Jolson on his kneeYou Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet!’

On the opening night of Sinbad in February 1918, Jolson was, as usual, a nervous wreck, pacing back and forth backstage.
Nerves disappeared however after Jolson had sung the opening number, a ballad that was to become his own favourite, ‘
Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody’. It caused near hysteria in the audience. Added later to the show was another song that also became a sensation - Irving Caesar wrote the lyrics and George Gershwin wrote the music to what would be his greatest hit - ‘Swanee’. The song had already flopped at a well-known theatre when the two songwriters sang and played it to Jolson at one of his parties. “I’ll introduce it into the show,” Jolson said. So he did, dancing up and down the runway, singing and whistling it with the audience stamping their feet in accompaniment. The song stopped the show.

Sinbad
Winter Garden,
New York (1918)
A Spectacular Extravaganza

Music: Sigmund Romberg, Al Jolson
Lyrics: Harold Atteridge
Cast included: Frank Holmes, Kitty Doner, Ernest Hare.

The World: “Jolson, whether he knows it or not, hits the singing mark of his career with ‘Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody’”.

By adding a few extra lyrics to the songs, Jolson was listed as co-writer to six published songs in Sinbad. Jolson argued that it was his interpretation that sold the song and who could argue? He had the knack of picking a good tune and if he sang it, then it would be an instant hit. “It’s all in the delivery,” he once said. “I could pick up a telephone book and make the folks cry if I wanted to.” His royalties were finally donated to the tubercular ward at Saranac Lake, New York.
Variety: “The best second chorus writer in the business.”

Buddy DeSylva found a new conductor named Al Goodman for Sinbad. Eager to try new ideas, Goodman liked Jolson and his dynamism, though they often argued. Goodman was always ready to follow Jolson when he changed songs in the middle of a performance.
Dan Wheeler: “Al Goodman was different. He liked Jolson in the first place, and sympathised with what he was trying to do . . . Under Goodman’s direction,
Sinbad took on a new sparkle and colour. Every performance was an adventure instead of a routine.”
Irving Caesar: “Al’s energy ate you alive.”

Harry Jolson was struggling in vaudeville and Al became his manager, offering him his own orchestrations. For the next ten years, Harry was never out of big-time vaudeville, even if occasionally billed as ‘Al Jolson’s Brother’.
Samuel Raphaelson, describing Harry: “A somewhat taller, thinner version of Al with a higher voice but without the power.”

Jolson may have lived for applause but he suffered terrible first night nerves - buckets were placed in both wings in case he vomited. The first duty of Frank Holmes, Jolson’s dresser, was to turn on the dressing room taps so that Jolson couldn’t hear the audience applaud the other acts. If he heard that applause he would be far too nervous to go on. It was as if he believed that there was only so much applause to go around and other performers were taking it away from him.
Pearl Sieben: “On opening nights the Shuberts posted a guard on his dressing room knowing that Al was bound to lose his voice before the curtain and try to bolt the theatre.”
Eddie Cantor:
“The minute the curtain came down, Jolson died.”

As well as on top, it was also important for Jolson to be first. One day at the racetrack the horses reached the final stretch and Jolson began to holler: “Come on, boy - come on.” George Jessel turned to him and said: “But Al, you bet on the other nag.”
“I know,” Jolson replied. “But I changed my mind. I gotta winner. Ha! Ha! I told you so. I got a winner.” Often he would back all ten horses in a race just to show he had a winning ticket. Harry Akst called him ‘
Next Town Reilly’ after a character they had known around the racetracks. Reilly was a trainer who was always losing but would go on to the next track and try all over again. For Reilly it was always ‘the next town’.
George Burns: “The only thing as big as Jolson’s talent was his ego.”
Irving Caesar:
“Jolson would be jealous if somebody opened a successful laundry.”

