The Jolson Story
- Skolsky started on the outline of The Jolson Story and sent some pages to executive producer
Sidney Buchman. Harry Cohn then called Skolsky into his
office. I figure its about time we call
Jolson in and have him sign the contract, Cohn told
Jolson doesnt know anything it . . . You know
what a blabbermouth he is. Everybody would know about it
and wed lose it.
Cohn exploded: You mean I bought the life of Jolson
from you, pay you a weekly salary, and Jolson
doesnt know a thing about it?
- A few days later, Harrys
brother, Jack Cohn, had lunch with Jolson, who was
surprised and pleased. A deal was signed.
Sidney Skolsky: Im telling you
Harry, if you let Jolson know about this picture, we can
lose it. Hell get that old feeling again.
The film was going to be Columbias big picture of
the year, just the opportunity Jolson had been waiting
for. Skolsky talked it over with him at the Beverley
Hills Hotel. Everybodys making biographical
films, but no ones done one of the king, Al
said. Believing his new deeper voice would go down better
than before, Jolson didnt seem too concerned that
his voice would come out of someone elses lips - at
Al: This is it, babe,
Im going to be great again.
you are, Al.
- Al began to sing everywhere he went
just to prove to everyone he could. Guests were treated
just like an audience. Desperately wanting to play the
part himself, he began to worry about some else playing
him in the film. Harry Cohn had to tell him he
couldnt play himself and that was final.
- The first name on
the list of Columbia contract players to be tested for
the part was Larry Parks (pictured right),
who had appeared in a handful of B pictures. He mimed to
a Jolson track of Bye Bye Blackbird and they
never tested anyone else.
- Larry had a special room next to his
dressing room with mirrors on three walls. Playing
Jolsons records, hed use the mirrors to
synchronise his gestures and his lips with Jolsons
voice. Jolson worked with Parks for hours until every
nuance was perfected, so well, that even difficult
close-ups could be used in the film.
Harry Cohn: Al, we got the best
damned make-up department in Hollywood. They can work
wonders but they cant make you look twenty-one
All the old arrangements and orchestrations of
Jolsons songs were changed by George Dunning and
the rest of Columbias musical department, making
them new again. With the exception of The Spaniard That Blighted
My Life Jolsons old
comic numbers were abandoned - no one could be expected
to take them seriously now - but all of Als own
Showers, Swanee and California Here I Come were retained.
- From his first test recording Jolson
found he could not only sing, but was singing better than
he had ever done before, though there was a row when Saul
Chaplin innocently pointed out to Jolson that he had
missed something. Of course I cant do the
song like I used to, Jolson exploded, I
havent the breath anymore. Pulling out a
bundle of bank notes, he demanded of Chaplin: I
made this in show business. What did you make?
- Jolson was not aware that he was
humming a particular tune whenever he was waiting to hear
a playback till Sydney Skolsky pointed it out to him.
God, I didnt know I was doing that, Al
said. Thats an old song my mother used to hum
to me when I was a little child and she rocked me to
sleep. The tune was J. Ivanici's Danube Waves and became The Anniversary Song in the film. Saul Chaplin, who wrote
most of the lyric, was told by Jolson that he would make
a fortune from the song.
Saul Chaplin: Jolson told me Mood
Music wanted us to take a cut on the royalties of
Anniversary Song. I agreed we both take a cut
from 4 to 2½ cents a copy. I later discovered Al
hadnt taken any cut. He had got out of it by having
me take the full cut. But to be fair to Al: one hospital
wanted an iron lung; someone mentioned it to Jolson and
he wrote them a cheque for the full amount - $15,000.
One last thing about Jolson: Ive seen all the
great performers and he was the greatest. None of the
others could touch him.
The theme of The
Jolson Story was of the craving
of this one man for the sound of people applauding him
until their hands were sore and their voices hoarse. The
woman in the mans
life turns out to be an audience.
- Al sat in on story conferences and
agreed there was nothing sacred about the truth, so
events and dates were juggled and characters left out, or
added to suit.
