Jack Benny dedicates Jolson’s memorial

1 04 2010

from Jack Benny, , by Mary Livingstone Benny, 1978

On September 23, 1951, when, according to Jewish tradition, the monument–a magnificent statue of Al, bending on one knee, exactly the way he performed when he sang “Mammy”–was formally unveiled, it was Jack who delivered the memorial address:

Today there is something new under the sun . . . For under this California sun has risen a monument of unmatched beauty which stands as a memorial to the World’s Greatest Entertainer, one of its greatest benefactors … and our friend.

As I looked upon this glorious shrine, I was struck by two thoughts—what it meant to Mrs. Jolson and to Al’s many friends. And then there was the thought of the generation not yet born who will visit here. I was heartened by the realization that they will not ask why an edifice of this magnitude was built. For this shrine, in all its magnificence, is only proper and fitting to the man in whose memory it was erected.

I consider it a high tribute that I was asked to speak at this dedication. I feel the choice was governed largely by the fact that I have recently returned from Korea, where Al gave his last full effort to his fellow man.

Before I left Tokyo for Korea, I was told, I think as a warning for my personal feelings, that I would hear Al’s records being played everywhere I went. Truthfully, I was apprehensive. I was almost prepared for a prolonged emotional depression. But when I got to Korea, this foreboding vanished. Al’s voice was everywhere. Wherever I went, Jolson was singing again. His voice rose from the rear areas, the grouping points, the front lines . . . Indeed it seemed at times to spring from those rugged hills. On the faces of the thousands of boys who listened was no sadness, but rather a look of rapture and of gratitude for what had been left them.

To bring laughter and entertainment to the world during one’s lifetime is a wonderful and gratifying thing. Those who, during their span of years, have brought happiness to countless millions can find a purpose to their lives enjoyed by a relative few. But to be able to leave behind so much–so much of one’s self . . . so much of one’s heart . . . is a far greater recompense. Thus was Al Jolson doubly blessed.

It is more or less accepted that memory is a fickle thing–that it fades in proportion to time–made necessary by the press of day-to-day events. To us whom Al has left behind, time has been unusually kind. It has helped erase the sorrow of his passing, yet has left his memory a bright and living thing. His great gift to mankind, his voice, is with us now and forever.

Before I finish, I’d like you to know that this isn’t the only shrine to Al Jolson. Eight thousand miles from here, nestled in the hills of Korea, is an outdoor amphitheater where our troops are entertained. This amphitheater is within a few miles of the disputed Thirty-eighth Parallel . . . and it is called the Al Jolson Bowl. To those boys eight thousand miles away who gather there every day, the memory of Al Jolson, as with us, will never die.




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