Jolson was invited to a special dinner at the Hotel Astor in March 1918 where the guest speaker was Colonel J.S. Dennis of the Canadian Forces. Concluding his speech, the Colonel said: “If others were to use Mr. Jolson as an example there would be no need for me to relate the horrors of war in detail. He has gone into the hospitals and seen for himself what war has done to our men.” So impressed was Jolson, that the next morning he went to enlist, taking his chauffeur with him. His chauffeur was turned down on medical grounds but Al was accepted. The war ended before Al was called.
Al’s chauffeur: “Al, after the women and children are gone, they’ll call us. All we gotta do is wait.”
Al:
“This is no time for jokes.”

After Sinbad had closed, Al and his pianist drove across country entertaining thousands of servicemen at numerous military installations. “I’m looking for barbed wire - to knit a sweater for the Kaiser” was one of Al’s jokes that reached the front line in France. A mammoth concert was organised in aid of World War I soldiers at the Century Theatre and Al Jolson was just one among a large number of star names on the bill. When Enrico Caruso went off to a great ovation after giving a rousing rendition of ‘Over There’, Al rang on to the stage before the applause had died down, threw out his arms and called out: “Folks, you ain’t heard nothing yet.” The audience cheered. They were in the palm of his hand just as they were at the Winter Garden. The opera critics were up in arms - Jolson had insulted Signor Caruso. But Caruso himself confessed he was delighted and invited Al to join him in his hotel suite where Al gave him an impromptu performance of ‘Swanee’ and ‘Rockabye’.
Enrico Caruso: “Come and sing with me at the Met.”
Al Jolson:
“No, Rico. They couldn’t have two of us on the same bill again. The critics would go daffy.”

“Hiya, folks. I’m Al Jolson and I wanna sing for ya,” Jolson opened at his one-man song recital at the Boston Opera House. Every seat was taken and more than 1,800 people turned away. He sang seventeen of his favourite songs accompanied by the fifty-piece Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Al Goodman.
Musical Chronicle:His spirited singing made Boston’s first jazz recital a brilliant success.”

Al Jolson may have been the world’s greatest entertainer but not the world’s greatest husband. He couldn’t understand Henrietta and she resented his constant restlessness. Once he told her that she was “just a dumb hick and I love you better when you are 3,000 miles away”. After they had agreed to a separation and he had promised to provide her with money, a car and her own house in Oakland, Al went back on his word.
Henrietta called Al, long distance: “The deal is all set. I need a down payment of-”
“Down payment? For what?”
“The house. It’s got-”
“Oh, that . . . Look, I changed my mind. Forget it. Tell the guy the deal’s off.”
“What?”
“I said the deal’s off. I’m not buying it.”
“This is the most inconsiderate, stupid thing I ever heard of-”
“Look, don’t open your mouth to me. There’ll be no house. That’s final!”
It was the last straw for Henrietta and she filed for divorce.

“Al cannot stand success,” Henrietta alleged, “because with that success his tastes ran far stronger - to wine, racehorses and other women.”
Al said he was dumb struck by Henrietta’s charges and added: “Outside of my liking for wine, women and racehorses, I’m a regular husband.”
Al tried hard to get her to change her mind and pleaded in a note: “Come back to me and I’ll give you all the money and clothes and motors that you want.”
Henrietta refused: “I don’t want Mr. Jolson’s money and motors now. What I want is my freedom.”

Standing on the terrace of a skyscraper watching the lights flickering below, Al Jolson would smile and say: “Broadway - that’s my street.” And it was. He knew the magic word that gained him entry to the ‘speakeasies’ now springing up in New York - he just mentioned his name. There were shouts of “Al . . . Al . . . Al,” every time he entered or left a theatre. So famous now that he was mobbed wherever he went. And for Al himself, their acclaim was vital.

Pearl Sieben: “In 1919, Harry Houdini was breaking out of vaults. The beautiful Marilyn Miller was the Toast of the Follies, and the winsome beauty of Lilian Gish was seen in the movie Broken Blossoms . . . The movies were here to stay, although most Broadway people refused to believe it, and Americans were playing with a new toy - the radio.”


Sinbad went on tour advertised as ‘Al Jolson in Sinbad’. Al consulted a throat specialist who advised him to rest for a few days. When attendances began to drop off, Jolson took a train to Florida. “Gotta terrible sore throat. Can’t sing a note” was his excuse to Jake Shubert. It took $2,000 for two Sunday concerts to entice him back.

