Sunday, August 27, 2023

Al Jolson: The Self-Billed "World's Greatest Entertainer"

This is a look at the life, stage, and film work of Al Jolson. There is no question that he used Blackface make-up, and that will be mentioned in relation to Jolson and other actors on both the legitimate stage and in motion pictures within the historical context as it relates to this blog's stated history goal. 



Because we are dealing with both Yiddish and Russian records, there are inconsistencies in Al Jolson's birth records. To begin with, depending upon the sources, he was born either as Eizer Asa Yoelson, or just Asa Yoelson, because Eizer is his included Yiddish birth name. It should also be noted that his last name in Russia would have been spelled in English and pronounced Zaelson.

The date of his birth becomes problematic also, as no birth records exist. According to Jolson, he was born on May 26, 1886, but in that year the Western (Gregorian Calendar) and the Russian (Julian Calendar) were not in alignment as they are now. Therefore, while Jolson gives us May 26th, if that was his Julian Calendar birth date, it would be June 7, 1886, on the Gregorian Calendar. 

There is no question that he was born in the Jewish Village of Srednike, in the spoken language of the village, Yiddish, it was called סרעדניק. The village was part of Kovno Governorate, of the Russian Empire, and was near the second largest city in the current country of Lithuania.

Asa was the fifth and youngest son of Nechama "Naomi, Etta" Cantor, ---

--- and her husband, Moshe "Moses" Ruben Yoelson. 

His four-siblings were Rose, Etta, another sister who died in infancy and whose name appears unknown, and an older brother, Hirsch.

From 1881 into 1882, Moses and Nechama had experienced the second set of Russian Pogroms against the Jewish population within the Empire. More than 200 events of Antisemitism were recorded and ignored by the ruling Romanov family. 

By 1891, Moses Yoelson had enough of the Russian Empire, and like many others in his and other Jewish communities. He left Nechama and the children in Srednike and traveled to the United States and New York City. He was soon qualified as both a Rabbi and Cantor within the New York City Jewish community, but without a study position at a synagogue and kept looking. 

It took Moses three-years, until 1894, to build-up enough money to bring his family from the continuing antisemitism of the Russian Orthodox Church, that was attempting to convert Jews to Christianity, and the non-Jewish peasants that looked down upon them. 

My reader need only watch a version of the 1964 musical, "Fiddler on the Roof", to very basically understand the situation for Jews in the Russian Empire. The musical is based upon the personal experiences of author Sholem Aleichem growing up in Czarist Russia. Which he wrote about in a series of Yiddish stories, between 1894 and 1914, under the title, "Tevye (or Tevye the Dairy Man) and His Daughters".

By that year of 1894, Moses Yoelson had found full-time work as a Cantor at "The Talmud Torah Congregation", in the Southwest Water Front, Yiddish, District of Washington, D.C. 

On April 9, 1894, the rest of the Yoelson family arrived at the Port of New York, as steerage passengers, on the S.S. Umbria

1895 was not the best of years for Asa Yoelson. His mother would pass away at the start of the year, some sites give the year as 1894, but in either case no month or date is given. Her age at the time of her death is stated as 37, which could be younger, or older, as her birth year is given as circa 1858. 

The fact here, is that Asa became deeply depressed. What might seem strange for a Jewish boy, for the next seven-months, he found help in Boston, Massachusetts's, at the Catholic run, "Saint Mary's Industrial School for Boys", which was both an orphanage and a boarding school.

There is a story I have found repeated, that it was banjo playing vaudevillian, Al Reeves, that was the influence on Asa, to become an entertainer. There is a problem though with the details of the story, and I will illustrate it first by quoting the website "Wikipedia", 
Reeves made his only known recordings with Columbia Records and Edison Records from 1891 and 1893, and around the same time had an inadvertent influence on the young Al Jolson's interest in show business.

My reader should have figured out the problem with "around the same time", in this quote.

We know that, based upon Al Jolson's stated birthdate, seven-years-old, Asa, and his family did not arrive in the United States until April 1894. Asa could have seen Reeves later, on the vaudeville stage, but this would have been after his seven-months at "Saint Mary's", or heard his recordings, possibly at "Saint Mary's", and that was the "inadvertent influence", without Asa actually ever seeing Reeves. However, that isn't made clear in the above quote, or others I have read.

To further illustrate the Al Reeves story, it changes slightly, on the "PBS" website, "Broadway the Stars",
Seeing his mother in her death throes traumatized young Asa, and he spent much of his life struggling with that trauma. After her death, he remained withdrawn for seven months until he met Al Reeves, who played the banjo, sang, and introduced him to show business. 
What is common in all the stories is there is no mention of the exact when, or where Asa Yoelson met Al Reeves. Presuming that his mother's death was in early 1895, around either April, or May. Then his meeting with Reeves should be around November, or December 1895.  

However, there are dating problems with the "PBS" article also. It gives no specific birth date for Asa, and instead states that:
Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in Seredzius, Lithuania, sometime between 1883 and 1886. 

 Later in the article:

 At age nine, Asa and his older brother Hirsch changed their names to Al and Harry, 

If Asa was born in 1883, he would have been 9-years-old in 1892, but if he was born in 1886, as Al Jolson mentioned, he would be 9-years-old in the crucial year of 1895. I bring this up, because of the confusion researchers have with Al Jolson's youth as Asa Yoelson.

One last bit of confusion comes from this quote dated August 17, 2016, on the website "LIHearld",,82704

Al Reeves, known as the "King of Burlesque" introduced Hirsh and Asa to show business in 1894.

Which again is the year they came to the United States and according to that article, three-years later, in 1897, the following took place. 

Asa and Hirsch, changed their names to better fit into America. 

From all my reading, there is little doubt that Hirsch became Harry, and the spelling of their last name was changed from Yoelson to Joelson. However, every article I have read, seems to clearly state that Asa became Al. However, if one reads the article at:, One is left with the idea that Asa first became Albert, before shorting it to the nickname of Al. More later in this article.

The newly named brothers found themselves singing on Washington, D.C., street corners for tips and using the money to go to the Yiddish, 
"National Theater", watching the stage shows that included William Shakespeare translated into Yiddish. 

Above, teenage Al Joelson.

Al's voice was starting to change and he began whistling, which would become one of his trademarks, as the boys continued singing on corners of Washington, D.C.'s streets. Apparently during this time, Harry ran off and joined the Yiddish Theatre. 

However, according to a January, 1949, article in "Esquire Magazine", by Maurice Zolotov, that was condensed in "Reader Digest",

After serving as a drummer boy for a Pennsylvania regiment during the Spanish-American War, Asa ran off with a circus as a singer for $5 a month. The circus stranded him in Baltimore and he stayed there for six months. His father traced him and brought him back, but by now the boy was determined to be a vaudeville actor. 

It should be noted that the "Spanish American War" was from Monday, April 25, to Friday, August 12, 1898. The article does not say how Al Joelson got to Pennsylvania from Washington, D.C., or why he joined the regiment.

However, Al and Harry came together once more in 1899, in D.C.'s, Yiddish theater, as "The Hebrew and the Cadet".

Above, standing is Harry Joelson, and seated is Al Joelson.

Apparently, Al Joelson also went to work in 1902 for the Walter L. Main Circus as an usher, but his singing got him moved into the "Indian Medicine" sideshow. This lasted through the year until Walter Main decided to close down and reorganize.


Al and Harry were now working through the William Morris Agency, and they teamed-up with long-time vaudevillian, Joe Palmer, to create a variety act for the vaudeville circuit. Harry and Al now made another name change, they dropped the "E" in their last names and became Harry and Al Jolson.

Al also found work in 1903, in the "Dainty Duchess Burlesquers", but that show closed at year's end. 

Joe Palmer
was able to get the three bookings and tour the United States, but vaudeville was starting to face a new enemy, "The Nickelodeons". The word came partly from the "Nickel", the coin of admissions, and the Greek word "Odeion", meaning a roofed-over-theater. 

In 1904,  possibly from a suggestion by Joe Palmer, Al Jolson first wore "Blackface", at a Brooklyn, New York Theater. This brought him a large audience response, and he made the decision to use it in all his performances. 

While, in Chicago, also in 1904, according to Edward A. Robinson, in his 1982, "The Pekin: The Genesis of American Black Theater", about the first black owned legitimate theater, "The Pekin". One of the performers in the theater's repertory company was Arthur Wilson. 

My reader may know him by his nickname of "Dooley" Wilson, the piano player, "Sam", in 1942's, "Casablanca", seen below with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.


It was at "The Pekin" that Arthur Wilson got that nickname of "Dooley". This was the result of his singing, what became his signature song throughout his career, "Mr. Dooley". Which was about an Irish man of that name. Wilson sang "Mr. Dooley", with a fake Irish accent, and in "Whiteface". 

In 1905, Harry and Al started to break-up over an argument about caring for Joe Palmer, who was confined to a wheel chair. By 1906, Al and Joe agreed to separate and Al Jolson was on his own. He became a regular at both the Globe and Wigwam theaters in San Francisco and was working the "Sullivan and Considine" vaudeville circuit in the Western United States, billed as "The Blackface with the Grand Opera Voice".

Above the Globe Theater after silent movies came into being and below the Wigwam Theater.