- Evelyn Keyes, who had been on
Columbias payroll as long as Larry Parks, and so
far had made as much impression, pestered Harry Cohn for
the part of Ruby Keeler in the film until he finally gave
in. Ruby herself refused to allow her name to be used in
the picture and was paid $25,000 for non-use of her name.
Ludwig Donah played Cantor Yoelson; and William Demarest,
who had played with Jolson in The Jazz Singer, played his manager. The story was never to
be as important as the songs - once again the Jolson
voice was going to knock them in the aisles.
Evelyn Keyes: I worked harder at
getting that role than anything else in my life. I sent
Cohn telegrams every day. I phoned him twice, three
times, sometimes a dozen times a day.
Ruby Keeler: To
hear Ruby Keeler from the screen and Jolson singing love
songs to her, making speeches to her, saying: Baby,
everything you want youll have. This is Jolie
talkin to you. . . . I want none of
The film was originally planned to be in black and white,
but after Cohn saw the first rushes he decided to pull
out the stops and film in colour.
- It was impossible to walk on The Jolson Story set without needing to plug your ears with
cotton wool - Larry Parks would be miming to the Jolson
songs with the volume turned right up, and to make it
look authentic he sang at full force himself.
- Parks researched the role assiduously,
listening to every one of Jolsons old records and
watching all his old films. But what made it so difficult
was the fact that Jolson never sang the same song, the
same way twice; nor did he ever come in on the same beat.
Jolson did help Larry get into the spirit of the thing by
taking him to the racetrack and a synagogue.
Larry Parks: The big problem was
that Jolson sang every song as if he were going to drop
dead at the end of it - at full volume all the way.
Evelyn Keyes: I remember just standing and staring,
watching Jolson perform. It was uncanny. He was in the
booth singing - but we could see him moving and the
people were just overwhelmed.
Insisting he had to be in the picture some
place, Jolson finally managed it in a short sequence, in the
distance, on the Winter
Garden runway, doing his famous dance
steps in the middle of singing Swanee. During one
rehearsal Jolson picked up Parks on a certain gesture.
Dont you remember how I used to do that bit?
Ive never seen you work before a live audience,
Al, Parks admitted with embarrassment.
Wait a minute, wait a minute, son. You aint heard
nothing yet, Jolson answered and proceeded to give a
special show just for Parks.
During filming on 23 December 1945 Moses
Yoelson, around his eighty-eighth birthday, died in Washington.
The funeral was held within twelve hours and Al couldnt
make it. Despite his fathers stubborn refusal to give him
wholehearted praise, Al always admired the man whom he described
as a scholarly gentleman.
- The picture was completed by April
1946 and proud to show Erle that he could be top again
and show his fellow entertainers what he could do, Jolson
topped the bill at a benefit concert. The show on 20 July
was to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the founding of
Country Club in Los Angeles.
- After Jack Benny had introduced Danny
Kaye, Danny Thomas, Van Johnson, Frank Sinatra, Margaret
OBrien, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton,
Jose Iturbi, Xavier Cugat, Carmen Miranda and George
Burns, and four hours had gone by, Al Jolson bounced on
to the stage to the opening bars of Mammy. He looked forty years younger.
Danny Kaye said he was a young man when he came
here tonight, he gagged, and that he was old
by the time he got in. Well, Jolies case is
different. When I got here I was an old man
- He joked, sang and reminisced about
the days when being an entertainer meant more that being
able to hold a microphone properly. Jolson was back and
Jolson: My biggest thrill is
not seeing all you people out there - but having my wife
with me. All she knew about me as a performer came from
my old scrapbooks or what Jack Benny and Groucho Marx
told her. Tonight Ive been showing off to impress
The Jolson Story
Alfred E. Green
Producer: Sidney Skolsky
Screenplay: Stephen Longstreet
Conductor: Morris Stoloff
Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, Bill
Goodwin, Ludwig Donath, Tamara Shane, Scotty Beckett, The
Wissler dubbed the songs for
Al Jolson dubbed the songs for
Let Me Sing and Im Happy
Banks of the Wabash
When You Were Sweet Sixteen
After the Ball
By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Ma Blushin Rosie
I Want a Girl
Im Sitting on Top of the World
You Made Me Love You
Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goo Bye)
The Spaniard That Blighted My Life
California, Here I Come
Liza (All the Cloudsll Roll Away)
Theres a Rainbow Round My
Shes a Latin from Manhattan
About, a Quarter to Nine
Waiting for the Robert E. Lee
Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody
- Herald Tribune:
Only the deaf could fail to be enchanted by
the musical numbers, from By the Light of
the Silvery Moon or Swanee to
Liza . . . The film is essentially a
testament to the excitement of show business and
the appeal of popular melodies.