Still trying to persuade Henrietta to halt the divorce, Al visited her at her mother’s house in Oakland. After taking her out to various places, he pleaded with her to return to him, and after saying no a dozen times, she began to waver. “Come out to the house for dinner tomorrow night,” she invited, “and I’ll let you know my decision.” Al never showed. The phone rang later: “Henrietta? Yeah, the crowd was going over to Catalina Island, so I just went with ‘em.” After 12 years Henrietta had enough of her mercurial and egocentric husband. “What would have been the use,” she said, “I just would have been bounced around again.”
The divorce became final two months later.
Henrietta: “When Al and I were poor we were always happy. Al was ambitious and I was ambitious for him. I did everything possible for him to succeed and what did I gain? Nothing, I lost him.”
Jean Carlson:
“If he hadn’t pulled one of his stunts, she would have married him again.”

Jolson signed up to work with Warren Harding, the Republican candidate for the Presidency. “I like to be with the winner,” Jolson told reporters. The party’s campaign song that Jolson helped to write, ‘Harding You’re The Man For Us’, was launched by Jolson himself in a ceremony at Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio. Whilst no one could predict the scandal to beset the future President, the lyrics were worse than the music, and the candidate even worse.

Sinbad re-opened on tour in August 1920 with Al’s new song hit ‘Avalon’ to mostly sell-out audiences. Saul Bernstein, manager of Irving Berlin Music and who greeted everyone he met with “How’s your mother?”, offered Jolson a number called ‘My Mammy’. On 31 January 1921 at the Shubert-Majestic Theatre in Providence, the song became another show stopper and soon became Jolson’s theme song. The song seemed to be wrung out of the very depths of him. Inserting his own lines into the second chorus - “Mammy, look at me. Don’t you now me? I’m your little baby,” - the ‘mammy singer’ was born.

Al Jolson: “I always have a picture in my mind of a black boy and his life story when I sing that song. A southern Negro boy who has found life a bitter and terrible tragedy . . . just about ready to give up the battle of life in despair, broken hearted over cruel fate when he thinks of his ‘Mammy’ . . . There was the one who loved him, whose arms are open to him, one who is ready to comfort him, and the thought gives him renewed faith in life and in the future.”

When
Sinbad closed for the last time in June 1921 at St. Paul, Minnesota, Jolson returned to New York to take in the Dempsey-Carpentier fight. After buying a couple of racehorses, he then spent the next few weeks setting up his own racing stable.

Ethel Delmar, real name Alma Osbourne, was a classic beauty with hazel eyes, raven hair and a show-stopping figure. She liked parties, chewed gum, took small dogs with her everywhere, and surely belonged to the ‘roaring twenties’. When Al saw her in the chorus of George White Scandals she knocked “Al off his feet - right off the reel”.

Bombo was due to open on 6 October 1921 in Shubert’s newly-built Jolson’s 59th Street Theatre. Every one of the 1,654 seats were filled. Al nervously walked up and down the streets and by curtain time had developed a psychosomatic case of laryngitis. After standing in the wings nervously sweating and begging the stagehands not to raise the curtain, he had to pushed on to the stage when his cue came. The overwhelming ovation he received brought back his voice, and he had never sung better, even though every time he came offstage he swore he couldn’t go on again and had to be pushed back on. At the end of the show the audience stamped its feet and chanted: “Jolson! Jolson!” After 37 curtain calls, he made a final speech in which he thanked the audience, told them how proud he was to have a theatre bear his name but said he wouldn’t be able to stand any more openings of new shows.
Al Jolson: “I’m a happy man tonight.”

Bombo
Jolson’s 59th Street,
New York (1921)
A Musical Extravaganza

Music: Sigmund Romberg

Jolson’s songs included:
‘April Showers’
‘That Barber in Seville’
‘Give Me My Mammy’
‘Down South’
‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie’
‘Who Cares’
‘Arcady’
‘I’m Going South’
‘California, Here I Come’

Joe Meyer: “Buddy came up to me and said: ‘Al likes you and wants you to write a song for him to do this season.’ Well, I just went to one of the composing rooms at Clarke & Leslie, and I just sat down and wrote ‘California, Here I Come’. It was the greatest inspiration I ever had.”
New York World: “Jolson can take a song and make it do things its composers did not dream were in it.”