While at the same time in the Eastern United States, Harry Jolson, billed as "The Operatic Blackface Comedian", was on the "Keith" and "William Morris" vaudeville circuits. 

During 1906, twenty-years-old Al Jolson, met nineteen-years old dancer, Henrietta Keller, the couple would be married on September 20, 1907, and remain married until their divorce on June 26, 1919. The following undated photo, appears to be the only known one of the two.

In 1908, Jolson needed more income to support his wife and himself and moved back to New York City. 

Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. offered Al a small role in his follies, but was turned down. However, in 1909, Al Jolson's singing caught the ear of Lew Dockstader, who offered him a role in his "Dockstader Minstrels", and he accepted. 

Above, Al Jolson and the "Dockstader Serenaders"

According to the above mentioned "Esquire Magazine" article, J.J. Shubert, of the three Shubert Brothers, heard Al Jolson singingand he hired him for their new production, "La Belle Paree", at "The Winter Garden Theatre", with lyrics by Jerome Kern.

Above left to right, J.J. (Jacob J.), Lee, and Sam Shubert.


Above a scene from the production, Al Jolson is seen in blackface, six from the right.

According to the French website, "Bruxellons! - Histo des musicals",

"La Belle Paree" was supposed to follow an heiress in Paris, but in reality it was more of a series of vaudeville sketches. Al Jolson portrayed Southern Aristocrat "Erastus Sparkler", in blackface, with a southern accent, but he was deliberately avoiding any stereotypical racial mannerism. 

According to the article, Jolson had a strong vocal ability to project to the upper most back seats of the 1,533 seat "Winter Garden", at a time when microphones did not exist. Additionally, he would improvise his own versions of Jerome Kern's lyrics to improve his performance. Both leading the Shubert's to rearrange the show around him. When the run finally ended, after 104 performances, Al Jolson was a Broadway star.

The next Shubert production, "Vera Violetta", ran for 112 performances. French singer, and actress Gaby Desyls, born Marie-Elise-Gabrielle Caire, was the headliner, but it was Jolson that received the loudest applause and had the audience asking him for more. 

As a result, before the next production, Al Jolson was in the position to request some changes to the theater and "The Shubert's" agreed. They created a path from the stage to the back of the lower level, by taking planks and covering seats. The show was entitled "Whirl of Society", also with Gaby Desyls, and would run for 136 performances. It was on this production, after each performance ended, that Al Jolson, using the planks to move throughout the audience, first used what became his catch line:
You ain't heard anything yet!

Then, he'd go into more songs to each audience's delight. 

The following sheet music, with words by AL JOLSON, was a major seller, just because his name was on it.

Next, Al Jolson and Gaby Deslys, appeared at "The Winter Garden", in 1913's, "The Honeymoon Express". One major difference now was reflected on all the posters for the Shubert's production:

Above, Jolson surrounded by the chorus girls for the 156 performances. 

During this production, another Al Jolson signature move took place. While singing "YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU, I Didn't Want To Do It", he dropped to his knees 

Al Jolson was touring with the 1914 "Winter Garden" production, "Dancing Around", in December, 1915, the show was in Washington, D.C., and President Woodrow Wilson was to attend on Friday night. Al sent his father two front row tickets to that show for his father and his second wife.

The curtain came up, and Al Jolson walked on stage to thunderous applause, but he only saw the two empty front row seats. 

Quoting the "Bruxdellons!" article:

A few days later, he asked his father, Rabbi Yoelson , for an explanation . His father reminded him that the performance was on the eve of Shabbat, the evening when a rabbi was to be at the temple. Al replied that his father could have made an exception, saying, " I was singing for the President ." Papa Yoelson replied quietly, " I was singing for God ." But maybe Al Jolson took himself for a God...

Below Al Jolson and his father.

Al Jolson's salary was now $2,000 a week. That amount may seem low in 2023 at this writing, but if I adjust it for inflation, Jolson would be making $61,138 a week.

The above song was introduced by Al Jolson in "The Winter Garden Theatre" musical, "Sinbad", the opened on February 14, 1918, and ran for 164 performances. 

Since 1918's, "Sinbad", the following are just a small selection of those who have sang/recorded "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody":

recorded it on December 20, 1932, accompanied by "Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians".
Dean Martin on April 28, 1950.
Jerry Lewis,
Martin's partner, in 1956.
Judy Garland in 1955, and 1960 for different albums.
Brenda Lee in 1959.
Connie Francis in 1959.
Aretha Franklin
in 1961.
Sammy Davis, Jr.
in 1966.
Nat King Cole,
date unknown,

The following year, as I previously mentioned, Al Jolson and Henrietta Keller divorced. 

Also, in 1919, Al Jolson introduced, to the on-going production of "Sinbad", a new song composed by George Gershwin, with words (lyrics) by I. Caesar. It would become Gershwin's first hit and a standard for Jolson.

Jolson would add another song to the show, it was composed by Walter Donaldson, with lyrics by the writing team of Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis. The song became a recognized standard for Al Jolson, but the song would also become a recognized standard for racial stereotyping.

While Al was now both a major Broadway and International star. Harry Jolson struggled, still in vaudeville, with the humiliation of now being billed as "Al Jolson's brother Harry".


Above, Harry Jolson and his wife Lillian.

Located in midtown Manhattan was the Shubert owned "New Century Theatre". The Shubert brothers renamed it, "Jolson's 59th Street Theater", and it first opened under that name, October 6, 1921, for their musical, "Bombo", which would run for 213 performances.


Two major Al Jolson songs are found in the score for "Bombo": 

"April Showers" was written by Buddy DeSylva with music by Louis Silvers. 

The lyrics for "California, Here I Come" were written by Jolson and DeSylva, with music by Joseph Meyer.


"Bombo" was a major success, on the first night's performance, Al Jolson took 34-curtain-calls. In March 1922, he moved the entire production to the much larger, "Century Theater", and held a one-night benefit performance for the "Jewish War Veterans of the First World War". That organization, the "JWV", had been created at the end of the American Civil War.

On August 18, 1922, Al Jolson married actress/singer Ethel Delmar (Alma Osborne), and she accompanied her husband as he toured the United States for "Bombo". They would divorce on April 12, 1926. Below, Ethel around 1921.

On May 15, 1924, Al Jolson's countrywide tour of "Bombo" returned to "The Winter Garden". The "New York Times" on that date, wrote:

He returned like the circus, bigger and brighter and newer than ever.... Last night's audience was flatteringly unwilling to go home, and when the show proper was over, Jolson reappeared before the curtain and sang more songs, old and new.

Over at "Daly's 63rd Street Theatre", an 18-years-old singer/actress/comedian named Freda Josephine McDonald was starting her career her name would change to Josephine Baker. At the same time, what appeared to be Al Jolson's final Broadway production was being written.

The following is from my article, "Josephine Baker: A Strong Woman of Color, Entertainer, Freedom Fighter, Civil Rights Activist and Role Model", found at:

In 1924 Josephine was part of the chorus in "The Chocolate Dandies". The show opened on September 1, 1924 and ran through November 22, 1924 for 96 performances. In what was a set up for the audience. Josephine was the last girl in the chorus line and acted as if she couldn't remember the dance number, but when the encore started. Baker not only knew the dance, but went into extremely complex dancing moves for that year.


Above Josephine Baker, as shown in the program for "The Chocolate Dandies". She is billed as both "That Comedy Chorus Girl" and "A Deserted Female". At the time of this production, according to her step son Jean-Claude, his step mother was:
The highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville.
An yes, she is wearing blackface make-up in this publicity photo for the show. The wearing of blackface, by Black performers, for White audiences, started with the inventor of tap dancing, William Henry Lane, known as "Master Juba", in the mid-1840's.

The practice used by White performers, such as Al Jolson in the, so-called, first talking motion picture, 1927's, "The Jazz Singer", was criticized by such prominent men as Fredrick Douglas. Yet, Negro Minstrel shows continued to use blackface, themselves, for white audiences. Which did not help to prevent racial stereotyping.
Appearing in "The Chocolate Dandies" had not been the first time Josephine Baker had worn blackface. According to some sources Freda wearing blackface as a street dancer was one of the complaints her mother, Carrie, had with the girl over becoming an entertainer.

On January 7, 1925, "Big Boy" opened at "The Winter Garden", because "Al Jolson's 59th Street Theatre" had another stage play there. 

After the last performance of "Big Boy", Al Jolson retired from the stage for several years.


To set the stage for the on-screen Al Jolson, a small history of the movies.

When we think of white actors portraying African-Americans in the motion picture industry, the name of David Wark Griffith, immediately comes to mind and his 1915, "The Birth of a Nation". For those of my readers interested in the director. My article is "D.W. Griffith: 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915) and 'Abraham Lincoln' (1930):The Odyssey of a Kentucky Born Motion Picture Innovator", at:

If I mentioned the name Noble Johnson, the majority of my readers would have no idea who he was, but if I mentioned he portrayed the "Native Chief of Skull Island", in producer Merian C. Cooper's, 1933, "King Kong", their answer would be different. The following quotation is from my article, "Noble Johnson African-American Pioneer Actor", found at:

It was either 1915, or 1916 (the year varies depending upon the article). When Noble Mark Johnson founded "The Lincoln Motion Picture Company". The first all black motion picture business with the goal to fight  racial stereotypes by showing Black Americans as they really were.

