked about in this book were nothing short of amazing and did their best to not let anything stop them in the pursuit of their dreams. Sensational. Absolutely sensational. I had never heard of Gertrude Berg or Hazel Scott. Betty White of course is known to everyone and I vaguely knew of Irna Phillips' work but not her. The women talked about in this book were nothing short of amazing and did their best to not let anything stop them in the pursuit of their dreams.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Angeline Walsh

    Great subject, poorly executed. How the author managed to take such a fascinating subject and turn out such a dull, repetitive account is a mystery to me. I’m shocked that this book was professionally edited. That being said, I appreciated getting to know the women featured here. I especially liked Getrude Berg and Hazel Scott’s stories, and I’m interested in exploring more of their work.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Frankie Urrutia-Smith

    Betty White's recent passing makes this a tear-jersey but it's an important story, nonetheless! Betty White's recent passing makes this a tear-jersey but it's an important story, nonetheless!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    Gertrude Berg. Hazel Scott. Irna Phillips. Betty White. Yes, that Betty White. Everyone’s favorite Golden Girl. But kids, these women were all that back in the day and more. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of SEINFELDIA, has brought their stories together with nontrivial research in a wiz-bang historical look at the early days of television and how these actresses from different media became the first ladies of the burgeoning possibilities of our good friend during the pandemic (and otherwise) Gertrude Berg. Hazel Scott. Irna Phillips. Betty White. Yes, that Betty White. Everyone’s favorite Golden Girl. But kids, these women were all that back in the day and more. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of SEINFELDIA, has brought their stories together with nontrivial research in a wiz-bang historical look at the early days of television and how these actresses from different media became the first ladies of the burgeoning possibilities of our good friend during the pandemic (and otherwise) --- the wondrous world of television. WHEN WOMEN INVENTED TELEVISION reads like a thriller, moving you through vast amounts of information in no time as you cheer for these real-life protagonists to pave the way for Oprah, Ellen and Joan Ganz Cooney, the creator of “Sesame Street.” Gertrude Berg came from the world of radio, where “The Goldbergs,” a Jewish family saga, was one of the highest rated shows in broadcasting. She was already in her 50s, with teenagers in the house, when she took on the responsibility of adapting her radio show to television. She was the first “influencer” to ensure that her work had many ancillary outlets for monetary success. Hazel Scott, a renowned jazz musician, was the first woman to produce and star on a live variety show. She had spent half her life on the road, playing for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and others. She was ready to get off the road and settle in with her husband, Senator Adam Clayton Powell Jr., who served in Congress from 1945 to 1971. But the possibilities of broadcast television proved a strong magnet for her skills, talents and beauty. Irna Phillips took the idea of the soap opera serial and planted it front and center for millions of Americans, a tradition refashioned by cultures all over the world to represent the people of their country. She understood deeply the connection between stories and the kind of audience that television would normalize --- thousands of viewers sharing in the lives of these characters at the same time every day --- but the process caused her lifelong illness and anxiety. Betty White, the oldest host ever of “Saturday Night Live,” started on a talk show and went on to write, produce and star in her own weekly series. She already had been married twice and didn’t care about sharing duties with anyone as she tried to become a household name (until years later when she would meet the host of “Password,” Allen Ludden, and find true love for nearly two decades). Armstrong belongs to my generation of television fanatics, the ones for whom TV Guide was the most important part of the week, the kids who watched anything and everything with absolute glee. Afternoon TV in the ’70s and ’80s was riddled with female-friendly shows (“I Love Lucy,” “The Brady Bunch,” game shows galore), and the sound of the words “Filmed before a live audience in Burbank, California” was mysterious and magical. Those of us who have worked professionally in television broadcasting watched women struggle even in the ’90s and 2000s, so looking at the hard-won successes of these ladies in the late ’40s and ’50s can only inspire those who are just entering the industry. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also ready for another level of creativity and ingenuity. Of course, it has changed so much, but these stories are exciting and will make an impression on even the most tech-savvy Zoomers. Armstrong’s style is easy to read, and I found myself whipping through the book as if it were a grade-school paperback. She tells an important story to which lots of people have paid pomp and circumstance, but it is my hope that this tome will cement the contributions of these women on the memories of all the streamers, YouTubers, gamers and other content creators who feel like they are writing new paths forward. Whether they are aware of it or not, WHEN WOMEN INVENTED TELEVISION will ensure that the stories of these innovative, hard-working, inspirational, individualistic ladies are known to everyone who aspires to the same. Reviewed by Jana Siciliano

  16. 5 out of 5

    Denni Cady-Stid

    Amazing audiobook, listening wise. It almost felt like a podcast. Content wise, MINDBLOWING. I literally just finished crying because as much as i thought i loved Betty White, i knew NOTHING about how incredible she truly is. And it’s so amazing that she is still with us. And then i thought about that particular hard truth that is coming…. And cue the waterworks. The other 3 women stories featured are also incredible in their own right. They were just new to me. But each accomplished so much, it Amazing audiobook, listening wise. It almost felt like a podcast. Content wise, MINDBLOWING. I literally just finished crying because as much as i thought i loved Betty White, i knew NOTHING about how incredible she truly is. And it’s so amazing that she is still with us. And then i thought about that particular hard truth that is coming…. And cue the waterworks. The other 3 women stories featured are also incredible in their own right. They were just new to me. But each accomplished so much, it’s a damn shame that’s the case!

