The Jolson Story‘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 it’s about time we call Jolson in and have him sign the contract,” Cohn told him.
“Jolson doesn’t know anything it . . . You know what a blabbermouth he is. Everybody would know about it and we’d lose it.”
Cohn exploded: “You mean I bought the life of Jolson from you, pay you a weekly salary, and Jolson doesn’t know a thing about it?”
A few days later, Harry’s brother, Jack Cohn, had lunch with Jolson, who was surprised and pleased. A deal was signed.
Sidney Skolsky: “I’m telling you Harry, if you let Jolson know about this picture, we can lose it. He’ll get that old feeling again.”

The film was going to be Columbia’s big picture of the year, just the opportunity Jolson had been waiting for. Skolsky talked it over with him at the Beverley Hills Hotel. “Everybody’s making biographical films, but no one’s done one of the king,” Al said. Believing his new deeper voice would go down better than before, Jolson didn’t seem too concerned that his voice would come out of someone else’s lips - at first.
Al: “This is it, babe, I’m going to be great again.”
Erle:
“Sure 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 couldn’t play himself and that was final.
Larry ParksThe 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 Jolson’s records, he’d use the mirrors to synchronise his gestures and his lips with Jolson’s 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 can’t make you look twenty-one years old.”

All the old arrangements and orchestrations of Jolson’s songs were changed by George Dunning and the rest of Columbia’s musical department, making them new again. With the exception of ‘
The Spaniard That Blighted My Life’ Jolson’s old comic numbers were abandoned - no one could be expected to take them seriously now - but all of Al’s own favourites, ‘Mammy’, ‘April 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 can’t do the song like I used to,” Jolson exploded, “I haven’t 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 didn’t know I was doing that,” Al said. “That’s 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 hadn’t 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: I’ve 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 ‘other woman’ in the man’s 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 Columbia’s 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 you’ll have. This is Jolie talkin’ to you.’ . . . I want none of that.”

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 Jolson’s 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. “Don’t you remember how I used to do that bit?” Jolson asked.
“I’ve never seen you work before a live audience, Al,” Parks admitted with embarrassment.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, son. You ain’t 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 couldn’t make it. Despite his father’s 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 the Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles.
After Jack Benny had introduced Danny Kaye, Danny Thomas, Van Johnson, Frank Sinatra, Margaret O’Brien, 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, Jolie’s case is different. When I got here I was an old man already.”
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 in charge.
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 I’ve been showing off to impress her.”

The Jolson Story
Columbia (1946)

Director: Alfred E. Green
Producer: Sidney Skolsky
Screenplay: Stephen Longstreet
Conductor: Morris Stoloff

Cast includes: Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, William Demarest, Bill Goodwin, Ludwig Donath, Tamara Shane, Scotty Beckett, The Mitchell Boychoir.

Rudy Wissler dubbed the songs for
Scotty Beckett
Al Jolson dubbed the songs for
Larry Parks

Songs
‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy’
‘Banks of the Wabash’
‘Ave Maria’
‘When You Were Sweet Sixteen’
‘After the Ball’
‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’
‘Blue Bell’
‘Ma Blushin’ Rosie’
‘I Want a Girl’
‘My Mammy’
‘I’m Sitting on Top of the World’
‘You Made Me Love You’
‘Swanee’
‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goo’ Bye)’
‘The Spaniard That Blighted My Life’
‘April Showers’
‘California, Here I Come’
‘Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)’
‘There’s a Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder’
‘Avalon’
‘She’s a Latin from Manhattan’
‘About, a Quarter to Nine’
‘Anniversary Song’
‘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.”
Margaret 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 Asa’s 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 audience’s response to the film was overwhelming.
“Its great, Al,” Harry Cohn said at the picture’s end, slapping Al on the back. Erle gave her husband a big kiss.
Al: “How was it , Baby?”
Erle:
“Oh Al, it was wonderful; just wonderful.”
Elderly lady to her friend on leaving the theatre:
“Isn’t it too bad that Jolson couldn’t 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 ‘Jolson 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 post-war ‘bobby soxers’, most of whom thought Al Jolson looked like Larry Parks.

Two weeks after the film’s opening, Jolson turned up with Harry Akst on Barry Gray’s 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: “You’ve got to turn on the radio; Jolson’s on the air.”
Jolie: “I’ll sing anything.”
Barry Gray:
“My favourite in the movie is ‘Rosie’.”
Barry Gray, after Jolie had sung it:
“You can shoot me now while I’m happy.”

To help launch The Jolson Story, Harry Cohn wanted an album of its songs to be released on record. The recording companies weren’t interested, until Jack Kapp, head of Decca, saw the film and told Harry Cohn: “You make the pictures with Jolson and I’ll make his records.”
Youngsters got excited about this new ‘hep singer Al Jolson’ and once again Jolson’s 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 ‘The 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, you’re much better looking on the screen.”

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 Jolson’s 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 Showers’.
Bing: “Al, what’s that badge on your lapel?”
Al: “That’s what you get for seeing The Jolson Story 100 times.”
The next time Jolson appeared on the Crosby show, he wore a badge with the letters AJTWGE.
Bing: “What’s does that stand for, Al.”
Al: “That, son, says: ‘
Al Jolson, The World’s 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 didn’t have his own radio show. “What - and be on the air only once a week!” Jolson quipped.
But it wasn’t long before he did appear in his own radio show. Jolson explained: “Sign, ha! I didn’t 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, weren’t you there when Tchaikovsky first played his piano concerto?”
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.
Judy Garland, jokingly: “I’ve admired Al ever since I was a little girl. And my grandmother admired him ever since she was a little girl.”
 