Bombo ran for six months on Broadway, Jolson singing tunes that Sigmund Romberg had not written and substituting his own wisecracks for the original script. Depending on the mood he was in, he sang twenty or thirty other songs along with the fabulously successful ‘Mammy’ from Sinbad. In his new song ‘April Showers’, Jolson would point to the gallery and proclaim: “Look, look, they’re not clouds, no, no - they’re crowds of daffodils.” It brought the audience to a frenzy. During the last week of the run of Bombo at 59th Street Theatre, audiences were especially enthusiastic. Jolson would sing up to fifteen songs and the curtain was often up until after midnight. After the chorines complained that this was interfering with their social life, Al gave them all a big party on the stage on Saturday night.
Dorothy Wegman: “To Al, there were, basically, two kinds of girls - the ‘nice ones’ and the ‘others’. I was one of the ‘nice ones’ . . . Once we went to a cabaret after the show and someone told a joke that was off colour. Everyone laughed, including me but Al said: ‘Get your coat Dorothy, you’re going home.’”

When Bombo played in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, Gus Khan provided another hit number called ‘Toot, Toot, Tootsie’. One night, Al finished the show early and waited at the stage door of George White’s Scandals: “Miss Delmar? Do you remember me?”
“Of course I remember you Mr. Jolson. Congratulations on the success of your new show. That certainly is a beautiful theatre they built for you.”
“Maybe you’ll join me in a late supper and you can congratulate me further with a glass of champagne.”

When Bombo closed for the summer season, Jolson left for California and visited Henrietta only to discover that she was going to be married to a Mr. Jack Silvey. Seemingly intent on beating Henrietta to the altar, Jolson returned to New York and within a month had married Ethel Delmar. The newly-weds spent their honeymoon at the Ambassador Resort in Atlantic City before returning to New York where Al started rehearsals for a new season with Bombo. For some unknown reason, Jolson tried to keep it a secret till confirmed by New York reporters. Al promised Ethel that he wouldn’t sign another contract with the Shuberts but the second Mrs. Jolson was also going to find it just as difficult as the first one to compete with the roar of applause.
Al wired Ethel: “Youngstown thinks I’m great.”
Ethel wired back: “Youngstown is the place where they think the Kentucky Derby is a hat.”

George Burns : “Jolson used to walk on the stage in blackface and sing, ‘I gotta a Mammy in Alabammy’, and people believed him.”

When Bombo reached Chicago, Al was forced to accept an invitation to accompany two men dressed entirely in black. “Just be nice and don’t give us no trouble,” one of them told him. “We got orders to bring ya to the boss in good shape.” Al was driven in a limousine to a big house where he was greeted in a palatial room by a small pudgy man with a scar on his face : “My name’s Al too. Sing to me.”
“What da yer want?” Al asked.
“April Showers.”
For the next hour Al Jolson sang and cracked jokes with Al Capone, the notorious boss of gangland.