Above is the only picture I could locate of "The Lincoln Motion Picture Company". Noble Johnson stands over the others in the middle of the picture.

During the silent era, because of the film-stock used by some companies, Noble Johnson actually played white roles, but he is most known for his portrayals of Native-Americans, such as the "Warrior Chief, Red Shirt",  below, in director John Ford's, 1949, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".


There is a belief that Al Jolson's, first on-screen appearance was in 1927's, "The Jazz Singer", that is incorrect. Jolson had started one feature length motion picture in 1922, but he didn't complete it. However, he did make two short subjects before that alleged ground breaking motion picture and the second had him singing and speaking.

The motion picture that was never completed, according to Jay Douglas Steinmetz, in his 2017, "Beyond Free Speech and Propaganda: The Political Development of Hollywood, 1907-1927", was to have been 1922's, "His Darker Self". Al Jolson was cast in the lead, but he dropped out of the motion picture. He believed that making a motion picture would endanger his stage career.

Steinmetz states that the 55-minute silent film was started in 1922, but after Jolson dropped out, production was cancelled. The story would be filmed by a different director, and with a different writer in 1924, starring blackface actor and comedian Lloyd Hamilton.

IMDb implies the footage shot with Al Jolson was turned into a short film1923's, "Mammy's Boy". Someone must have released that footage using the Arthur Caeser title, seen on the above poster. What makes this footage more interesting is that according to IMDb, it was directed and written by D.W. Griffith, without mentioning Arthur Caesar.

"Warner Brothers" studio was experimenting with a sound system called "Vitaphone". The system was acquired when the studio purchased "Western Electric's Bell Laboratories" in New York City.

The first "Vitaphone" motion picture took the silent "Don Juan", released on August 6, 1926, starring John Barrymore, and adding synchronized sound effects and a musical score. The feature played as a silent movie everywhere, except in New York City, at the only movie theater, the "Warners' Theatre", equipped with the "Vitaphone System". "Don Juan" would be followed with synchronized music and sound effects by 1926's, "The Better Ole", and in 1927, prior to "The Jazz Singer", "When a Man Loves", "Old San Francisco", and "The First Auto", with some accidently picked-up spoken words, laughing, and cheering. 

However, prior to the release of the Sydney Chaplin, First World War comedy, "The Better Ole", on October 23, 1926, was Al Jolson's second short subject.

"A Plantation Act", released on October 7, 1926, was actually Al Jolson's first sound film appearance. It was a ten-minute "Vitaphone" short subject from "Warner Brothers". The short-had Jolson singing three songs in blackface. They were, "When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along)", "April Showers", and "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody".

"A Plantation Act" was considered lost and "The Jazz Singer" became, to film historians, many who didn't know the short existed, newspaper reviewers, and the general public, the first sound film with synchronized dialogue and music. 

However, a copy of the 1926 short was located without sound in "The Library of Congress". Next, a broken into four-parts, "Vitaphone" sound disc, was located and with careful work by the "UCLA Film Archives", "A Plantation Act" was reconstructed. 

The following link takes my reader to the "Public Domain" version of "A Plantation Act". It contains improvised dialogue by Al Jolson. Which is superior to what is found in 1927's, "The Jazz Singer".

THE JAZZ SINGER released on October 6, 1927

The motion picture was directed by Alan Crosland. Crosland started directing feature films with the 1917, feature length silent version of Scottish author Robert Lewis Stevenson's, "Kidnapped". For "Warner Brothers" he directed the synchronized sound films, 1926's, "Don Juan", and both 1927's, "When a Man Loves", and "Old San Francisco", before "The Jazz Singer". He would return to silents with 1928's, "Glorious Betsy", starring Dolores Costello

The original story was by Samson Raphaelson, entitled, "The Day of Atonement". Having seen Jolson in "Robinson Crusoe, Jr.", while on tour in Champaign, Illinois, was Raphaelson's inspiration to write the short story based on Al Jolson's life, turning him into the character of "Jakie Rabinowitz". Later, Samson Raphaelson, turned his published story into a play, "The Jazz Singer". The successful Broadway play had a run of 303 performances.

The play was turned into a motion picture screenplay by Alfred A. Cohn. He had just turned the Broadway comedy horror mystery, "The Cat and the Canary", into a motion picture screenplay. Cohn followed this picture with a pure horror story, 1927's, "The Gorilla".

Title cards, remember this was still basically a silent movie, are by Jack Jarmuth

Al Jolson portrayed "Jakie Rabinowitz" aka: "Jack Robin". 

May McAvoy portrayed "Mary Dale". May Irene McAvoy had 3rd-billing portraying "Esther", in 1925's, "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ". May was the 1923 Rose Parade Queen, in 1929, she married banker Maurice Cleary and didn't work again until their divorce in 1940. The two remarried in 1971.

Warner Oland portrayed "Cantor Rabinowitz". Swedish born Oland started on-screen acting in 1912, in 1925, he portrayed "The Arch Duke", in the Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Astor, "Don Q Son of Zorro", and in 1926, he co-starred in John Barrymore's, "Don Juan". However, Warner Oland portrayed British author Sax Rohmer's Chinese villain "Fu Manchu" in two sound films in 1929 and 1930. Next, between 1931 and 1937, the actor portrayed Hawaiian-Chinese detective "Charlie Chan".

Eugenie Besserer portrayed "Sara Rabinowitz". Eugenie Besserer first appeared on-screen as "Aunt Em", in the 1910 short subject, "The Wizard of Oz". Her last role was in 1933's, "To the Last Man", a western starring Randolph Scott.

There is no doubt that certain parts of Al Jolson's life are in the screenplay of "The Jazz Singer". There is the friction between Al and his father Cantor Yoelson, reflected between "Jackie" and "Cantor Rabinowitz". The character of "Mary Dale" is very close to Jolson's second wife, Ethel Delmar. Of course, you have the young Orthodox Jewish "Jackie", leaving the traditions of his Cantor father to become a "Jazz Singer". Al Jolson was both a dynamic Jazz and Blues singer. The main difference in the screenplay is that "Jackie's" mother is alive.

The Basic Story Line: 

All the following quoted dialogue are on title cards and not spoken on the "Vitaphone" process.

Above, 13-years-old, "Jakie", portrayed by Bobby Gordon, has been whipped by his father, because he was caught singing jazz and not traditional songs to follow in his father's footsteps. "Jakie" runs away and the audience sees the Jewish High Holiday, "Yom Kippur", at the synagogue. "Cantor Rabinowitz" tells a fellow celebrant of the service that:
My son was to stand at my side and sing tonight—but now I have no son.
"Jakie" sneaks back to the house and steals a picture of his mother.

The screenplay moves forward ten-years, "Jakie Rabinowitz" has changed his name to the more acceptable American name of "Jack Robin". "Jack" is at an upscale cabaret and is asked to perform a song, the "Jazz Singer", performs "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face", from Jolson's "Bombo", and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie".

In the audience is a dancer named "Mary Dale", who tells "Jack" that:
There are lots of jazz singers, but you have a tear in your voice.


"Mary" will help "Jack" with his career and the two fall in love. With his career on the rise, he has the lead in the Broadway production, "April Follies", "Jack/Jakie" returns home to explain his point of view and reconnect with his father. However, to his mother's shock, his father replies:
I never want to see you again—you jazz singer!


Just before he leaves, "Jakie" tells the father that he loves:

I came home with a heart full of love, but you don't want to understand. Someday you'll understand, the same as Mama does.



Two-weeks later, and 24-hours before the opening night of the "April Follies", "Cantor Rabinowitz" is gravely ill. "Jack" is asked to sing "Kol Nidre" for "Yom Kippur" in his father place, but the service is on the opening night of the show.

Lying in his bed, weak and gaunt, "Sara's" husband tells her:
My son came to me in my dreams—he sang Kol Nidre so beautifully. If he would only sing like that tonight—surely, he would be forgiven.

Before the dress rehearsal for "April Follies", "Jack" and "Mary" are discussing his career and the family pressure being put upon him.

His mother and one of the leaders of the synagogue that "Jakie/Jack" knows, "Moisha Yudelson", portrayed by Otto Lederer, enter his dressing room. The two plead with "Jack/Jakie" to come back to his father and sing on "Yom Kippur" for him. "Jack" is now torn between faith and stage.

 His mother and "Moisha" go out into the audience seats during rehearsal, and hears "Jakie" sing "Mother of Mine, I Still Have You". 

"Sara Rabinowitz" tells "Moisha Yudelson":

Here he belongs. If God wanted him in His house, He would have kept him there. He's not my boy anymore—he belongs to the whole world now.

After the dress rehearsal, "Jack" return to the "Rabinowitz" house and kneels beside his father. As the two speak as father and son, the "Cantor" tells the "Jazz Singer":

My son -- I love you!

His mother suggests that if he sang "Kol Nidre", it might heal his father. 

"Mary" and the producer of the "April Follies" appear at the house and the producer warns him that he will never work on Broadway, if he doesn't appear opening night. Again, "JACK" and "JAKIE" are torn over what he should do?

"Mary" challenges him:

Were you lying when you said your career came before everything?

