The first talkie – “The Jazz Singer”

10 09 2013

From Movies of the 20s”, Jurgen Muller, editor (Taschen), video clip from “Broadway – The American Musical” (PBS)

Watching the movie today, the dialog on the intertitles seems tired and outdated and the players’ gestures  very theatrical. But the reason why the Jazz Singer occupies such an important place in the history of cinema is not so much the story as its technical achievement. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Jolson Story” opening review

1 01 2013

Liberty, October 19, 1946

A perfect tribute to Al Jolson, this movie is as schmaltzy, spirited, and unforgettable as the singer himself. It affectionately traces Jolson’s tune-packed, knee-bending fifty years in show business.

With Larry Parks catching the Mammy singer’s eye-rolling exuberance in a bang-up impersonation, the film highlights in Technicolor such Jolson lore as his bouncy blackface routines, his one-man shows at Broadway’s Winter Garden, and his pioneering in talking pictures. Read the rest of this entry »

Al Jolson Dies: Oct. 23, 1950

18 10 2012

New York Times cover story

New York Times, Oct. 23, 1950

Al Jolson, “The Jazz Singer,” died at the St. Francis Hotel here tonight. He had recently returned from Korea after entertaining troops there.

Death came just after 10:30 P.M. (PST) as Mr. Jolson was playing cards in his room with friends. He was in San Francisco to be the guest star on the Bing Crosby radio program scheduled to be recorded Tuesday night.

Mr. Jolson checked in at the St. Francis today. He was playing gin rummy with Martin Fried, his arranger and accompanist, and Harry Akst, songwriter and long-time friend. Read the rest of this entry »

Variety reviews The Jazz Singer, 1927

29 04 2012

Variety, October 12, 1927.
Undoubtedly the best thing Vitaphone has ever put on the screen. The combination of the religious heart interest story and Jolson’s singing “Kol Nidre” in a synagog while his father is dying and two “Mammy” lyrics as his mother stands in the wings of the theatre, and later as she sits in the first row, carries abundant power and appeal. Besides which the finish of the “Mammy” melody (the one that goes “The sun shines east, the sun shines west” is also the end of the picture with Jolson supposedly on a stage and a closeup on the screen as his voice pours through the amplifiers. Read the rest of this entry »

Judy Garland’s Stardom Reborn

4 04 2012

excerpt from: Music and the Racial Imagination
By Ronald Michael Radano, Philip Vilas Bohlman (2000)

The film A Star Is Born further complicates the issue of impersonation by having Judy “do” Al Jolson. . . .  But the key moment in the number is Garland’s version of Al Jolson’s “Swanee.” By the early 1950s, Jolson’s blackface was a central figure of nostalgia in “American” mass culture, not only due to its role in the history of cinema from Singin’ in the Rain, but also in relation to the very popular new Jolson films of the late 1940s, The Al Jolson Story and Jolson Sings Again, the latter being the top grossing film of 1949. Not only was Jolson’s figure a central mnemonic for an imagined national past, but Garland’s stardom was intimately associated with the nostalgia that this mnemonics guaranteed. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Bowers’ Winter Garden history

21 01 2012
Winter Garden Theatre in 1911

Winter Garden Theatre in 1911

Excerpts from article “The Winter Garden, Al Jolson and the Shuberts”, by Paul A. Bowers

“The New York Times remarked, “New York’s latest plaything, is a very flashy toy, full of life and go and color, and with no end of jingle to it.”  With a capacity of over 1500 seats, the new Winter Garden became the Shubert’s largest theatrical house.

“Although the Winter Garden was impressive, it wasn’t just the structure that captured the American imagination. The theatre’s very first production featured Broadway newcomer Al Jolson. From that point on, much of the early Winter Garden history paralleled his spectacular ascent in American show business. The next seventeen years would find Al Jolson, the Shuberts, and the Winter Garden inextricably linked.”

(Download entire article )

Jolson’s last starring role

6 01 2012
Busby Berkeley directing  a scene with Sybil Jason

Busby Berkeley directing a scene with Sybil Jason

Excerpt from : Harold Arlen: Rhythm, Rainbows, and Blues by Edward Jablonski (1998)

Around the same time Arlen took his camera to a location shoot of “The Singing Kid” in nearby Franklin Canyon on a misty, coolish morning. Anya, not in this film, wore a heavy coat with a stylish fluffy white fur collar. Her companion was equally modish in an overcoat and scarf, no hat. He carried a pipe and sported a neat mustache. The proletarian Harburg came simply in slacks, sweater, and sport jacket. They waited for the filming, under the director William Keighley, to begin, comfortably seated on a pier near a small lake; there was a small upright piano on the pier.

Read the rest of this entry »