by George Jessel
A breeze from San Francisco Bay and the life of the greatest minstrel America has ever known is in the balance. A turn of a card –a telling of a gag — and within a few moments, a wife, a legion of friends, and a nation are brokenhearted. So it was–and so, alas, it is — the passing from this earthly scene of Al Jolson. And the voice that put majesty into the American popular song must from now on come from a disc instead of the heart, from whence it came.
They are eulogizing Al Jolson as a great entertainer … As a titan of show business, he stood alone, but he was gifted with more than superb singing artistry – he was a great man … To say that Rembrandt was a fine artist and Beethoven a fine composer merely describes the superficial qualities of their technical brilliance, Their genius stemmed from the ability to capture deep emotions and convey them to others … Expressing universal feelings which find a home in the hearts of millions is the source of their immortality … For similar reasons, Jolson is no less immortal.
Jolson was big. He was a dynamic bundle of energy, and it often seemed as if his voice was just an outlet – though a rare outlet, to be sure – for his amazing vitality and endurance.
He was a man of strong physical fiber, sparked by his talent, and his boundless yearning to share it with all. And it was this, and his sheer will to live and to be with his fellows, that sustained him through a devastating illness, which resulted from his insistence on entertaining troops in North Africa in World War II.
I was in Mobile, Alabama, when I first got the shocking news from an NBC official in New York that Al Jolson was dead of a heart attack. The telephone operator who put the call through to me was sobbing hysterically. The elevator operator who took me downstairs couldn’t control his tears. The taxi driver who drove me to the NBC studios to do a special memorial broadcast kept mumbling to himself, “Why did he have to go?”
I’ve been asked to write a short biography of my friend Al Jolson.
“Try to remember an incident,” -the editor told me, “that would bring out some of the fine points about Jolie. But all day long I’ve been thinking, and, all that comes to my mind is the last time I saw Jolie.