“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 »

“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 »

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 »