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Watching the movie today, the dialog on the intertitles seems tired and outdated and the players’ gestures  very theatrical.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 »

“Blue Skies” transforms film industry

23 11 2011


Excerpts from The Songs of Hollywood  By Philip Furia

“Blue Skies” thus resonates with the dramatic moment in “The Jazz Singer” when Jolson, after many years of missing his beloved mother, is reunited with her. Before he sings, the scene is silent. Jolson enters his parents’ apartment, surprising his mother, and we see his father giving Hebrew lessons in another room. After a few moments of title-card dialogue, Jolson offers to demonstrate one of the songs in his new Broadway show. As synchronized sound comes up again, Jolson strides to the parlor piano and launches into “Blue Skies.” While he renders the song as a performance, his hammy, flourishing rendition portrays him as a kid showing off for his mother.

Read the rest of this entry »

“You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet”

15 08 2011

Opening night of "The Jolson Story"

A New Jewy? America since the Second World War
By Peter Y. Medding, Oxford University Press, 1992

While Einstein was based in Zurich, formulating in abstract mathematical terms the notion that energy consisted of mc², he might have easily discovered its most ebullient embodiment dominating the vaudeville circuit across the Atlantic. Perhaps no white entertainer in American history has ever exuded the demonic razzle-dazzle and the kinetic force of Al Jolson; probably no one could match his Eureka gift for deluding everybody in the audience into believing that “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” or “Sonny Boy” was being belted out just for them. Read the rest of this entry »

Sneak Preview

27 07 2011

February 27, 2009 – May 9, 2009 albumcover

Read the rest of this entry »

“Rose of Washington Square”

25 03 2011


Twentieth Century-Fox Strolls Down Melody Lane in ‘Rose of Washington Square,’ at the Roxy

New York Times
By Frank Nugent
Published: May 6, 1939

Twentieth Century-Fox’s latest tour down Melody Lane has come to the Roxy under the blushing title “Rose of Washington Square,” the Rose being neither Al Jolson nor Tyrone Power (as we had feared), but Alice Faye, who flowers lushly in the cabarets and flounces of the post-war years. Obviously designed as a thematic sequel to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” the picture makes much the same capital of its sentimentally evocative score, its nostalgic reminders of the speakeasy era, its delicate reminder that the Nineteen Twenties already have become a “costume period.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Rock-a-Bye” helps Jerry Lewis become a singer

24 03 2011

From Dean and Me, by Jerry Lewis (2005)

Back in July, as things were winding to a close with us, Dean turned down the lead in Warner Brothers’ movie version of “The Pajama Game.” We didn’t speak about it—we weren’t speaking about anything at the time. . . .

Regardless of the press, I was panicked: I felt incredibly alone and desperate. The fact that everyone around me seemed sure that I’d land on my feet made things worse. I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do. Read the rest of this entry »

Jolson and Cab Calloway in “The Singing Kid”

16 02 2011


from Disintegrating the Musical: Black Performance and American Musical Film,  by Arthur Knight (2002)

Jolson’s film, The Singing Kid (1936), wanted to stage an explicit autocritique of the old-fashioned content of Jolson’s past while maintaining some of his modernist form and style. It wanted to both erase and celebrate boundaries and differences, including most emphatically the color line.  Read the rest of this entry »

A Star is Born: Larry Parks as Al Jolson

13 02 2011

poster - jolson story

New York Times, Oct. 27, 1946

Introducing Larry Parks, Al Jolson’s Alter Ego”

A YOUNG man from Olathe, Kan., who is prancing the Music Hall’s screen as Al Jolson, is the sudden current personification of the “‘Star Is Born” motif. His name is Larry Parks. In setting about to make “The Jolson Story” two years ago, Columbia Pictures put on the traditional search for the man who would play the name role. Most of the aspirants had indulged in that popular American indoor sport, giving an imitation of the “Mammy” perpetrator. None, however, seemed to be just what Sidney Skolsky, the columnist who who turned producer to film the story of his lifelong friend, ordered. Read the rest of this entry »

A Punch in the Nose

17 10 2010

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake
Noble Sissle (L) and Eubie Blake

“Songwriter and performer Noble Sissle, a longtime partner of the ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake, recalled Jolson’s unprompted act of kindness in 1919 after a Hartford restaurant refused to serve the two black musicians. A local newspaper mentioned the incident, and, Sissle later recalled: ‘To our everlasting amazement, we promptly got a call from Al Jolson. He was in town with his show and even though we were two very unimportant guys whom he’d never heard of until that morning, he was so sore about that story he wanted to make it up to us.’ The next evening, Jolson treated Sissle and Blake to dinner, insisting that ‘he’d punch anyone in the nose who tried to kick us out.’ ”
New York Times, Oct. 22, 2000 Read the rest of this entry »