D.W.Griffith, director of Birth of a Nation, had been trying to persuade Jolson, now in his mid-thirties, to try his luck on the screen. “I tell yer I’m no actor,” Jolson kept telling him, but eventually did agree, even if rather tentatively. At his first screen test in white face Griffith told everyone: “His affect on the screen is striking.”
Jolson complained: “It makes me look like a zebra.”
Ethel commented: “I think it’s the worst thing I ever saw.”
Preliminary shooting went ahead but as soon as a less-than-confident Jolson saw the first rushes, he walked out. Griffith said: “Go on Al, give yourself a chance. We’re not even half through shooting the picture.”
Jolson sailed for England with his manager ‘Eppy’ and Jake Shubert. A stunned Ethel gave Al a farewell kiss for the newsreel cameras at the dock - she was too occupied with their new house in Scarsdale to make the trip.
Griffith sued Jolson for breach of contract.
Jolson to reporters: “Here’s something for ya, fellas. I’m gonna retire from the stage and me and Ethel are gonna settle down in the country.”
On his return from England a few weeks later, Jolson was dressed in a grey derby, white spats and sporting a monocle, just to give Ethel a laugh. Ethel didn’t laugh when he signed a lucrative five-year contract with Jake Shubert guaranteeing him $3,500 a week and 25% of the gross receipts. Her dreams of settling down with her husband in a brick mansion at Scarsdale, New York, were shattered and she tried to find solace in the cocktail shaker.
“You could have told me, Al.”
“Ah, Baby, c’mon. The house and all that, y’know how it is, Baby. I gotta sing.”
“Yes, Al, I know how it is.”
“So c’mon, give old Jolie a smile, huh?”
“I don’t feel like smiling, Al.”

In October 1923 Bombo opened for its third season in Albany. Since the tour was going to take in the West Coast, Buddy DeSylva suggested an idea for a song about California to Joe Meyer. ‘California, Here I Come’ was the result. House records were broken in Los Angeles but money had to be refunded at Riverside when Al lost his voice with laryngitis. When his voice worsened, doctors ordered a complete rest and the last four weeks of the tour were cancelled. Al arrived back in Scarsdale to find Ethel had been drinking, a habit that was already playing havoc with her beauty. In disgust, Al went back to New York. Toying with the idea of adopting children, Al had earlier told a reporter: “My wife and I have a lovely country home in Scarsdale. On it, we have horses, dogs, cats, canaries, and all sorts of other pets, but in spite of that, there’s always been something missing.” Ethel’s drinking wasn’t mentioned.
Jolson’s doctor: “Take an immediate and protracted rest or you will lose your voice for good.”

Pearl Sieben: “The mid-twenties continued to be boom years for Broadway . . . Millions of Americans owned cars. The Stock Market was a favourite pastime. Tickets to Broadway shows were bringing in prices way above box-office. The speakeasies were at an all-time high . . . Record companies and publishers of sheet music could hardly keep up with the public’s demands.”

When Big Boy opened at the Winter Garden in January 1925, Jolson caused a sensation when he appeared on horseback playing a jockey. “It’s a good thing he’s not an elephant,” he ad libbed. The show brought together his two greatest loves - the theatre and horse racing. Found at the racetrack most afternoons, Jolson had been known to cancel a matinee - treating all of the cast in the show to free bets - so he could back a horse that he thought would be a certain winner. “A horse is a very good tonic,” he would say. “Mind you, I’ve had a few relapses in my time.”
Notice outside theatre: “There will be no matinee this afternoon. Mr. Jolson has taken the entire company to the races.”

Big Boy
Winter Garden
New York (1925)
A Musical Comedy

Music: James F. Hanley and
Joseph Myer
Lyrics: Buddy DeSylva

Jolson’s songs included:
‘Keep Smiling At Trouble’
‘If You Knew Susie’
‘Miami’
‘Nobody But Fanny
‘It All Depends On you’
‘One O’Clock Baby’

Patterson James of Billboard: “Jolson has the cynical assurance of a successful clothing salesman. If he can get his finger in the buttonhole of your coat lapel, you buy the pants. That is all there is to it . . . If you like Jolson’s methods and his material, you will enjoy Bombo. I don’t and I didn’t.”

Alan Dale of New York American: “They call him the ‘World’s Greatest Entertainer’. It doesn’t seem exaggerated. There he stood in that stupendous auditorium, telling stories, laughing, kidding, dominant, authoritive, magnetic, and irrepressible, whilst the audience howled, yelled and screamed.”

There was one song in Big Boy Al didn’t like and he gave it to Eddie Cantor. ‘If You Knew Susie’ became Cantor’s biggest hit. Al told him later: “Eddie, if I knew it was that good, you dog, I’d never have given it to you!” Ralph Reader, a young man from England, was in the chorus of Big Boy and Al took an instant liking to him, calling him ‘English’. Reader once had to admit to Jolson that he was scared when standing alone with him on stage. Jolson gave him this advice: “All you have to do is keep your eyes on me. And whatever I do, whether I stand on my head or turn cartwheels, people will look at you.”
Ralph Reader: “It was the most wonderful piece of advice any man ever gave me.”

