On the lighter side:”Boswell’s version of Jolson’s life”

16 10 2010


James Boswell (author of "Life of Samuel Johnson", 1791)


by Miles Kington. The London Independent,  Oct. 9, 1995

There is a new musical based on the Al Jolson story coming soon, and to coincide with it they are reissuing a revised version of Michael Freedland’s 1972 book on the great man.

I have looked through the Freedland book and it seems a fair enough account of his life to me. However, it cannot pretend to compare with the greatest book ever written in this area. I refer, of course, to that enduring classic of biography, Boswell’s Life of Jolson. Read the rest of this entry »

The significance of “The Jazz Singer.”

1 09 2010

Kol Nidre - Barrios
excerpt from:  A Song in the Dark: the Birth of the Musical Film
by Richard Barrios (1995)

The most detectable asset of The Jazz Singer is the conviction put into it – Warners’ and Alan Crosland’s belief in the project and Jolson’s belief in his powers as a musical entertainer. Whether the material was worthy of belief is another issue; what matters is that this story carried a force that more conventional screen fare lacked. Jewish themes were not uncommon in 1920s cinema, not only trivia of the Private Izzy Murphy/Kosher Kitty Kelly variety but sensitively considered dramas such as Humoresque (1920) and His People (1926). Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie Wilson’s tribute to Al Jolson

26 05 2010

In 1961, Jackie Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson,  “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet,” which included the album liner notes below – and which were the only liner notes he ever wrote for an album: Read the rest of this entry »

Eddie Cantor meets Jolson

12 04 2010

from “Take My Life”, by Eddie Cantor (1957)

While I was still a stooge for Bedini and Arthur, still rushing around backstage at Hammerstein’s taking suits out to be pressed or seeing that Jean Bedini’s laundry was back on time- a fellow in blackface wandered onto the stage one day. He was from Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels. Now he was doing a single and there was something electric about him that sent a thrill up your spine. He sang and talked; but he was more than just a singer or an actor, he was an experience, and he was to become the most romantic figure of a romantic era, the King of it. Al Jolson. Read the rest of this entry »

Jerry Lewis in the “Jazz Singer”

12 04 2010

From “Life with Father” by Krin Grabbard (in Enfant Terrible!: Jerry Lewis in American Film By Murray Pomerance)

The narrative of father-son tension was undoubtedly what attracted Lewis to the original Jazz Singer. As in all versions, Lewis’s rendering of the story does not confront anti-Semitism. The only problem remaining to face a Jewish entertainer is opposition from is father, thus placing even more weight on the oedipal narrative. But in Lewis’s version, little else remains from the original or even from the various remakes. Read the rest of this entry »

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

Show Business to Korea’s Front Lines

4 03 2010
Jolson visiting a Tokyo hospital







Jolson, other names want to work in Korea

Billboard, August 12th 1950.

HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 5. — With the intensification of the Korean crisis, showbiz here is girding for battle. Names and various orgs devoted to entertaining the troops during the last war are either resuming their previous operations or are ready to go into action on a call from Washington. Al Jolson, one of the first personalities to hit the fighting front in World War Two, has volunteered to entertain armed forces in Korea. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Jazz Singer” Opening review

26 02 2010

The Jazz Singer movie premier

New York Times
October 7, 1927


Published: October 7, 1927. In a story that is very much like that of his own life, Al Jolson at Warners’ Theatre last night made his screen début in the picturization of Samson Raphaelson’s play “The Jazz Singer,” and through the interpolation of the Vitaphone and the audience had the rare opportunity of hearing Mr. Jolson sing several of his own songs and also render most effectively the Jewish hymn “Kol Nidre.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The spirit of Larry Parks

19 02 2010

Taken from Monthly Review online magazine, “MRZine”  Feb. 19, 2010

Parks was called to testify before HUAC on March 21, 1951, not long after attaining stardom in two biopics about Al Jolson.  Parks told the congressional Committee: “Being a member of the Communist Party fulfilled certain needs of a young man who was . . . idealistic . . . for the underprivileged, the underdog.” Read the rest of this entry »

How I Came to Write “The Jazz Singer”

16 02 2010

Samson Raphaelson

How I Came to Write “The Jazz Singer,”   By Samson Raphaelson
from the original Souvenir Program  of “The Jazz Singer”

When I was a junior at the University of Illinois, it became very necessary that I should impress a certain young lady. I had a date with her for a certain evening. I wanted to show her the best time to be had in the town of Champaign, Illinois. I borrowed ten dollars and bought two tickets for the one-night performance of Al Jolson in “Robinson Crusoe Jr.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio Days

15 03 2009


The Jolson Story:
Al’s Success in Radio Adds New Luster to Career of Master Minstrel”
New York Times, April 13, 1947

By Jack Gould

The season of 1946-47 may yet become known as the year of the “comeback.” Back last fall Jack Benny confounded the pundits of Radio Row by climbing up again to the top of the comedy brackets. Now, as the formal program semester nears a close, another veteran showman, Al Jolson, has caught the public’s fancy anew.

Al is, as the saying goes, as “hot” as anything on the dial at the moment. His guest appearances with Bing Crosby and Eddie Cantor stimulated mightily the usual ratings of those worthies and last Monday night he gave an added fillip to the Radio Theatre’s star-studded production of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” not to mention the Bob Hope show on Tuesday.
Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Benchley

14 05 2008

photo from www.natbenchley.com

Robert Benchley, writing in “Life Magazine,” captured Jolson’s unique effect on audiences: “The word ‘personality’ isn’t quite strong enough for the thing that Jolson has. Unimpressive as the comparison may be to Mr. Jolson, we should say that John the Baptist was the last man to have such power. There is something supernatural at the back of it, or we miss our guess. When Jolson enters, it is as if an electric current has been run along the wires under the seats where the hats are stuck. The house comes to a tumultuous attention. He speaks, rolls his eyes, compresses his lips, and it is all over. You are a member of the Al Jolson Association. He trembles his lip and your heart breaks with a snap. He sings a song and you totter out to send a letter to your mother…while singing would run up and down his runway addressing members of the audience making them each feel that Jolson was singing to them alone.”