He replies that:
I haven't sung Kol Nidre since I was a little boy.

His mother counters:

Do what is in your heart, Jakie—if you sing and God is not in your voice—your father will know.

While the producer adds:

You're a jazz singer at heart!

On opening night, at the theater, the audience is told there will be no performance that night. As he lies on his death bed, "Cantor Rabinowitz" listens to his son sing "Kol Nidre" and as the song continues, he says:

Mama, we have our son again.
He passes away and his spirit sings with his son "Cantor Jakie Rabinowitz".

"Mary" has come to the synagogue and listens to her "Jack", who has reconciled with the division in his soul between faith and jazz, and "Mary" thinks:
a jazz singer—singing to his God.

The movie ends at the Broadway production of a show called the "Back Room" at "The Winter Garden". In the audience is "Jakie Rabinowitz's" mother and "Moisha Yudelson" in the front row. The billed "Jack Robin", in blackface, turns to the two, and "Jakie Rabinowitz" sings "My Mammy" directly to his mother.

Here I go again, destroying the mystique of 1927's, "The Jazz Singer". Al Jolson's next motion picture was the film that put "The Talkies" as a must for all motion picture companies around the world.

THE SINGING FOOL the "Sound Version" premiered in New York City on September 19, 1928

The "Sound Version" was really a hybrid, part-silent, part-talking motion picture, but in that version over three-fourths were sound with dialogue. Only approximately, one-fourth of "The Singing Fool" was without sound dialogue, but was with music on the "Vitaphone" disc. 

There was also a completely "Silent Version" with title cards and shorter in length, because the songs are not heard. My reader needs to understand, even after "The Jazz Singer, that many movie theater owners in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, still could not afford even the basic "Vitaphone" system. They still showed only all-silent-motion pictures in 1928, but that would quickly start to change

"The Singing Fool" was this motion picture that showed the power of talking feature films.

The final budget is listed at $388,000. While the worldwide box office was $5,280,000, when the average United States adult ticket price was 35 cents. As a result, the major United States studios stopped production of most silent movies and reshot sound segments

Two such examples were Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's version of French author Jules Verne's, "The Mysterious Island". The film, starring Lionel Barrymore, had been in production since 1926. The studio stopped filming and re-shot small sequences with sound dialogue and the final feature wasn't released until September 14, 1929. 

"Warner Brothers" was continuing changing already shot silents into part-talkies, such as the horror film, "The Terror", released on September 6, 1928, starring May McVoy, with an all-silent version released on October 28, 1928. Silents took longer, because of the editing of title cards into the shot film.

Below, a poster for a re-release of "The Singing Fool". 

The motion picture was directed by Lloyd Bacon. He had been an actor from 1915 to 1935, and the first film Bacon directed was a short in 1922, "The Speeder", that starred the previously mentioned Lloyd Hamilton with the director 4th-billed. In 1930, Lloyd Bacon directed John Barrymore is a version of author Herman Melville's, "Moby Dick", in 1933, it was the musical, "42nd Street", with 4th-billed, Ruby Keeler. In 1934, was another feature film starring Al Jolson, "Wonder Bar".

The screenplay by C. Graham Baker was based upon a short story by Leslie Burrows, who happened to be Baker. By his death in 1950, he had written 178-screenplays.

The title cards for both versions were written by Joseph Jackson, and he is also credited for the dialogue in both versions.

I wanted to mention the cinematographer on the motion picture, his name was Byron Haskin. Haskin became a motion picture director, and directed Walt Disney's, 1950, version of Scottish author Robert Lewis Stevenson's, "Treasure Island". Fans of 1950's science fiction know Haskin as a director for producer George Pal, on the 1953 version of British author H.G. Wells', "War of the Worlds", 1954's, "The Naked Jungle", and 1955's, "Conquest of Space". For my readers who may be interested, my article is, "Produced By GEORGE PAL, Directed By BYRON HASKIN: War of the World 1953, The Naked Jungle 1954, Conquest of Space 1955, The Power 1968", at:

Al Jolson portrayed "Al Stone".

Betty Bronson portrayed "Grace". In 1924, Bronson starred as British author J.M. Barrie's, "Peter Pan" in one of the first feature-length movies of the story. Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, had portrayed "Tiger Lily", and in 1925, Betty Bronson portrayed "Mary", in "Ben Hur".

Josephine Dunn portrayed "Molly Winton". In 1920, 14-years-old Dunn, at 5'6", became a chorus girl at "The Winter Garden". In 1926, she made her first motion picture, she was a leading actress in many silent films and made the transition to sound without difficulty. In 1930, she starred with Charles "Buddy" Rodgers in the romantic comedy musical, "Safety in Numbers", co-starring Carole Lombard.

Arthur Housman portrayed "Blackie Joe". He started on screen acting in 1912, and when his last film came out in 1941, Housman had 323-roles to his credit. He was one of the first, that was recognized by the motion picture going public, movie comedians, although he is forgotten today. He appeared mostly in comic roles with the occasional drama, or western. Housman was 5th-billed in the cast of the first screen version of playwright and mystery writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart's, "The Bat", in 1926. 

Davey Lee, billed as David Lee, portrayed "Sonny Boy". Lee was three-years-old and would make five more films. His second film was a deliberate play on this character's name, the 1929 comedy, "Sonny Boy", and Lee had first billing over Edward Everett Horton and Betty Bronson.

This is a tear-jerker with a lot of singing by Jolson. The following is the description from the "Turn Classic Movies", website,
Al Stone, a singing waiter at Blackie Joe's café, writes a hit song and becomes a Broadway star, marrying Molly Winton, an ambitious, underhanded soubrette. Molly eventually leaves Al and goes off with John Perry, a racketeer, taking their young son with her. Al becomes a derelict and sometime later returns to Blackie Joe's, where Grace, the loyal cigarette girl, inspires him to make a comeback. Al's son dies in a hospital, and Al, going on stage like a trouper, sings the boy's favorite song. The pain caused by his son's death is dulled with the passage of time, and he goes to California with Grace.

Of course, "Al Stone's" son's favorite song is the Lew Brown, B. G. DeSylva, and Ray Henderson's, "Sonny Boy". The first song from a motion picture to sell over one-million-records. Eventually, it would sell a three-million, combination of records, sheet music, and piano rolls.


Below, Brixton, London, England, "The Singing Fool", premiered in London, on November 9, 1928.

Her full name at birth was Ethel Hilda Keeler, but she was known by her nickname of Ruby. She was born on August 25, 1909. Her tap dancing, at the age of 13, got her a role in George M. Cohan's "The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly", at $45 a week. At the time the law required that she be at least, 16-years-old, to be in the chorus line of any Broadway production, she looked older, and no one asked any questions.

In 1928, she had the leading role opposite blackface comedian Eddie Cantor in "Whoopee!", but just before the Broadway opening, Ruby Keeler was replaced by Florenz Ziegfeld with Etta Shutta.

Keeler was sent to Los Angles by the publicity manager of the "Lowes" theater chain, Nils Granlund, to help in the marketing campaign for 1927's, "The Jazz Singer". There she met Al Jolson, and the two were married on September 21, 1928. Ruby was 19, based upon Jolson's stated date of birth, he was 42.

Al Jolson went from the top of the musical motion picture world with "The Singing Fool" to:

SAY IT WITH SONGS released on August 6, 1929.

The above date was for the sound version, there were no silent sequences without spoken dialogue that used title cards, making "Say It With Songs", Al Jolson's first All-Talking motion picture.

However, there were still a large amount of movie theaters that still had not converted to sound and a silent version using title cards was released by "Warner Brothers" on October 19, 1929.

Lloyd Bacon
was back as the pictures director.

There were three writers on the project, the primary, who also came-up with the original story was Daryl Francis Zanuck. Zanuck had been writing screenplays since 1922, and would have written 84-screenplays by his last one in 1969. He became a producer in 1925,  and co-produced with Hall Wallis, both 1931's, "Little Caesar" and "Public Enemy". Zanuck produced the first technicolor horror movie, 1932's, "Doctor X", starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, and the 1935 version of French author Victor Hugo's, "Les Misérables", starring Frederic March and Charles Laughton.  Moving forward, Zanuck was the executive in charge of the production of director Robert Wise's, 1951, "The Day the Earth Stood Still", and in 1962, Daryl F. Zanuck made his dream Second World War motion picture, "The Longest Day".

The other writer on the original story was Harvey Gates. Gates started writing scenarios and screenplays in 1913. Among his work is the screenplay for May McAvoy's, 1928, "The Terror", the Wallace Beery and Clark Gable's, 1931, "Hell Divers", later Gates wrote both Bela Lugosi's, 1942,"Black Dragons", and "The Corpse Vanishes".

The third writer was Joseph Jackson, who had to turn the sound version into the silent version and write the title cards. He also worked on 1928's, "The Terror", Jackson's 52-screenplays ended in 1932, but not before he wrote another for Al Jolson.

Al Jolson portrayed "Joe Lane".

Davey Lee
portrayed "Little Pal". David Lee, he had just been in the action adventure, 1929's, "Frozen River", starring with first billing, "Rin Tin Tin".

Marian Nixon, billed as Marion Nixon, portrayed "Katherine Lane". She had just been in the musical comedy drama, 1929's, "The Rainbow Man", and followed this film with 1929's, "In the Headlines".