George Jean Nathan: “The power of Jolson over an audience I have seldom seen equalled . . . I know of none like this Jolson - or, at best, very few - who, with lines of pre-war vintage and melodies of the cheapest tin-piano variety, can lay hold of an audience the moment he comes on stage and never let go a second thereafter . . . he so far outdistances his rivals that they seem like the wrong ends of so many opera glasses.”

One night during the run, Jolson stopped dead right in the middle of the show and called to the audience: “Do you want me - or do you want the show?”
“We want you, Al, we want you,” the audience shouted back.
The entire cast was dismissed and he sang until he could sing no more; then after ordering the house lights up, he asked the audience to sing to him.
Larry Adler: “You’re conceited when you think you are better than anyone else. Jolson knew that he was the best.”

At the end of a late show performance, Al and a few friends would often go to a night-club - Ethel stayed home with the gin bottle. One night there came continuous shouting from the other tables for him to sing. “Folks, this used to be my mother’s birthday,” he answered and the place hushed. “Because this is my mother’s birthday, I’m going to sing a song that she loved.” Since he was going to sing it in Yiddish, he first explained that the story was about a tailor, a shoemaker and a coach driver auditioning a new cantor in a little village in Russia.
Chicago Tribune reported: “For fifteen minutes or a half hour, Jolson sang the song of his mother’s childhood. And in that Saturday night audience, not an eye was wholly dry. There was Jolson, no bigger than five feet six inches, slender, puckish, singing in a foreign tongue of a foreign place.”

President CoolidgePresident Calvin Coolidge (pictured right with Al on White House lawn) invited Jolson to breakfast at the White House to help him launch his 1925 election campaign. Al took Ralph Reader along with him and as Press cameras clicked on the Presidential lawn, he sang a new campaign song, ‘Keep Cool with Coolidge’.
Jolson told the First Lady, Grace Coolidge: “Your dog must like me, he hasn’t stopped licking my hands since we sat down.”
The First Lady answered: “Maybe he wouldn’t do it if you used your napkin.”

Jolson could walk on stage an hour later than he was due to appear with his coat over his arm and say: “Sorry I’m late folks, but it was cold and I dropped by for dinner at the little restaurant next door. It was so good I couldn’t leave it. But now that I’m here, do you mind if I make up on stage?” Of course, the audience roared: “No!” After he had finished blacking up, he sang for two hours during which he passed round candy to everyone in the audience, and then said: “I’m feeling hungry now so I’m going back to the restaurant. There’s a swell piano in there and if any of you wish to join me I’ll sing you a couple more songs.” They did and he sang till three o’clock in the morning.
George Burns: “Jolson never finished - he just wore out the audience.”
Maurice Chevalier, seeing Jolson at work:
“I think I had better go back to the boat.”

Although
Big Boy was grossing $5,000 a performance, it closed intermittently because of Jolson’s recurring bad throat. A trip to Bermuda followed by an eighteen-day cruise off the California coast improved his health but not his marriage: “Baby, this is gonna be a second honeymoon. We’re gonna lie in the sand and soak in that good Mr. Sol . . . sheer poetry, huh, Baby?” Al played golf and Ethel drank . . . and drank.

Big Boy played fifteen more weeks in New York before moving to the Apollo Theatre, Chicago, where it began to break house records. Eddie Cantor, (pictured right) Jolson’s rival, was playing to packed houses in Kid Boots at the nearby Woods Theatre, and even though suffering from an attack of pleurisy he refused to rest. Jolson also contracted a bad throat, but competition between the two was so fierce that neither of them would close their show. Jolson advised Cantor: “You need sun, kid. Go to Miami, close the show, get some rest and heat and get well.” Eventually Cantor collapsed and was put on the train back to New York. Seeing him off at the station, Al told him: “You are being wise.” Next day, Jolson closed his own show. With Big Boy closed, Ralph Reader and eight of the chorus girls were out of jobs.
“What did you lose on that, English?” Jolson asked Reader and paid all of them what they would have made in a complete run of the show.

