by Maurice Zolotow, Readers Digest, January 1949 – condensed from Esquire Magazine
Not ago Al Jolson emerged from his Beverly Hills home clad in gaudy yellow swimming trunks, raced across the lawn and swan-dived into his swimming pool. Twice he swam the length of the pool, then leaped out and sat down in the sun for a tough five-hour conference with the writers and producer of his weekly NBC radio program. At the end of the session Jolson was as full of energy as when he started, while his colleagues were limp with exhaustion.
Age cannot wither the amazing vitality of Jolson, who has sung himself into the hearts of audiences for 50 years. At 64 (he claims 59, but early clippings belie him) he works as hard, talks as much, travels as widely, lives as intensely and flamboyantly as any actor I know.
America’s Minstrel Man
by Cameron Shipp, Coronet magazine, May 1948
When Al Jolson opened up in the Kraft show in the fall of 1946, he set a record for a “new” radio performer – an 18.8 Hooper rating, or almost 20,000,000 listeners. Many of these were under the excitable impression that they had discovered a new vocal star. They weren’t old enough to know that Jolson was singing the same songs almost half a century ago.
Today, Jolson is as carefree, as full of vigor and gaiety and unashamed sentiment, as he was that memorable evening in New York’s Winter Garden when he dropped, on one knee and implored his Mammy. That was 30 years ago, the show was Sinbad, and the blackface singer was already world-famous.
Jolson Sings Again – for GI’s in WWII
by Martin Abramson, from “The Real Story of Al Jolson,” 1950
The hail of Japanese bombs on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, shook Jolson out of his continuing moods of lethargy and despair. Almost as soon as Congress formalized a declaration of war, the mammy singer dedicated himself to a new mission in life. Maybe Hollywood didn’t give a hoot whether or not Jolson ever sang again, but American soldiers by the millions were being strung out in bases all over the world. In their lonely isolation, wouldn’t they welcome entertainment from home? Even before the U.S.O. began to set up a formal program overseas, the excitable Jolson was deluging War and Navy Department brass with phone calls and wires. He demanded permission to go “anywhere -in the world where there is an American serviceman who wouldn’t mind listening to ‘Sonny Boy’ or ‘Mammy’.”
Army Minstrel, 1942
Al Jolson has sung to more soldiers than any other entertainer. His slogan for home folks is “keep writing.”
In those far‑off days when “Remember the Maine” was the battle cry, a Washington youngster, stirred by the boys in blue who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the tune of “‘Good‑bye, Dolly Gray” ran away from home and tried to join a regiment as a mascot. The boy had a sense of humor; moreover, a catch in his voice as he sang the sob ballads of the day made a hit with the soldiers. But the Army was no place for a runaway of 12, so he was shipped back home.
The Korean Adventure
by Martin Abramson, from “The Real Al Jolson,” 1950
A living legend is entitled to sit back on his haunches but as long as people wanted to hear Al Jolson, nothing could ‘ keep him away from the center of the stage. He passed his 67th birthday working on plans for a third picture and for a leap into the newest entertainment medium, television.
Then, suddenly, his country became embroiled in another war. Jolie shelved all his own plans and wired Washington asking permission to go to Korea. On September 17th, 1950, a dispatch from 8th Army Headquarters, Korea, announced that “Al Jolson, the first top-flight entertainer to reach the war-front, landed here today by plane from Los Angeles.” Jolie had paid his own way over.