- As such, it is
a captivating musical.
Hinxman: But I loved it then and I love
it now, every last sentimental showbiz cliché,
every over-sung song. I know it so well that I
can recite the throbbing dialogue; anticipate the
last bar of Good-bye My Bluebell when
little Asas voice breaks . . . and spot the
brief appearance in long shot of the real Al
Jolson singing Swanee.
- The Jolson Story was previewed in Santa Barbara on the
following Sunday, in between the showing of Ziegfield Follies which had an all-star cast including Judy
Garland and Fred Astaire. Jolson was so nervous that he
made frequent trips to the back of the theatre, to the
lobby, and back to his seat again. But the
audiences response to the film was overwhelming.
- Its great, Al, Harry Cohn
said at the pictures end, slapping Al on the back.
Erle gave her husband a big kiss.
Al: How was it ,
Al, it was wonderful; just wonderful.
Elderly lady to her friend on leaving the theatre: Isnt it too bad
that Jolson couldnt have lived to see it.
Premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in New York on 10 October 1946, The Jolson
Story turned out to be a smash hit. The reviews were
ecstatic and within four months the country had gone
crazy. Al Jolson had
proved that the kids were not always content with syrupy
crooning and his robust voice was just what they needed.
- In Britain, where Jolson was barely
even a memory to most people, The Jolson Story made an even bigger impact than in America.
Jolson might have been all of sixty-one years of age but
he began behaving like a youngster, walking sprightly,
dancing and singing. After being in semi-retirement for
three years, he appeared like a new singer to the
soxers, most of whom
thought Al Jolson looked like Larry Parks.
Two weeks after the films opening,
Jolson turned up with Harry Akst on Barry Grays WOR radio
show in New York at 3:45 in the morning. Al asked if he could
sing a song and completely unrehearsed, the show became an
interview-cum-concert for an hour and a half. Jolson told
anecdotes about his career and sang nine or ten songs while the
studio began to fill with people. Listeners called other people,
saying: Youve got to turn on the radio; Jolsons
on the air.
Jolie: Ill sing anything.
Barry Gray: My
favourite in the movie is Rosie.
Barry Gray, after Jolie had sung it: You can shoot me now while Im
- To help launch The Jolson Story, Harry Cohn wanted an album of its songs to
be released on record. The recording companies
werent interested, until Jack Kapp, head of Decca,
saw the film and told Harry Cohn: You make the
pictures with Jolson and Ill make his
- Youngsters got excited about this new
singer Al Jolson and once
again Jolsons voice could be heard on Broadway,
blaring out from the speakers outside the record shops.
- April Showers
sold a million copies in one month, and for five weeks
Anniversary Song topped
the British Hit Parade.
Sydney Skolsky: Parks got an Academy
Award nomination and in my opinion should have won the
Oscar for the Best Actor.
Young girl: Gee
Mr. Jolson, youre much better looking on the
In Denver, Jolson was presented with the Rose Award
- named after Major General Rose - for services to the
Forces in the War. At the Hotel Astor in New York, the Americans War Veterans Committee gave a testimonial banquet in Jolsons honour.
James J. Walker, former
mayor of New York:
We are gathered to pay tribute to Al Jolson. We are
saluting a great showman - and New York loves great showmen. The
man whose very name means Broadway . . . .
At the end of
1947 Jolson was voted the most popular singer on the air above
Crosby, Como and Sinatra. Bing Crosby (pictured right) invited him to guest on his radio show and together
they sang April
Bing: Al, whats that badge on your lapel?
Al: Thats what you get for seeing The Jolson Story
The next time Jolson appeared on the Crosby show, he wore a badge
with the letters AJTWGE.