On 20 March 1926 Jolson began a four-week guest appearance in Artists and Models at the Winter Garden to mark its 15th anniversary. On the first night the theatre was packed and he sang seven songs, told a few stories, and explained that his physical condition necessitated the closing of Big Boy.
“Are you a little delicate?” the newspapermen kidded him.
“Delicate?” Jolson shot back. “After working fifteen years for the Shuberts?”

Life Magazine: “When Jolson enters, it is as if an electric current had been run along the wires under the seats where the hats are stuck. The house comes to tumultuous attention. He speaks, rolls his eyes, compresses his lips, and it is all over. You are a life member of the Al Jolson Association. He trembles his under lip, and your heart breaks with a loud snap. He sings, and you totter out to send a night-letter to your mother.”

The following July, Al and Ethel, saying they were going to Paris “for a second honeymoon”, sailed for Cherbourg on the Leviathan. Two weeks later Ethel returned to New York on her own aboard the Berengia - she had secretly gone to court in Paris and obtained a divorce on the grounds of desertion. Al returned to New York a week later on the Leviathan. Al and Ethel both denied to the Press that there had been a divorce. Al said: “Just a little quarrel that meant nothing.”
Ethel said: “A lot of blah. I’m Al’s wife, and will continue to be his wife, time without end.” The decree was granted three months later. Al let Ethel keep the Scarsdale home till the early thirties but she became a helpless alcoholic. He later put her in a nursing home in Amityville, New York.

In Atlantic City, the winner of a Charleston contest, judged by Al Jolson and George Jessel, was a pretty blonde dancer named Ruby Stephens. Jolson invited her to spend a weekend with him but she turned him down, deciding to stick to her career and become an actress. She also decided to change her name to Barbara Stanwyck.
Jolson: “What right have I got asking a woman to understand a goofy feller like me?”

In April 1927, Al’s elder sister, Rose, came with two of her daughters to see him at the Apollo Theatre, Atlantic City, and became too ill to leave her hotel bedroom. Al wasted no time in calling two physicians and the early diagnosis of cancer helped to save her life. Two weeks later Jolson’s father and stepmother graciously accepted the house he bought for them in the posh area of Washington. It was a reluctant move - they left behind a lot of fond memories at the old apartment. Jolson explained in an interview: “I yanked them out by main force and set them up in a swell dump, four doors from the White House. Got a music room and everything. I told them: ‘There’s just one thing. You can’t keep coal in the music room.’”

Samson Raphaelson was at the University of Illinois when he first met Jolson backstage after a performance of Robinson Crusoe. Stirred by a feeling that Jolson had the spirit of a Cantor in him, he wrote the story ‘The Day of Atonement’. The story tells of a Jewish boy who ran away from his home in the Ghetto, became a Broadway idol, and returned home on the eve of the Day of Atonement to sing Kol Nidre in the synagogue in answer to the pleadings of his dying father. Raphaelson turned the story into a play and when it opened as The Jazz Singer at Stamford, Conn., in July 1925 starring George Jessel, Jolson told Samson: “Son, if there’s anything I can do to make this show a success, just say the word. If it flops, I’ll put my own money into it to keep it alive.”
Jolson had also mentioned to Sam Warner his interest in the story.

In between starring in The Jazz Singer on Broadway and going on tour with the play in the fall of 1926, George Jessel made a successful silent comedy for Warners called Private Izzy Murphy.
On 20 April, 1926,
Warner Bros. and Western Electric had joined forces to form the Vitaphone Corporation to make sound films. The sound was first recorded on disk and synchronised with the action. The new Vitaphone process was first used to make sound films of leading vaudeville and concert artists, and in the following September, Jolson appeared in a Vitaphone short film with sound called Al Jolson in A Plantation Act. Appearing in blackface, a big straw hat doing a brief monologue, he sang three songs. No one thought that sound films were here to stay.

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