The only live shows that Jolson wanted to do were benefits. “I die every time I go on stage,” Jolson explained. “What’s 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 don’t need a Larry Parks to play the black notes.”

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 Jolson Jr.
A proud father again, Al told reporters: “We’ll 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 herself.

Erle found the home that she wanted, a ranch-style house owned by Don Ameche. “That’s swell, Baby. I’m 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 Al’s painful memories.
Erle: “Al, I love you and I want to make sure that the past is just that, the past. It’s a beautiful house and we can have a wonderful life in it.”

Al JolsonThe 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 Erle.
 
Al saw no reason why he still couldn’t 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 she’s really got to look like Erle,” Jolson insisted.

 

 

Jolson Sings Again
Columbia (1949)

Director: Henry Levin
Producer: Sidney Buchman
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman
Conductor: Morris Stoloff

Cast includes: Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, William Demarest, Ludwig Donath, Bill Goodwin, Myron McCormick, Tamara Shayne

Al Jolson dubbed the songs for
Larry Parks

Songs
‘Is It True What They Say About Dixie’
‘For Me and My Gal’
‘Back in Your Own Back Yard’
‘I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover’
‘When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along’
‘Give My Regards to Broadway’
‘Chinatown, My Chinatown’
‘I’m Just Wild About Harry’
‘Baby Face’
‘After You’ve Gone’
‘I Only Have Eyes for You’
‘Sonny Boy’
‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goo’ Bye)’
‘Pretty Baby’
‘Carolina in the Morning’
‘Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with Dixie Melody’

New York Times: “Mr. Jolson’s name is up in lights again and Broadway is wreathed in smiles. That’s 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 beat faster.”
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 wasn’t 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 top.
“When I die, they’ll 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 Israel.

In Chicago, 19 August became ‘
Al Jolson Day’.
In Britain, Jolson’s 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 television.
Groucho Marx: “Well, Al, see you on television.”
Jolson:
“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 Dockstader’s Minstrels. Al greeted him with a snatch of “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and gagged about being friends with Coolidge, Harding and Roosevelt - but “no cracks about me being palsy-walsy with Abraham Lincoln.”
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.”
President Truman: “Well, Al, don’t quit. It’ll kill you.”
Bob Hope:
“Jolson couldn’t come tonight - he couldn’t 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: “I’m 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 ain’t I? All I’m asking for is clearance. Comin’ too, Harry?” It was ‘
Next Town Reilly’ again and Harry Akst wasn’t too keen this time. Against his better judgement he was persuaded.
Harry: “I felt he wouldn’t go if I didn’t - I didn’t 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, don’t look so sad. I’m 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? Ain’t he something?” Al told reporters.
Erle: “You’ll take care of him, won’t you, Harry?”
Harry Akst:
“Don’t 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 Jolson’s throat: “This man can’t 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 isn’t exactly a beginner at this racket either,” Al would tell the audience. “He’s 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.”

Al and Harry arrive in KoreaWhile 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 they’d 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 can’t those crazy guys stop their rifle practice and come to the show.”
Army officer:
“They’re not our boys, they’re snipers, but don’t worry, Al, - they’re 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 Jolson’s singing.
Jolson to reporters: “If anybody tells me anything bad about MacArthur again, I’ll 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 Dockstader’s 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: “I’m not interested in anything. I’m really two shakes ahead of a fit. My pulse is fast. I don’t sleep good. So I think I’ll go up to some place . . I don’t 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 I’ve got to do is to go round to Columbia to tell Harry Cohn that maybe I won’t 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, Harry?”
Harry:
“A 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 don’t 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, isn’t it?” the physician said with some assurance. Al felt relieved. “You say you’re going to San Francisco?” the physician then asked. “Great heart specialist up there - Dr. William Kerr.” Al made a mental note of the name.
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 Fisherman’s Wharf.
On returning to their hotel, they played cards for a while before Jolson said: “I’m feeling a bit tired. Think I’ll 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 over.”
Dr. Kerr answered the call: “It’ll take some time to get there.”
“You don’t understand, doctor. This is Al Jolson and it’s 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: “Don’t worry, I’ll be there in half an hour.”
Al: “Harry, I’m not going to last.”
Harry:
“My heart jumped. I looked down and saw he had been taking his pulse. I said: ‘Al, don’t talk that way. It’ll pass. It’s nothing but indigestion.’”
 
The hotel nurse arrived first. “Don’t tell me this is the patient . . .” she started cheerfully - Al was still tanned from Palm Springs.
“Nurse,” said Al, “I’ve got no pulse.”
She took his wrist: “You’ve got a pulse like a baby.”
The house physician also arrived about the same time as Dr. Kerr.
“I’m 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 let’s 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, I’m 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 it’ll 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.
Jolson’s 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 meritorious conduct.’
Jack Benny once commented at a benefit concert where he and Jolson were featured: “How do you like that Jolson? He’s worth at least $8 million and what does he leave us? Moonbeams!”

Al JolsonPearl 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 didn’t. 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 he’d get carried along on that, and the audience would go with him. I’ve seen him do shows where he’d sing 10 or 12 encores. They wouldn’t 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 performer.”
 
Charlie Chaplin: “A great instinctive artist with magic and vitality . . . He personified the poetry of Broadway, its vitality and vulgarity, its aims and dreams.”
 
Ralph Reader: “It wasn’t 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.”
The Blackface with the Grand Opera Voice
 
King of Broadway
 
You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet
Al Jolson

Al Jolson

The Jazz Singer
 
Hallelujah, I'm a Bum
 
Entertaining the Servicemen
 
The Jolson Story
Sherwood Times