  17. 5 out of 5

    CJ

    Everyone should read this book! I had no idea about these brilliant woman who shaped all of television and lead to what everyone watches today! If you loved The Marvelous Mrs. MAISEL you will find this interesting as there are so many references of these experiences. The read sucked me in so much for more of a historical perspective. Highly recommend!!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mediaman

    This is a typical warped perspective about TV history from the propaganda writer Jennifer Armstrong. This book is no different from a few other of her books that I've read that are filled with errors, her own leftist bias, and her attempt to rewrite history by inaccurately filtering it through her own modern bias. While the concept of doing the stories of four strong women in the early days of TV is good, she mishandles the information so dramatically that you can't trust anything she says. Trus This is a typical warped perspective about TV history from the propaganda writer Jennifer Armstrong. This book is no different from a few other of her books that I've read that are filled with errors, her own leftist bias, and her attempt to rewrite history by inaccurately filtering it through her own modern bias. While the concept of doing the stories of four strong women in the early days of TV is good, she mishandles the information so dramatically that you can't trust anything she says. Trust me since I personally know some of the stories she has tried to tell in this book and others, and she is unable to get them right because she is so filled with the need to push a radical feminist agenda while ignoring the truth. The only thing the book has going for it is Armstrong's access to the personal archives of some of those involved with the four women and in the case of monumental Irna Phillips (probably the greatest single influence in the history of television) Armstrong quotes from Phillips' unpublished memoir. You'd think that would strengthen the book but instead I found the Phillips' sections to be the weakest. There are giant holes left in the narrative of the woman who created soap operas (and ultimately the structure for most prime time dramas). For some reason the author uses up a lot of space talking about moves back and forth from Chicago to L.A. or Phillips' minor programs. Armstrong overlooks the spiritual aspect Phillips insisted on being in her soap operas (a Jewish woman created a soap opera based on the family of a Christian pastor--why?) and only hints at the creative genius's hypochondria, which of course has a gigantic impact on how most soap involve illnesses and hospitals. Armstrong also only alludes to the fact that Phillips had a stillborn child out of wedlock, which propelled her to want to tell moral family stories. Namely, Armstrong misuses the information she was given access to in order to push the idea that Phillips was a feminist Jewish woman who was mistreated by white Christian males, although she admits even Phillips didn't care who was bothered by her background. I also disagree with Armstrong stating that Betty White and Hazel Scott (a black singer who mostly hosted local television in the early days) in any way "invented television." Yes, Betty White was there from the beginning but much of it was local as a performer and she was not really involved in the creative end of national shows. I don't think Armstrong successfully makes the case for her inclusion in the book over other women that are much more important to TV history from a creative standpoint. Of the four, the information about Gertrude Berg is probably the most compelling and accurate, though the author feels the need to overhype everything about The Goldbergs TV show. It was not a hit and didn't make the top 30 of the ratings for most of its years, and Berg was known for being combative with network executives, which often caused it to be moved to a different broadcaster. Another problem is Armstrong including tangential information about other television productions or political events. It becomes obvious that she is using the book as a way to comment on what she perceives to be a horrible 1950s society that she says is "a white patriarchal bastion of conservatism, conformity, and consumerism that preferred the little woman in the kitchen and far away from the office." She claims the 1950s TV was "idealized," despite the fact that in truth 90% of married women stayed at home and didn't work outside the home, then adds, "It's what President Donald Trump means when he talks about making America great again. He means prioritizing the supremacy of white, straight men and their ability to make money over all else." Not only is that totally false but it shows that she misuses historical facts to push her own agenda. This rewriting of history is rampant in today's media where people that didn't live back then want to try to claim things were horrible for everyone due to white male conservatives or, as Armstrong loves to mention, "patriarchy." She actually tries to claim that World War II was good for women since it put many of them into the workforce while their husbands were away being killed in service to the country. That's an inaccurate, imbalanced view that Armstrong fails to properly address here by not adding context, data, or other viewpoints. Don't trust anything Jennifer Armstrong writes. She mishandles facts and inserts her bias in ways that those who don't understand the history of television will see. She has done it in other books, and here it's even worse. When talking about the women who invented television, it's she herself that is inventing imagery and cultural misinformation.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    Interesting account of four women who pioneered early television. Two are mostly forgotten, one defined daytime tv, and one still shows up on the airwaves. Gertrude Berg brought her sitcom from radio to television before Lucy. She had the first sitcom, the first ethnic character (Jewish household) and the first to film before a live audience. Hazel Scott was the first Black person to have a television show, the first Black female on tv, and is now largely forgotten. Daytime television was shaped Interesting account of four women who pioneered early television. Two are mostly forgotten, one defined daytime tv, and one still shows up on the airwaves. Gertrude Berg brought her sitcom from radio to television before Lucy. She had the first sitcom, the first ethnic character (Jewish household) and the first to film before a live audience. Hazel Scott was the first Black person to have a television show, the first Black female on tv, and is now largely forgotten. Daytime television was shaped by two powerhouses- Irna Phillips and Betty White. Phillips is the mother of ALL soaps. She brought Guiding Light to tv from radio and she mentored both Agnes Nixon and Bill Bell (who both went on to create their own soaps with input from Phillips.) She wrote for most, and convinced the network that soaps needed 30 minutes to tell their stories. Betty White is a cultural icon for so many reasons, but her biggest contribution is her start on television hosting morning shows, afternoon shows and evening sketch comedy. She starred in an early sitcom, got offered a job on the Today Show and her longevity, work ethic and feminism are legendary. Nice to see the women of early television getting their due.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    So interesting on two levels: First, the early days of television with its transition from radio and all the unknowns. Fascinating. I tend to forget how much power was given to the corporate sponsors (purse strings). Secondly, these four amazing, creative, strong ladies! The only one I was familiar with is Betty White, but even so I had no idea the innovative and hard-working role she played in the early days of tv. I mean, hosting a live tv talk show for 5 hours a DAY!! Geesh. What a treasure. I So interesting on two levels: First, the early days of television with its transition from radio and all the unknowns. Fascinating. I tend to forget how much power was given to the corporate sponsors (purse strings). Secondly, these four amazing, creative, strong ladies! The only one I was familiar with is Betty White, but even so I had no idea the innovative and hard-working role she played in the early days of tv. I mean, hosting a live tv talk show for 5 hours a DAY!! Geesh. What a treasure. I was particularly interested to learn about Gertrude Berg, the first woman to create, write, star, and produce a family sit-com, The Goldbergs (a Jewish family, rock on!!). So interesting. And Hazel Scott!! How have I never heard of her before?! A famous jazz pianist who was the first African American to host a national evening variety program, amazing by itself, but then to learn of the bold ways she stood up to racist rules and McCarthyism. Wow. Just wow. Truly enlightening. I am grateful to the author for digging up this history and shining a much-deserved spotlight back on these ladies. She also includes "side" characters, the other brave men and women with their successes and failures on this television journey. I listened to the audiobook, narration was okay.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rae Gray