Bing: Whats does that stand for, Al.
Al: That, son, says: Al Jolson, The Worlds Greatest Entertainer.
- Jack Benny, Amos n Andy, Burns
and Allen, Bob Hope and Eddie Cantor, his arch enemy from
the old days, all invited him on to their radio shows.
Bob Hope asked him why he didnt have his own radio
show. What - and be on the air only once a
week! Jolson quipped.
- But it wasnt long before he did appear
in his own radio show. Jolson explained: Sign, ha!
I didnt want to sign anything for nobody. So I tell
em All right - $7,500 a week. They says
yes and I almost drop dead.
- On the show, pianist Oscar Levant
ribbed him about his age: Al, werent you
there when Tchaikovsky first played his piano
Al, pretending to be hurt: Of course not, Oscar, I
was on tour at the time.
Judy Garland (pictured
right) guested on the show
duetting on Pretty Baby,
marking the second and last time Mr. and Miss. Show Business would ever work together.
admired Al ever since I was a little girl. And my
grandmother admired him ever since she was a little
- The only live shows that Jolson wanted
to do were benefits. I die every time I go on
stage, Jolson explained. Whats the use
of falling on my face now?
- A nation-wide appeal was launched to
raise money for the relief of European refugees. Within a
week, Jolson had raised more than a million dollars by
persuading show business folks to contribute.
Jimmy Durante: Notice Mr. Jolson, I
dont need a Larry Parks to play the black
After giving his brother Harry a job with Al Jolson
Enterprises and donating the deeds of his house in
Hollywood Hills to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital - he
would finally donate all his future song royalties to the
tubercular ward at Saranac Lake, New York - Al moved with
Erle to Palm Springs.
- Al explained to a reporter:
Look, I may not be here ten seconds from now; but I
feel better than I did twenty years ago.
- After waiting a few months for
adoption agency approval, Al and Erle adopted a
six-month-old blond baby boy whom they named Asa Albert
- A proud father again, Al told
reporters: Well send him to a good school -
and a hard one. Want no spoiling of the boy. They
hired a nurse though Erle enjoyed taking care of the baby
Erle found the home that she wanted, a
ranch-style house owned by Don Ameche. Thats swell,
Baby. Im glad you found a house you like, Al said
uncertainly. He knew the house, having sold it to Ameche after
his divorce from Ruby. Erle said it was ideal and Al bought it as
a third anniversary present. The couple moved in - despite
Als painful memories.
Erle: Al, I love you and I want to
make sure that the past is just that, the past. Its a
beautiful house and we can have a wonderful life in it.
- The Jolson Story
was so successful that Columbia decided to film a sequel, Jolson Sings Again. The film picked up where The Jolson Story left off to include sequences of him
entertaining the troops abroad, his
retirement, and his meeting his new wife
- Al saw no reason why he still
couldnt play himself but Larry Parks had received
an Academy Award nomination for The Jolson Story and so retained his role as Jolson. Barbara
Hale played the new Mrs. Jolson. This time
shes really got to look like Erle, Jolson
Jolson Sings Again
Producer: Sidney Buchman
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman
Conductor: Morris Stoloff
includes: Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, William
Demarest, Ludwig Donath, Bill Goodwin, Myron
McCormick, Tamara Shayne
Jolson dubbed the songs for
Is It True What They Say About Dixie
For Me and My Gal
Back in Your Own Back Yard
Im Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover
When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob,
Give My Regards to Broadway
Chinatown, My Chinatown
Im Just Wild About Harry
After Youve Gone
I Only Have Eyes for You
Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goo Bye)
Carolina in the Morning
Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with Dixie Melody
- New York Times: Mr.
Jolsons name is up in lights again and
Broadway is wreathed in smiles. Thats as it
should be, for Jolson Sings Again is an occasion
that warrants lusty cheering.
Herald Tribune: What Broadway used to
describe as great and that raspy,
pleading Jolson delivery still makes the heart
- To plug Jolson Sings Again,
Jolson toured the film theatres in and around New York,
telling audiences, that unlike Hollywood stars who do
nothing on personal appearance tours, he was going to
entertain them. And he did, though before beginning to
sing he usually announced: I will now do an
imitation of Larry Parks.