Holmes Herbert portrayed "Dr. Robert Merrill". In 1931, he was "Dr. Lanyon", in director Rouben Mamoulian version of Scottish author Robert Lewis Stevenson's, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", starring Best Actor Academy Award winner Fredric March. In 1933, Holmes Herbert was the "Chief of Police", in director James Whale's version of British author H.G. Wells', "The Invisible Man", starring Claude Rains. In the 1940's, be was a regular in the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, "Sherlock Holmes" series, based of the works of British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Above, Marian Nixon, Davey Lee, and Holmes Herbert.

The screenplay was a little too much for viewers and critics to swallow and the film lost money. According to Edwin M. Bradley, in his 1996, "The First Hollywood Musicals: A Critical Filmography of 171 Features, 1927 Through 1932", the "Warner Brother Studio" owned, Los Angeles "Warners Theatre", pulled "Say It With Songs", 48-hours after it opened there.

Basically, "Joe Lane", a song writer and radio entertainer, learns the manager of the studio his show is broadcast from, has made improper advances toward his wife, "Katherine". He goes to the manager, "Arthur Phillips", portrayed by Kenneth Thomson billed as Kenneth Thompson, and a fight takes place between the two, accidently, "Phillips" is killed.

A trial takes place and "Joe" is sentenced to prison.

"Joe" wants "Katherine" to divorce him, and marry her employer "Dr. Merrill". Who he found out has feelings for her, but she refuses. The audience now sees "Joe" in prison.

Mordaunt Hall in "The New York Times", August 7, 1929, wrote:
Even the lines in some of Mr. Jolson's songs detract from their value, for his tuneful exhortation to a group of convicts is by no means inspiring.

Above right and below, is the sequence Mordaunt Hall is referring too.

"Joe" is released from prison and goes to see "Little Pal" at his school. After he leaves, unknown to "Joe", the boy follows him and is hit by a truck, causing paralysis of "Little Pals" legs and loss of his voice.

"Joe" goes to "Dr. Merrill", who proposed to "Katherine" and was politely declined by her, with "Little Pal". The doctor tells him he will operate on the boy's legs for FREE, IF "Joe" relinquishes "Little Pal" entirely to his mother's care, or he will charge him a very high fee for the operation. "Dr. Merrill", who thinks the surgery will bring "Katherine" to him, apparently is the only doctor that could perform the needed operation in the entire city. "Joe" at first refuses, but then agrees. "Dr. Merrill" performs the operation and restores the use of "Little Pal's" legs.

John Mosher of "The New Yorker", August 17, 1929, wrote about Al Jolson singing the song "Little Pal":
Even the fantastically happy ending, when the sound of his voice cures the child of aphasia, does not eradicate the general impression of dreary and specious tragedy.
The screenplay ends with "Joe", "Katherine", and "Little Pal", happily together again as a family.

On December 28, 1929, Al Jolson was seen in a cameo appearance as himself, in the Norma Talmadge, and Gilbert Roland, crime drama, "New York Nights". 

Below, a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Al Jolson circa 1930.

MAMMY released on March 26, 1930

The motion picture was directed by Michael Curtiz. Curtiz had been directing motion picture since 1912, two-years after "Mammy", he would direct the first two Technicolor horror movies, "Doctor X", and the "Mystery of the Wax Museum". However, most people know him for three motion pictures starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, 1935's, "Captain Blood" 1936's, "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and 1938's, "The Adventures of Robin Hood". Not to overlook 1942's, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", and "Casablanca".

The screenplay was based upon a play written by composer Irving Berlin. Who also wrote all the songs in both the play and motion picture. Of the fourteen songs in the film, the three most known are "Yes, We Have No Bananas", "Pretty Baby", and of course, "Mammy".

Al Jolson portrayed "Al Fuller".

Above, Al Jolson in one of the restored Technicolor sequences.

Lois Moran portrayed "Nora Meadows". In 1927, Moran had a short affair with married author F. Scott Fitzgerald. That affair caused Fitzgerald to change one of the male characters in his novel "Tender is the Night", into "Rosemary Hoyt", a mirror image of Lois Moran.

Lowell Sherman portrayed "Bill West/Westy". Sherman was one of the first actors to make the transition to director. One of Sherman's classic films as a director is Mae West's, "She Done Him Wrong", with an up-and-coming actor named Cary Grant.

Above, Lowell Sherman and Al Jolson.

Louise Dresser
portrayed "Mother Fuller". Dresser was born on October 5, 1878 and started out as a burlesque dancer and moved to vaudeville in 1900. By 1910, she was a major Broadway star, and in 1922, made her first motion picture. In 1925, Louise Dresser co-starred with Rudolph Valentino in "The Eagle". During the first "Academy Awards", Dresser was nominated for "Best Actress" in the 1928 motion picture, "A Ship Comes In", about immigrants to the United States. 

The story in minimal to make the Irving Berlin songs stand-out more and is set in a struggling Minstrel Show. Both "Al Fuller" and "Billy West" are in love with "Nora Meadows", the daughter of the owner of the "Merry Meadows Minstrels". "Jolson" entertains a local sheriff and convinces him to invest in the show and things seem to go better. A member of the cast, "Hank Smith/Tambo", portrayed by Mitchell Lewis, cheats at cards and is caught by "Al". He knows that during the performance "Al" shoots a pistol with blanks at "Westy". "Hank" puts in real bullets and "Al" kills "Westy". After the shooting, "Al" is arrested, but manages to take a freight train out of town. Later, "Smith" confesses and word is sent to "Al Fuller", who returns to the show and "Nora".

On April 20, 1930, the movie "Show Girl in Hollywood", opened and was filled with cameo's. Both Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler did a cameo appearance. Others included actor Noah Beery, and his son, Noah Berry, Jr., Walter Pidgeon, and Loretta Young.

On April 27, 1930, the motion picture version of the "Winter Garden Theatre" musical "Big Boy", premiered in London, England. It would get to the United States until September 11, 1930.

There were already filmed musical numbers cut from the picture, because the public seemed to be turning away from musical feature films and moving toward crime movies like Warner Oland's, "The Return of Fu Manchu", Lon Chaney's only talking movie, "The Unholy Three", the Wallace Beery and Chester Moris', "The Big House", the Ronald Coleman and Kay Francis, "Raffles", and the Lew Ayres and James Cagney (Who?), "The Doorway to Hell". 

The picture was advertised as a comedy. The final budget was put at $574,000, but the worldwide total box office was only $498,000.

FEBRUARY 1933 was a month Al Jolson will never forget. When the following movie was released, it has been two-years-and-nine-months since "Mammy".

HALLELUJAH I'M A BUM released on February 3, 1933

The stated director is Lewis Milestone, his previous four feature films, started with the previously mentioned, 1929, "New York Nights", 1930's, "Best Picture Academy Award" winning, "All Quiet on the Western Front", 1931's, "The Front Page", from the Broadway play by Ben Hecht, and Charles MacArthur, and nominated for three "Academy Awards", including "Best Picture", "Director" and "Actor", and the Joan Crawford and Walter Huston, 1932, "Rain", based upon the W. Somerset Maugham stage play.

The original story was by the previous mentioned playwright, Ben Hecht. His work includes the screen story for director Howard Hawks', original, 1932, "Scarface", and would include 1934's, "Viva Villa", director William Wyler's, 1939, version of British authoress, Emily Bronte's, "Wuthering Heights", 1947's, classic film-noir, "Kiss of Death", and the Italian production of "Ulysses", starring Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn.

Al Jolson portrayed "Bumper".

Madge Evans portrayed "June Marcher". Her first motion picture was "Shore Acres", released on October 24, 1914. In 1927, Evans went under contract with "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer", playing ingenue roles as she still was on stage.

Frank Morgan portrayed "Mayor John Hastings". Morgan was six-years away from his most widely known role, "Professor Marvel" aka: 1939's, "Wizard of Oz". Also in 1933, Frank Morgan was in the Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy, "Bombshell".

Harry Langdon portrayed "Egghead". Henry "Harry" Philmore Langdon was one of the great comedians of the silent era and transition into talkies. As a silent comedian he made 26-short films, and seven-feature films.

The story is about a New York City tramp who falls in love with a girl with amnesia, that he rescues from a suicide attempt, and turns out to be the mayor's girlfriend. 

According to Jeremy Arnold, in his "Turner Classic Movies", August 12, 2009:
Following the Warner Brothers feature Big Boy (1930), Al Jolson vanished from movie screens for nearly three years. When he finally did reappear, it was in perhaps the most offbeat and innovative film of his career: Hallelujah, I'm a Bum (1933). An enormous amount of time, money and effort went into the final product, including three directors, a massive reshoot, two scores and a major cast change. The result, costing an astronomical $1.25 million, wound up a box-office flop but is considered by many to be Jolson's best picture - even though Jolson himself called it his worst.

Above left to right, Harry Morgan, Edgar Connor portraying "Acorn". Connor was a dancer and singer vaudevillian who also appeared in Europe, and Al Jolson. Below is a scene from the colorized version of the motion picture.

Below, the happy couple in 1933, before the release of the next movie I want to mention.

Ruby Keeler Jolson was now appearing in a motion picture that would change the direction of her career.