    I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. (Thank you, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong!) Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, Hazel Scott, and Betty White: Four women who are responsible for TV as we know it, yet I'm familiar with only one-- the amazing Betty White. Still, she did so much more than I ever realized. This book is a fascinating read, detailing what these women accomplished and how their impact is still felt in the 21st Century. The sitcom, the soap opera, evening variety progr I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. (Thank you, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong!) Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, Hazel Scott, and Betty White: Four women who are responsible for TV as we know it, yet I'm familiar with only one-- the amazing Betty White. Still, she did so much more than I ever realized. This book is a fascinating read, detailing what these women accomplished and how their impact is still felt in the 21st Century. The sitcom, the soap opera, evening variety programs, and daytime talk shows owe their existence to these four incredible women. The fact that sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and politics tried to erase their legacies is both sad and infuriating. Hopefully, this book will help correct this insult. I very much enjoyed "When Women Invented Television," and would recommend it to anyone interested in "the dawn of television." I look forward to checking out Ms. Armstrong's other works.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

    When I first got this book, I took the title literally and thought it was about women who worked with Philo Farnsworth inventing television. Instead, the book focused on four pioneering women who made important contributions to television as we know it. Gertrude Berg was a successful radio star who transferred her success to television with an early sitcom called The Goldbergs (no relation to the current show) about a Jewish family. Irna Phillips created the soap opera genre. Hazel Scott was the When I first got this book, I took the title literally and thought it was about women who worked with Philo Farnsworth inventing television. Instead, the book focused on four pioneering women who made important contributions to television as we know it. Gertrude Berg was a successful radio star who transferred her success to television with an early sitcom called The Goldbergs (no relation to the current show) about a Jewish family. Irna Phillips created the soap opera genre. Hazel Scott was the first Black woman to host a primetime show. And Betty White did everything! The book covered their overlapping issues with being blacklisted and dealing with the sexism that soon took over television. It is a well-done summary of the contributions of women in television, feeling very much like a Hidden Figures story for this genre.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David