- In the Chinese district of New York he
sang Chinatown My Chinatown; in the Italian
district he gave an imitation of Caruso with Come
Back to Sorrento; and in Brooklyn and the Bronx he
sang The Cantor for the Sabbath. Extra police
had to be on duty as crowds jammed the streets. This was
Al Jolson live.
- Jolson Sings Again wasnt quite as big a success as The Jolson Story, and the song I Only Have Eyes For You was not as big a hit as The Anniversary Song, but in five years the picture still
took $5 million at the box-office. It kept Al Jolson on
- When I die, theyll bury
Larry Parks, he often gagged, and in between
receiving awards, radio appearances and recording, the
Jolsons adopted a baby girl called Alicia as sister to
Asa Albert Junior. Proud parents made big plans for both
of their children and Al talked of making a trip to
In Chicago, 19 August became Al Jolson Day.
In Britain, Jolsons name with songs from Jolson Sings Again was on the very first batch of long-playing
records produced. More radio shows with Bing Crosby
followed and he seriously started to think about
Groucho Marx: Well, Al, see you on
Nuts to television.
- Honoured by Variety as Personality of the Year, he was received by President Truman
at the White House who recalled seeing him with Dockstaders Minstrels. Al greeted him with a snatch of Im Just Wild About
Harry and gagged about
being friends with Coolidge, Harding and Roosevelt - but
no cracks about me being palsy-walsy with Abraham
- An offer of a television series was
made by NBC - a minstrel show with all the performers,
including guest stars, appearing in black face. But
Jolson was thinking of making a big trip to Israel and
said: TV can wait until the fall of 51.
Al, dont quit. Itll kill you.
Bob Hope: Jolson
couldnt come tonight - he couldnt get a
sitter for the Bank of America.
In the summer of 1950, the United States
answered the call of the UN Security Council and entered the
Korean conflict. Jolson immediately called the White House:
Im gonna go to Korea and its up to President Truman
to get me there. Nothing happened for four weeks till he
received a telegram from the Secretary of Defense: Sorry
delay but regret no funds for entertainment. USO disbanded.
What are they talkin about? Jolson thundered.
Funds! Who needs funds! I got my own mazzuma aint I?
All Im asking for is clearance. Comin too,
Harry? It was Next Town Reilly
again and Harry Akst wasnt too keen this time. Against his
better judgement he was persuaded.
Harry: I felt he wouldnt go if
I didnt - I didnt think he could stand the trip. Not
that he was ill, but he was too old - sixty-four.
Erle was in tears at the airport and Al
tried to allay her fears: Hey, dont look so sad.
Im gonna be around for a long time. My father lived to be
ninety-five years old.
Daddy gone okyo-okyo, Asa Jr. shouted.
Hey, boys, how do ya like that kid? Aint he
something? Al told reporters.
Erle: Youll take care of him,
wont you, Harry?
Harry Akst: Dont
mention it. They say God takes care of fools and drunks. They
should add: Al Jolson.
Their plane had to stopover at Wake Island
with engine trouble and Al and Harry had to spend the night in a
damp and draughty, rat-infested hut. By the time the two
entertainers arrived in Tokyo, Al had a cold and a cough. A young
medic peered down Jolsons throat: This man cant
sing. He has a bronchial infection.
Listen, son. I gotta sing. Whaddaya think I came here for -
to see the geisha girls? Give me something to clear it up.
In between inhaling mentholated steam with a towel round his head
half hour at a time, he entertained the troops in the military
hospital with jokes and sang as best he could.
Harry isnt exactly a beginner at this racket
either, Al would tell the audience. Hes knocked
off some hit tunes in his time - Baby Face,
Dinah - you tell em the rest, Harry.
Doctor: Mr. Jolson, you have a
bronchial infection and running a high fever. You should be in
bed and stay there till it clears up.
Jolson gargled with some solution that Harry had wangled from the
Red Cross, the Jolson-Akst show moved on to Korea (pictured right) and places theyd never even heard of -
Chinghai, Miryang, Masan and Kyonson. Scheduled to do six shows a
day, they travelled by jeep and helicopter, always with their
Purple Cow in tow - a small piano painted a deep purple.