42ND STREET premiered in Denver, Colorado, on February 23, 1933

The motion picture was directed by Lloyd Bacon, who replaced the ill originally signed Mervyn LeRoy.

The musical production numbers were by Busby Berkeley. He had just worked on the Eddie Cantor and Robert Young, 1932, "The Kid from Spain", all the following photos for "42nd Street", come from my article, "Busby Berkeley: Imagination In Dance On The Silver Screen", at:

Above left, first billed Warner Baxter portraying "Julian Marsh", with fourth billed Ruby Keeler portraying "Peggy Sawyer". Above right, ninth billed Dick Powell portraying "Billy Lawler", with second billed Bebe Daniels portraying "Dorothy Brock".

Above, Bebe Daniels, seventh billed Ginger Rodgers portraying "Ann Lowell", director Mervyn LeRoy, talked his "girlfriend" Rodgers into taking the roleand sixth billed Una Merkel portraying "Lorraine Fleming".

Producer "Julian Marsh" is working on a Broadway production staring "Dorothy Brock". In the chorus is "Peggy Sawyer", who becomes "Brock's" understudy, shortly before the show is to open, "Brock" breaks her ankle and "Peggy" goes on to stardom.

Below, three scenes from the grand finale musical production, "42nd Street", starring Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell.


Jack L. Warner now gave Ruby Keeler a long-term contract and she would never appear next, with fourth billing, in "Gold Diggers of 1933", released on May 26, 1933, starring Warren William and Joan Blondell, with musical production numbers by Busby Berkeley.

However, the question was now being asked, which direction was her husband's career going? 

WONDER BAR premiered in Miami, Florida, on February 18, 1934

This was the film version of the 1931 Broadway play and is set in a Parisian nightclub the "Wonder Bar". Al Jolson portrays "Al Wonder", the owner of the nightclub, who is in love with Latin dancer "Inez", portrayed by Dolores Del Rio. However, she is in love with "Harry", portrayed by Ricardo Cortez. That is one of the two main story plots, but the other is very serious and about "Captain Hugo Von Ferring", portrayed by Robert Barrat, a German army officer who lost everything in the stock market and wants to kill himself. Then you have minor stories going on with the patrons and employees of "Al Wonder's" bar.

Above, left to right, Ricardo Cortez, Dolores Del Rio, Al Jolson, Kay Francis portraying "Liane Renaud", the girl that "Harry" is "two-timing" "Inez" with, and Dick Powell portraying "Tommy".

The story actually is fill between the Busby Berkeley production numbers. The motion picture had an estimated budget of $675,000 and made the studio $2,035,000. 

However, there were two scenes that just made it past the Hays Censorship Office in this very risqué screenplay. My reader must remember this motion picture was still Pre-Production-Code, that finally after changes, went into effect on June 13, 1934.

One was the overly racial stereotyped, "blackface" minstrel show finale to the movie, "Goin' to Heaven on a Mule", with Al Jolson

In this still, Jolson also makes fun of his Jewish heritage with a newspaper written in Hebrew.

The other scene is with a couple dancing and a man walks up and asks if he can have a dance? The woman dancer thinks he's going to dance with her. Instead, he dances away with her male partner and observing this, "Al Wonder" says:
Boys will be boys

The Hollywood trade paper, "Variety", on March 6, 1934, had this to say about Al Jolson's performance in "Wonder Bar", and his apparent slipping at the box office with audiences.
Wonder Bar has got about everything. Romance, flash, dash, class, color, songs, star-studded talent and almost every known requisite to assure sturdy attention and attendance.... It's Jolson's comeback picture in every respect.

Vaudeville was dead in the United States by the next motion picture I want to mention. Harry Jolson was out of work and Al made his brother manager for Ruby and himself.

Between "Golddiggers of 1933" and that next feature film I want to mention, Ruby Keeler had appeared in 1933's, "Footlight Parade", starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, herself, and Dick Powell, 1934's, "Dames", with first billing, co-starring with her, were Dick Powell, and Joan Blondell, and "Flirtation Walk", starring Dick Powell, herself, and Pat O'Brien.

GO INTO YOUR DANCE released on April 20, 1935

"Warner Brothers" turned "Go Into Your Dance" into a major event. Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler together on-screen. In actuality it was designed to pump-up Al's declining career, "Variety" aside. Jolson was still a major draw outside of the United States, but the signs in the States were otherwise.

Al Jolson portrayed "Al Howard".

Ruby Keeler
portrayed "Dorothy 'Dot' Wayne.


Glenda Farrell portrayed "Molly Howard". On January 2, 1937, Farrell would first portray newspaper reporter, "Torchy Blane", in the movie, "Smart Blonde", the first in a series of nine movies through August 12, 1939.

Above, Glenda Farrell and a seated Ruby Keeler Jolson.

Barton MacLane, billed as Barton Mac Lane, portrayed "Duke Hutchinson". Talk about a varied on-screen  career, in 1936, he was in the Boris Karloff and Ricardo Cortez, "The Walking Dead", in 1937, he started co-starring with Glenda Farrell in the "Torchy Blane" series. 1941 was a big year for MacLane, he was featured in director Raoul Walsh's, "High Sierra", starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino, director Fritz Lang's, "Western Union", starring Robert Young and Randolph Scott, and director John Huston's, "The Maltese Falcon", starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. In 1944 he even showed up in "The Mummy's Ghost", and the overlooked and excellent, "Cry of the Werewolf".

Helen Morgan portrayed "Luana Wells". The great blues and torch singer Helen Morgan was in a rare motion picture appearance. In 1927, she had created the role of "Julie LaVerne", in the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's, "Show Boat", on Broadway. In 1936, she recreated the role in director James Whale's, yes the "Universal Picture's" horror film director, version of "Show Boat". That movie featured the great African-American singer, Paul Robeson, performing "Ol' Man River", and Helen Morgan singing both her signature song, "Bill", and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine". 

For this feature film, she is the UNCREDITED singer of "The Little Things You Used to Do".

My readers may like my article that covers the 1936, "Show Boat", "PAUL ROBESON Before 'Ol Man River' To After Joseph McCarthy 'The Artist Must To Elect Fight", at: 

Above, Theresa Harris portraying "Luana's Maid", and Helen Morgan.

Broadway Star "Al Howard" has a habit of walking out on hit shows. His sister "Molly" promises his agent that he will never do it again, but "Al" is band from Broadway and goes to Mexico. Tracking her brother down, "Molly" finds him on a drinking binge, "Molly" tells "Al' she done with him. However, "Molly" comes across "Dorothy" and asks her to form a team with "Al".

At first neither "Dorothy", or "Al" like the idea, but eventually they do team up. They become a major act in Chicago, and "Dorothy" has fallen in love with "Al", but thinks he's not in love with her. When it appears their going to break-up, "Molly" introduces her brother to "Duke Hutchinson", a gangster, who is willing to bring "Al's" dream of his own nightclub to life. "Duke" has one condition, the club must showcase his wife, "Luana Bell", a torch singer who wants to make a comeback and "Al" agrees. 

However, "Dorothy" warns "Al" of the danger of fliting with "Duke's" sister, "Luana", but he doesn't listen to the sound advice.

"Duke" now gives "Al' an additional $30,000 to open his club, but he uses it to post bound for his sister, "Molly", who had been arrested on suspicion of murder. What that murder was, I could not locate, even on the TCM website, that has the same, word for word, synopsis of the movie.

At the climax, a gunman was sent by "Duke" to kill "Al", for not accepting a proposal by "Luana". "Duke" can't find the gunman after learning why "Al" used the money. The gunman is about to shoot "Al",  but "Dorothy" steps in front of the man she loves, and is hit by a bullet. In the end he realizes he loves her.

Some say that the real-life Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler were part of the source for the characters of "Vicki Lester" and "Norman Maine" in 1937's, original "A Star is Born". Others say it was Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay. Mainly because the novel was written in 1935, the year of their divorce. On the other hand, look-up the 1932 motion picture, "What Price Hollywood?", that starred Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman. 

Also in 1935, Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler Jolson, adopted a seven-week-old boy, of Jewish and Irish parentage, that they named Al Jolson, Jr. 

Ruby's next motion picture was "Shipmates Forever", co-starring with Dick Powell, and released on October 12, 1935. It was followed by Ruby and Dick Powell appearing in "Collen", released on March 21, 1936.

While for Al, it was:

THE SINGING KID premiering on April 3, 1936

Look at the above actual newspaper ad, or the ad below, and my reader will notice that the times were changing for Al Jolson.

Both ads billed Cab Calloway over Al Jolson. Below, Blackface Al Jolson with Cab Calloway and His Red-Hot Harlem Band.

According to Cab Calloway, in his 1976, "Minnie the Moocher & Me":
I'd heard Al Jolson was doing a new film on the Coast, and since Duke Ellington and his band had done a film, wasn't it possible for me and the band to do this one with Jolson. Frenchy got on the phone to California, spoke to someone connected with the film and the next thing I knew the band and I were booked into Chicago on our way to California for the film, The Singing Kid. We had a hell of a time, although I had some pretty rough arguments with Harold Arlen, who had written the music. Arlen was the songwriter for many of the finest Cotton Club revues, but he had done some interpretations for The Singing Kid that I just couldn't go along with. He was trying to change my style and I was fighting it. Finally, Jolson stepped in and said to Arlen, 'Look, Cab knows what he wants to do; let him do it his way.' After that, Arlen left me alone. And talk about integration: Hell, when the band and I got out to Hollywood, we were treated like pure royalty. Here were Jolson and I living in adjacent penthouses in a very plush hotel. We were costars in the film so we received equal treatment, no question about it.