    I loved learning about the forgotten pioneers of television — including learning quite a bit more about a couple I thought I already knew! The book reads like a novel but contains so much good and important information. A must-read for anyone who cares about television, the entertainment industry more generally, and the labor of women.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Carr

    I watch very little television. Even after reading this entire book I only knew Betty White of the four leading ladies and even then only from a few movies filmed later in her life, nothing from long standing TV shows. In hindsight having more of an awareness of the other three, and BW herself would have made this more of an enjoyable read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

    Interesting listen. I feel like had I'd know the other three main females I would have enjoyed the book more. But it was still worth the read to learn about the early days of television and the women who had a hand in shaping it. Interesting listen. I feel like had I'd know the other three main females I would have enjoyed the book more. But it was still worth the read to learn about the early days of television and the women who had a hand in shaping it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Karin Mika

    When I started this book, I assumed I'd be hearing about Lucille Ball and her contemporaries. The book started out by saying that this is what most expect to hear about the early days of women and television, but that there was an entire history of women in television prior to Lucille Ball -- women who revolutionized television and whose ideas have been built upon to this day without most of the women getting any credit at all. The book focused on four women: Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel S When I started this book, I assumed I'd be hearing about Lucille Ball and her contemporaries. The book started out by saying that this is what most expect to hear about the early days of women and television, but that there was an entire history of women in television prior to Lucille Ball -- women who revolutionized television and whose ideas have been built upon to this day without most of the women getting any credit at all. The book focused on four women: Irna Phillips, Gertrude Berg, Hazel Scott, and Betty White. I am embarrassed to say that, although I know of Betty White's work (and longevity), and was aware of the Goldbergs as a radio show, I had not known of the two other women, and did not know how all four of these women (including White) basically invented everything related to television as we know it today. Phillips pretty much invented soap operas and was responsible for their switch from radio to television; Berg pretty much invented the sit com and also moved her show from radio to television; Scott was the first black woman to star as a professional in a series (i.e., not a housekeeper), and was so popular she was able to make many of her own rules in striving for racial equality; White was a jack of all trades and started out on tv doing skits and other entertainment for five hours day. All of the women fought for their careers and fought for the integrity of other entertainers while also revolutionizing theories related to filming, audiences, sponsors, and technique. What's amazing to me (and I'm not sure why I'm ever surprised) was how white men did their best to try to ensure that females couldn't be independent or noteworthy successes in the industry. The white male dominated industry even tried to undo what had been previous successes (e.g., single women raising children, unmarried career women, Jewish families, minorities being welcomed on television) in favor of what they claimed needed to be shown on t.v.: stereotypical white, Christian families with women as mothers and housewives who were demure in relation to their husbands. In some ways, the white male entertainment patriarchy created all that is bad about what many Americans think are traditional American values. Learning about the history of the early 1950s was also eye-opening, especially the reality of the damage caused by Joe McCarthy and the introduction of "family values" that caused so much of its own damage to the accomplishments of diverse populations in this country. This history of Amos and Andy is especially appalling, even more appalling than I was aware Unfortunately, many of the recordings of the early television shows do not exist, either because of neglect, stupidity, or just time. The women from this book should get the appropriate acclaim for all they accomplished.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Muffin

    Meticulously researched and deeply analytical history of the groundbreaking work of Irna Phillips, Hazel Scott, Gertrude Berg, and the late great Betty White. Filled with fascinating stories! A must-read!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelley Kulick

    Insanely readable and full of information that should be way more well known to the general public. Loved it and was totally inspired by these amazing women documented in the book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

    I fell in love with this book and the women profiled within. As someone who has considered herself both a feminist and an amateur TV historian since she was 12 (thanks, Mary Tyler Moore), I was shocked and furious that I had never heard of pioneers Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, or Hazel Scott. Even Betty White, whose career is conversely so well documented and commented on, receives an enlightening, detailed run-down of the innovations and decisions she rarely spoke about in future interviews or I fell in love with this book and the women profiled within. As someone who has considered herself both a feminist and an amateur TV historian since she was 12 (thanks, Mary Tyler Moore), I was shocked and furious that I had never heard of pioneers Gertrude Berg, Irna Phillips, or Hazel Scott. Even Betty White, whose career is conversely so well documented and commented on, receives an enlightening, detailed run-down of the innovations and decisions she rarely spoke about in future interviews or biographies. An inspiring work, one that feels similar to “Hidden Figures.”

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Ebling

    Probably more 3.5, but an interesting lesson on the forgotten pioneers of television. Just like with film, women set the standards, broke ground, and were pushed out once men decided to take over.

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