Al called it a latrine on wheels.
Jolson: Why cant those crazy
guys stop their rifle practice and come to the show.
Theyre not our boys, theyre snipers, but
dont worry, Al, - theyre lousy shots.
On the their return to Tokyo, they were
invited to lunch with General MacArthur and his wife.
Sonny Boy was always my favourite, Mrs. MacArthur
remarked in her southern accent that reminded Jolson of Erle, and
cough or no cough, Al sang it especially for her. General
MacArthur and Jolson then spent two hours talking about the
fighting, life back home, and Jolsons singing.
Jolson to reporters: If anybody tells me anything
bad about MacArthur again, Ill punch him on the nose.
Harry thought Al looked tired when the pair
left Tokyo for home the next morning - the old familiar Jolson
bounce was missing. It was not surprising - Jolson, sick and on
one good lung, had done an incredible forty-two shows in seven
days. Yet newspapermen saw the same old Jolson, bubbling with
jokes as he chatted to them on the flights from Wake to Honolulu,
and then on to Los Angeles.
MacKinley Kantor: Conversationally, he bounded
like an eager puppy from the Korean war back to Dockstaders
Minstrels, to Georgie Jessel, to New York, to girls, to
Hollywood, to World War II in Italy, to Eddie Cantor, to girls,
to Broadway, to Korea again. People wanted to keep buying drinks,
but we had an awful tussle every time money was mentioned. He
kept pressing crumpled dollar bills upon the stewardess.
- Erle and Asa Jr. were both waiting at
Los Angeles airport. After giving both of them a big hug,
Al gave Asa a sombrero that he had picked from somewhere,
and was honest with reporters - the trip had been rough.
What was totally unexpected was the interview Jolson gave
to a newsman a few days later: Im not
interested in anything. Im really two shakes ahead
of a fit. My pulse is fast. I dont sleep good. So I
think Ill go up to some place . . I dont know
. . . maybe Arrowhead or Palm Springs, or someplace and
take . . . well, I think a week will do it - if I can
sleep . . . One of the things Ive got to do is to
go round to Columbia to tell Harry Cohn that maybe I
wont do a third picture.
- The Jolsons went down to Palm Springs,
soaked up the sunshine and with Al feeling better, they
returned to Beverley Hills.
Al: How do I look,
few days in Palm Springs does wonders for you, Al.
- A doctor was called when Al complained
of indigestion. Nothing to worry about, the
doctor told him after taking a cardiograph. But
dont go to any more Koreas.
- Next day Al took a second opinion.
This is the same heart that was okayed for a
million dollars worth of insurance, isnt it?
the physician said with some assurance. Al felt relieved.
You say youre going to San Francisco?
the physician then asked. Great heart specialist up
there - Dr. William Kerr. Al made a mental note of
Harry: Why do you eat Spanish
food, Al? You know it gives you indigestion.
- Just a few days later, on 23 October
1950, Jolson, Harry Akst and Martin Fried arrived in San
Francisco on an afternoon flight from Los Angeles. Jolson
was scheduled to appear as a guest on the Bing Crosby Radio Show and after booking into St. Francis Hotel
they had a seafood dinner at Fishermans Wharf.
- On returning to their hotel, they
played cards for a while before Jolson said:
Im feeling a bit tired. Think Ill just
have a lie down . . . Do Jolie a favour, Marty, willya?
Call room service and get me some bicarbonate of soda - I
have a little indigestion.
- Harry decided to call for the house
doctor. There were two, but both were on call.
Remembering the name his physician had given him, Al told
Harry: Look up Dr. Kerr and ask him to come
- Dr. Kerr answered the call:
Itll take some time to get there.
You dont understand, doctor. This is Al
Jolson and its an emergency, said Harry.
Jolson waved his hands: You crazy bastard! You want
everybody to read in the papers tomorrow morning that Al
Jolson had to get a doctor for indigestion? The
doctor heard and assured him: Dont worry,
Ill be there in half an hour.
Al: Harry, Im not
going to last.
heart jumped. I looked down and saw he had been taking
his pulse. I said: Al, dont talk that way.