According to James Fisher's, 1994, "A Jolson: A Bio-bibliography":

The Singing Kid was not one of the studio's major attractions (it was released by the First National subsidiary), and Jolson did not even rate star billing.


For Ruby Keeler, it was starring in "Ready, Willing and Able", released on March 6, 1937. 

Next, both of the Jolson's appeared with other "Warner Brothers" contract players as themselves, in an 18-minute-short, "A Day at Santa Anita", starring child star, Sybil Jason, the "The Singing Kid", portraying "Peaches Blackburn". 

On August 13, 1937, Al Jolson found himself in another short subject. This was the 10-minute "Screen Snapshots Series 16, No. 12", shown before the feature films in a movie theater. The poster for this short read:

Another Delightful and Fascinating visit behind the scenes of the entertainment world.

Then both Mr. and Mrs. Al Jolson, appeared with other actors as themselves, in a 10-minute short, "Hollywood Handicap", also filmed at a favorite Hollywood hangout, the "Santa Anita" race track, and released on May 28, 1938.

It would be just 23-days-short-of-a-year later, before Al Jolson was seen on-screen once more. 


Without using the real names of Jewish gambler Nicky Arnstein, and Jewish "Ziegfeld Follies" comedian, Fanny Brice, that would happen with the 1964 Broadway musical, "Funny Girl". This movie was based directly upon their story.

Tyrone Power portrayed "Barton Dewitt Clinton". Power was just seen in the title role of "Jesse James". He would follow this motion picture with 1939's, "Second Fiddle" co-starring ice skater Sonja Henie.

Alice Faye portrayed "Rose Sargent". Faye was just in 1939's, "Tail Spin", co-starring Constance Bennett.

Al Jolson portrayed "Ted Cotter". 

"Ted Cotter", a successful Broadway minstrel, spots "Rose Sargent" performing at a vaudeville talent show. He takes a personal interest in "Rose" and he helps her become a rising star in the "Ziegfeld Follies".

"Ted" is having problems with his own act, from a box seat, "Whitey Bone", portrayed by Hobart Cavanaugh, very drunk, starts heckling "Ted". "Harry Rose", portrayed by William Frawley, both the manager for "Rose" and "Ted", thought it was part of an act and hired him to heckle "Ted" at every performance. 

Meanwhile, "Rose" does not recognize "Ted's" love for her, but has fallen for gambler "Bart Clinton". "Bart's" activities get him arrested, "Ted" puts up his bail, but "Bart" skips town on both "Ted" and "Rose".

"Rose" pines for the missing "Bart", who one night comes to the follies, and hears her sing "My Man", the real song by Fanny Brice about her love for Nicky Arnstein.

The screenplay ends with "Bart" realizing the errors of his life and is sentenced to five-years in prison. As the "Rose of Washington Square", says she will wait for him. 

While, "Rose of Washington Square" was a popular 1920's song, it was probably chosen, because one of Fanny Brice's signature songs was "Second Hand Rose". She also told Nicky Arnstein she would wait for him.

The movie is also a means for Al Jolson to sing some of his major songs, "Pretty Baby", "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody", "Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo' Bye')". "My Mammy", but "April Showers" was cut from the motion picture.

On October 13, 1939, "20th Century Fox" released "Hollywood Cavalcade". A pseudo-historical- drama, set first in 1913, within the silent film industry, and then showing the impact of 1927's, "The Jazz Singer". While telling the story of starlet "Molly Adair", portrayed by Alice Faye, and movie producer/director, "Michael Linnett Connors", portrayed by Don Ameche.

Above on the poster, one name is missing, and that is of Al Jolson, who portrays himself during a recreation of the filming of "The Jazz Singer", singing "Kol Nidre". About this time, Al fired Harry as his and Ruby's manager, increasing the tension between the brothers once more. Harry Jolson would become a very successful real estate salesman.

December, 1939, had three events influencing Al Jolson's life and career. 

The first event:

Was the most major, on December 26, 1939, Ruby Keeler filed for divorce. Al Jolson, Junior, would go with his mother, because he preferred her over his father Al Jolson, Senior. Ruby Keeler's divorce would be finalized in 1940. In 1941, she married businessman John Homer Lowe, and when Al Jolson, Jr. turned 14-years-of-age, he had his name changed to Albert Peter Lowe. 

The second event:

SWANEE RIVER premiered on December 29, 1939

This was the typical Hollywood fictional biography and in this case, that of composer "Stephen Foster", portrayed by Don Ameche, and Andrea Leeds portrayed "Jane McDowell Foster", his inspiration for the song "Jeanie with the Light Brown Eyes". 

Al Jolson portrayed "Edwin P. Christy", composer and founder of "Christy's Minstrels". His only song is Foster's, "Camptown Races".

The third event:

During 1939, Al Jolson was in the talking stages with producers George Hale, and Lee and J.J. Schubert, about a Broadway production entitled "Hold on to Your Hats". Ruby Keeler Jolson was also part of the talks, and was to star opposite of Al, but before the end of December, as mentioned, she had walked out on both her then husband and what would be Al’s last Broadway appearance.

From September 11, 1940 through February 1, 1941, "Hold on to Your Hats", starring Al Jolson, ran for 158-performances, at the "Sam S. Shubert Theatre".

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy bombed "Pearl Harbor", and the United States entered the Second World War.

In his, 1950, "The Real Story of Al Jolson", writer Martin Abramson, wrote:
... he dedicated himself to a new mission in life.... Even before the U.S.O. began to set up a formal program overseas, Jolson was deluging War and Navy Department brass with phone calls and wires. He requested permission to go anywhere in the world where there was an American serviceman who wouldn't mind listening to 'Sonny Boy' or 'Mammy'.... [and] early in 1942, Jolson became the first star to perform at a GI base in World War II.

In a interview with S. J. Woolf, for the "New York Times", September 27, 1942, entitled, "Army Minstrel", Al Jolson said:

When the war started ... [I] felt that it was up to me to do something, and the only thing I know is show business. I went around during the last war and I saw that the boys needed something besides chow and drills. I knew the same was true today, so I told the people in Washington that I would go anywhere and do an act for the Army.

Below, Jolson relaxing before another show for the soldiers.


The following is from fellow film historian, Alan Royale's, "Film Star Facts", at:

In June 1942, arrangements were made to send Jolson to Alaska via Seattle and Washington. He gave two performances in Anchorage, each for an audience of 1,500 men. ‘Each show lasted an hour’, he reported to Variety, ‘and I almost wore out the knees of my pants singing ‘Mammy’. He neglected to mention that the GIs were there because a rumor had spread through the camp that either Lana Turner or Dorothy Lamour was going to appear. When Al walked onto the stage and was greeted by a disappointed, deafening silence, he cracked a couple of jokes and then talked about home and what he thought of Hitler and Hirohito. Then he sang a few songs. By the time the show had concluded the audience had forgotten all about Lana and Dorothy. The man truly was a born showman.

It was during the Alaskan tour that a young soldier called out to him: ‘Kiss my wife for me when you get back to New York, will you, Al?’ ‘I’ll do better than that’, Jolson called back. ‘I’ll take her out to dinner. What’s her name?’ He wrote down the lady’s name and phone number, then asked: ‘Are there any more?’ He jotted down as many names and numbers as he could, promising to call each and every one of them when he got home. And he did, informing mothers, wives and girlfriends that their men were safe and sound. A lot of GI’s would remember him fondly for that.

Below, Al Jolson and the troops in a special sponsored by "Colgate",  January 19, 1943.

There are at least two stories about meeting his fourth wife in 1944. One simply states that Al Jolson was giving a show in a Military Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The other changes it slightly, and says that Jolson was recuperating from an illness he caught while entertaining the troops overseas. Whichever one is true, or perhaps neither, Al Jolson met X-Ray technologist, Erle Galbraith, they would marry on March 24, 1945, and the rest is history.

On June 26, 1945, in New York City, the Hollywood fictional biography of George Gershwin, portrayed by Robert Alda, "Rhapsody in Blue", premiered. Erle had talked her husband to appear as himself in the motion picture.

Look half-way down in the red section of the above poster, and my reader will see the name of Al Jolson.

Near the middle of 1946, at the "New York Friars Club", Mr. and Mrs. Jolson were in attendance to help honor singer, comedian, actress and radio personality, Sophie Tucker. According to comedian Alan King, in his 1997, book, "Name Dropping", the emcee for the event was comedian George Jessel, and he went off script and said:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the easiest introduction I ever had to make. The world's greatest entertainer, Al Jolson.
King continues:
The place is going wild. Jolson gets up, takes a bow, sits down ... people start banging with their feet, and he gets up, takes another bow, sits down again. It's chaos, and slowly, he seems to relent. He walks up onto the stage ... kids around with Sophie and gets a few laughs, but the people are yelling, 'Sing! Sing! Sing!'.... Then he says, 'I'd like to introduce you to my bride,' and this lovely young thing gets up and takes a bow. The audience doesn't care about the bride, they don't even care about Sophie Tucker. 'Sing! Sing! Sing!' they're screaming again. 'My wife has never seen me entertain', Jolson says, and looks over toward Lester Lanin, the orchestra leader: 'Maestro, is it true what they say about Dixie?
Which, of course, was a 1936 song title and Al Jolson gave what that audience wanted.

