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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  630 ratings  ·  115 reviews
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
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 23rd 2021 by Harper
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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
Apr 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
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.

Feb 15, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Sep 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
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
Allison Maier
Jan 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Kukwa
Sep 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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. ...more
Apr 24, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, television
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
Matthew Galloway
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Nov 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Carly Friedman
Jun 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
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 ...more
Jan 26, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Angeline Walsh
Feb 10, 2022 rated it it was ok
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.
Frankie Urrutia-Smith
Mar 09, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Betty White's recent passing makes this a tear-jersey but it's an important story, nonetheless! ...more
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)
Denni Cady-Stid
Nov 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!!!
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 ...more
Apr 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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.

Rae Gray
Apr 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
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
Jul 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jul 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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.
Maggie Carr
Jun 30, 2022 rated it liked it
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.
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.

Karin Mika
Jun 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 01, 2022 rated it it was amazing
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!
Kelley Kulick
Aug 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Ryan Ebling
Oct 15, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the New York Times bestselling author of Seinfeldia; Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted; Pop Star Goddesses; When Women Invented Television; and Sex and the City and Us. She spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly and has since written for many publications, including BBC Culture, The New York Times Book Review, Vice, New York magazine, and Billboard.

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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