Itll pass. Its nothing but
- The hotel nurse arrived first.
Dont tell me this is the patient . . .
she started cheerfully - Al was still tanned from Palm
Nurse, said Al, Ive got no
She took his wrist: Youve got a pulse like a
The house physician also arrived about the same time as
Im a little embarrassed about this,
gentlemen, Jolson said as the two doctors got ready
to examine him.
First they asked him what he had done that day and what
he had eaten.
- Pull up a couple of chairs and
lets talk, Jolson told them. Two chairs were
brought and Dr. Kerr told him how much he admired him:
I saw you in London in 1929.
Al joked: You know, President Truman only had one
hour with General MacArthur. I had two.
Suddenly Al reached for his pulse. Oh, Im
going, he said sadly, before sinking back on his
pillow, his eyes closed. Jolson had gone.
- Erle received the news over the
telephone and went into shock.
When Jolie goes itll be front
page news; no two-inch blurb on page fifty, Jolson had once
said and it was true. That evening the lights of Broadway were
turned out and the traffic brought to a halt in Times Square.
Variety: An institution and an era of show business
stopped breathing on Monday night in a St. Francis hotel suite in
San Francisco. A legend now begins to live. Al Jolson, the
greatest musical comedy star of his time and perhaps all time,
died at the age of sixty four. The end came suddenly and
dramatically. It came at the height of his career, with the
cheers of the GIs in Korea fresh in his ears . . . He had a
record to be envied, both for his war work and as a star. He hit
the top in every medium he tried and was already considering
television when he died. There is no question that Jolie would
have been great in television too . . .
- Three days later on the afternoon 26
October, 1950, the funeral was held at Temple Israel on
Hollywood Boulevard. Police estimated upwards of 20,000
people turned up. George Jessel opened his eulogy:
And not only has the entertainment world lost its
king, but we cannot cry, The king is dead - long
live the king! For there is no one to hold his
sceptre. Those of us who tarry behind are but pale
imitations, mere princelings . . .
- After an additional private ceremony
later in the day, attended by Erle, Asa, Jr., Harry
Jolson and his second wife Sylvia, and the rabbi, Al was
buried at Beth Olam Cemetery in Los Angeles.
- Jolsons published Will showed
that he was worth almost $4 million and most of it went
to charity. A trust was provided for Erle and her
children and $10,000 left to his brother Harry with equal
amounts to his step-brothers and sisters.
- Louis Epstein, Martin Fried and Harry
Akst were left only memories.
- President Truman posthumously awarded
Jolson the Civilian
Order of Merit for
extraordinary fidelity and exceptionally
- Jack Benny once commented at a benefit
concert where he and Jolson were featured: How do
you like that Jolson? Hes worth at least $8 million
and what does he leave us? Moonbeams!
Pearl Sieben: Jolie left a heritage
for all time. He left gay songs to be sung in childhood,
romantic songs for our youth, inspirational songs to
touch our souls, naughty songs to tickle our funny bones,
melancholy songs to remind us of the ever lurking
tragedies in life, and mellow songs for our old age . . .
Some magic that was Jolson still reaches out and touches
us. What it is, is hard to say.
- Bing Crosby: Al Jolson invented
the vocal solo, I think. I certainly didnt. I did
have his records, and I saw him many times when he came
through my home town with touring musical comedies. If
you ever saw him in person, he had the capacity for
generating some kind of electricity that just
communicated itself to the audience. And hed get
carried along on that, and the audience would go with
him. Ive seen him do shows where hed sing 10
or 12 encores. They wouldnt let him off. He was so
magnetic in his delivery and his actions - the way his
body moved, the way he used his hands. It all seemed to
be part of it. I would call him a great, great
- Charlie Chaplin: A great instinctive
artist with magic and vitality . . . He personified the
poetry of Broadway, its vitality and vulgarity, its aims
- Ralph Reader: It wasnt that
he wanted to give so much; its just that he had to.
Herbert G. Goldman: Al was an inspiring performer - the
embodiment of optimism who made one think the human soul
could never be defeated.
- Michael Freedland: Jolson lives on in
memories, in legend, and in voice.