Then from "Columbia Pictures" came:

THE JOLSON STORY released on October 10, 1946

Above one of the many posters for the movie in the United States. Below, even with the stricter censorship in the United Kingdom, one of the posters from 1946.

Below, are Belgium and Italian posters:

This is the Hollywood version of the life of Al Jolson. All the great songs are there, just not the true story I have been telling.

Although the credited director was Alfred E. Green, he only directed the none musical sequences. The other uncredited director was Joseph H. Lewis, who directed all the musical sequences.

Larry Parks portrayed the adult "Al Jolson". Parks had just co-starred with Evelyn Keys and Willard Parker in the 1946 "B" western, "Renegades". He would follow this motion picture co-starring with Rita Hayworth in the comedy fantasy, 1947's, "Down to Earth".

Al Jolson
provided the singing voice for Larry Parks.

Evelyn Keyes portrayed "Julie Benson", the very fictious version of Ruby Keeler. Keeler refused to have her name used. Keyes had just co-starred with Keenan Wynn and Ann Miller, in 1946's, "The Thrill of Brazil", and followed this motion picture co-starring with the now dramatic actor, Dick Powell, in the crime film-noir, 1947's, "Johnny O'Clock".

William Demarest portrayed "Steve Martin", a composite of Al Jolson's three managers that included Harry Jolson. Harry doesn't exist in this motion picture and "Asa Yoelson" is seen as an only son. 

When Harry was asked why he wasn't seen in the picture. In response. he asked the questioner if they remembered the big dinner scene? When they replied, they did, Harry said he was in the kitchen washing the dishes during it.

Below, the scene Harry Jolson always referred too.

William Demarest had just been seen in 1946's, "Our Hearts Were Growing Up", starring Gail Russell. He would follow this feature with the Betty Hutton comedy based upon the silent cliff-hangers, 1947's, "The Perils of Pauline". From 1965 into 1972, television audiences knew him as "Uncle Charley", on Fred MacMurray's, "My Three Sons".

Scotty Beckett portrayed "Asa Yoelson/Al Jolson - as a boy". Beckett started out as "Scotty" in the Hal Roach, "Our Gang", comedies. Later, he would become "Winky", the co-pilot in televisions "Rocky Jones Space Ranger".

The screenplay takes the first 53-years in the life of Al Jolson, and turns it into a two-hour-and-ten-minute motion picture.

Part One:

"Asa Yoelson" wants to be in vaudeville like his idol "Steve Martin". His parents are against the son of a Jewish Cantor performing in burlesque. He runs away to Baltimore, "Steve" intervenes and the "Yoelson's" give in. 

Above, Ludwig Donath portraying "Cantor Yoelson", Scotty Beckett, and Tamara Shayne as the strangely alive "Mrs. Yoelson".

"Steve" changes "Asa's" name to "Al Jolson" and he receives a job offer from "Lew Dockstader", portrayed by John Alexander, to join his minstrel troupe. Young "Al" starts out and morphs into adult "Al".

"Al" succeeds in the minstrel troupe, and is offered a job in a Broadway show. Actually, unknown to him, "Steve" arranged it. He now becomes a leading Broadway musical actor and hires the out of work "Steve Martin" to be his manager. "Al Jolson" is now a major Broadway star.

Part Two:

"Al" is too busy for girls, performing to an audience is his life, but he meets up-and-coming dancer "Julie Benson". To him this is love at first sight and he proposes, and will not take a refusal. The two marry and she's now in his non-stop show-biz life style. He makes "The Jazz Singer", and signs for more movie deals. Although his mother is concerned over what her son is doing to "Julie". "Al" decides to stop being in show business and retires mistakenly thinking that is what "Julie" wants. He refuses all offers and will not even sing for family and friends. He has become miserable.

The Climax:

"Al's" father starts to sing the song that he and "Al's" mother sang on their wedding day. "Al" joins in and a change comes over him that "Julie" and "Mrs. Yoelson" notice. They all go to a nightclub and he is recognized and the crowd keeps wanting him to sing a song, but "Al" keeps putting them off.

Finally, he gets up and start to sing again, he is in his element, and "Julie" gets up and walks out of his life. The movie ends with "Al Jolson" singing a medley of his songs ending with "April Showers". 

Below, Al and Erle on the promotional tour for 1946's, "The Jolson Story".

In late 1947, Al and Erle, adopted a six-month-old baby boy they named, Asa Albert Jolson, Junior, for his father. Going back to what was the name Asa Yoelson actually changed his to in the United States? Albert Jolson would become a Nashville music producer.

Now "Columbia Pictures" released:


JOLSON SINGS AGAIN August 10, 1949

Larry Parks portrayed "Al Jolson/Larry Parks", with the singing voice of Al Jolson. Parks was sitting on top of the world until in 1951, he was called before "The House Committee on Un-American Activities". He had begged them to not be called before the committee, but eventually under threat of being "Blacklisted", he was, and in tears gave up the names they wanted. He was still "blacklisted" and "Columbia Pictures" dropped his contract with four-years left on it. He went to the United Kingdom and found work. He would leave the motion picture industry in 1962, after co-starring in director John Huston's, "Freud", with Anthony Perkins, and Susannah York, filmed in Germany. He started a housing construction business and with his wife actress Betty Garrett, "All in the Family", and "Laverne and Shirley", became successful apartment building owners.

Barbara Hale portrayed the completely fictional "Ellen Clark". She had co-starred with Bobby Driscoll and Arthur Kennedy, in the 1949 film-noir, "The Window". Hale followed this picture with 1949's, "Baby Makes Three", co-starring with Robert Young. From 1957 through 1966, she was "Della Street", on televisions "Perry Mason".

Reality vs Hollywood:

After a premature retirement, "Al Jolson" returns to the stage. Without his wife, it's the fast lane, wine, women, race horses at Santa Anita, and travel. His father, portrayed by Ludwig Dorath, is worried about his son, but with the death of his mother, portrayed by Tamara Shayne, at the start of the Second World War, "Al Jolson" comes back to reality, and returns to the stage.

Once again teamed with his manager "Steve Martin", portrayed by William Demarest, "Al Jolson" travels the world entertaining the troops. Collapsing from exhaustion, he meets nurse "Ellen Clark", and learns there's more to life.

In 1950, Al and Erle adopted a little girl named Alicia, seen below

Sadly, Alicia Jolson was retarded and would pass away at the age of 32.

On June 25, 1950, a "United Nations Police Action", that would be known as "The Korean War", broke out.

According to Michael Freedland, in his 1972, "Jolson - The Story of Al Jolson":
the United States answered the call of the United Nations Security Council ... and had gone to fight the North Koreans.... [Jolson] rang the White House again. 'I'm gonna go to Korea,' he told a startled official on the phone. 'No one seems to know anything about the USO, and it's up to President Truman to get me there.' He was promised that President Truman and General MacArthur who had taken command of the Korean front, would get to hear of his offer. But for four weeks there was nothing.... Finally, Louis A. Johnson, Secretary of Defense, sent Jolson a telegram. 'Sorry for delay but regret no funds for entertainment – STOP; USO disbanded – STOP.' The message was as much an assault on the Jolson sense of patriotism as the actual crossing of the 38th Parallel had been. 'What are they talkin' about', he thundered. 'Funds? Who needs funds? I got funds! I'll pay myself!'

According to Martin Abramson, in the previously mentioned, "The Real Story of Al Jolson":

On September 17, 1950, a dispatch from 8th Army Headquarters, Korea, announced, "Al Jolson, the first top-flight entertainer to reach the war-front, landed here today by plane from Los Angeles...." Jolson traveled to Korea at his own expense. "[A]nd a lean, smiling Jolson drove himself without letup through 42 shows in 16 days.

Apparently, when entertainer Jack Benny went to Korea the following year, he discovered that the troops had named the amphitheater he was to perform at the "Al Jolson Bowl".


Back in the United States while playing cards at the St. Francis Hotel, on October 23,1950, 64-years-old, Al Jolson, had a massive heart attack and died. It would take days for family members to bring Erle Jolson out of shock.

Below, the grave site of Al Jolson, at the Hillside Memorial Park. 

From "A Tribute to Al Jolson", by columnist Walter Winchell: 

He was the first to entertain troops in World War Two, contracted malaria and lost a lung. Then in his upper sixties he was again the first to offer his singing gifts for bringing solace to the wounded and weary in Korea.
Today we know the exertion of his journey to Korea took a greater toll of his strength than perhaps even he realized. But he considered it his duty as an American to be there, and that was all that mattered to him. Jolson died in a San Francisco hotel. Yet he was as much a battle casualty as any American soldier who has fallen on the rocky slopes of Korea.... A star for more than 40 years, he earned his most glorious star rating at the end—a gold star

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