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"You ain't heard nothin' yet" AL JOLSON 1885?-1950
jolson.org/ ^ | 2007.10.23 | Various

Posted on 10/23/2007 12:50:03 PM PDT by B-Chan

Al Jolson called himself The World's Greatest Entertainer - and no one ever argued with him about it. That alone could set the man apart from most other show business people. It seems the epitome of - to use a word that figured largely in his vocabulary - chutzpah, but as Larry Adler who saw him at work told me, "He was not lying when he made that claim. It was an established fact."

Adler also said, "All sorts of people like Chaplin and Chevalier say they were influenced by Al Jolson, I was influenced by Al Jolson - and I only play a mouth organ."

And it was true. Elvis Presley sang "Are You Lonesome Tonight" - and used precisely the same arrangement and speaking format as Jolson had done a decade earlier. Bing Crosby, Eddie Fisher and Franky Vaughan all said that Jolson was their principal influence. Tom Jones says his greatest ambition was always to star in a remake of The Jolson Story, the 1946 film which marked Al's comeback, and which led to his being voted, just before his death four years later, America's favorite male singer.

After Bing Cosby came Perry Como and a young upstart called Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was a guest at the same party at which Jolson had the entire guest list in the palm of his hand singing his favorite songs, like "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody", "Swanee" and "April Showers". Someone asked the then young Blue Eyes to sing too. "I can't follow that," he said - and walked out.

That gives some idea of the man's domination of an audience. He did it for thousands on Broadway in the 1920s, and to just a handful in World War Two. He could spot a couple of lonely GIs on a street corner and tell them "My name's Jolson and I sing. Do you want to hear me?" They always did, and he always would, there and then.

Well he knew they wanted to hear him. At the Winter Garden on Broadway, Al sold tickets at the box office - because he wanted to be sure that the customers wouldn't pass him by. If they asked where they were to be sitting, he refused to let them in. "You see Jolson, you don't ask for special seats. Just to see him is enough" he said.

And in a way he was right. Other entertainers played to audiences. Al Jolson made love to them - and it was always a two-way love affair. Three of his four wives sued him for divorce could easily have cited the audience as the "other woman" in his life - for whatever he did on stage had the power of a momentary "affair".

When people saw Jolson on stage, it was an experience that they never forgot. Maurice Chevalier said that he went to see a Jolson performance and felt he "had to get back on the boat".

After all, what other entertainer would come into a theatre perhaps half an hour after the curtain should have gone up, walk down the center of the auditorium with his hat and coat over his arm - and ask if they minded if he made up in front of them? More than that, as a gesture of apology, he handed out boxes of chocolates to the customers. "I hope you understand," he said "I was having dinner in the restaurant around the corner and they had this swell piano player there, I got a little carried away. Please forgive me." They not only forgave him, they clapped, they cheered and they blew kisses.

They loved him for it. His talent was a commodity with which he was always totally generous. Once he went to the income tax office to settle his account - and ended up singing to the startled collectors. Other taxpayers in the room reported that they had never had more fun parting with their money.

On Broadway, he was the first ever to earn $10,000 a week - and that was before the First World War, in which he was the first to entertain troops. He was the first to go overseas after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and again the first to go to Korea, just a few weeks before his death.

In fact, Jolson was the first to do most things in showbiz. He was the first to take a show on the road, to have a runway slicing the auditorium from the stage to the back of the house, to appear on a flickering green image which turned out to be America's first TV broadcast - and then, when the first LPs were issued in Britain, a Jolson record was among them.

But the first for which he is best known, of course, was The Jazz Singer, when the screen first learned to talk. Yet he was never as happy in the movie studio as in the theatre, perhaps because he couldn't interrupt the cast of the film the way he could those playing in a live theatre.

Night after night, in the middle of a show, he'd stop the entire cast while in full flow, race to the footlights and ask the audience: "Do you want to see them - or do you want me?" He knew the answer. They always wanted him. That was why he could always tell them with confidence: "You ain't heard nothin' yet."

***

The man we know as Al Jolson, was born Asa Yoelson in the 1880s. (There were no birth certificates in those days although the year is generally accepted to have been 1885. He chose May 26th as his birthday because he liked the idea of being born in spring). He emigated with his family from their native village of Srednik in Russian Lithuania and settled in Washington DC.

His beloved mother died when he was nine, an event which haunted him throughout the rest of his life, and he and his elder brother defied their cantor father and ran away from home to seek their fortunes on the fringes of show business.

From a post-earthquake appearance at the National Theatre, San Francisco, where he first coined the phrase "You ain't seen nothin' yet", he joined a minstrel troupe and quickly made his way up the showbiz ladder until he was signed by the powerful Shubert Brothers to appear in the revue at their newly built Winter Garden Theatre (March 1911). A series of starring vehicles — Sinbad, Bombo, Big Boy, often with Jolson as Gus, his black-face comic creation — set the seal on his reputation as Broadways most charismatic performer.

He also appeared in a string of Sunday night concerts at the Winter Garden, because he considered that was the only way fellow showbiz people could see their 'master' at work.

In 1927 Jolson played the lead in The Jazz Singer, which had been a hit broadway show starring George Jessel who had hoped to get the role for himself, but Jolson was a sensation and the success of the first recognisable talkie saved Warner Bros. from bankruptcy.

A grateful Hollywood rushed him into The Singing Fool (1928) with Josephine Dunn which was an even bigger box office hit - thanks to the million-selling recording of the lachrymose "Sonny Boy". This sentimental song was written by Jolson's frequent collaborators, Brown and Henderson as a joke. But they, like Jolson himself, ended up crying all the way to the bank as the The Singing Fool grossed the enormous sum of $5.5M - only to be exceeded by Gone With The Wind 11 years later.

In the 1930s Jolson may have been America's highest paid entertainer, earning $17,500 a week in 1932, but the decade brought him professional disappointment. The public grew tired of the formulaic films he was making at Warner Bros., and a radical change of tone to Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, for United Artists in 1933 failed to arrest the decline. He was even eclipsed by his third wife Ruby Keeler during her brief reign as Warner Bros. favorite ingenue.

His supporting roles in Rose of Washington Square (1939) and Swanee River (1940), a mildly successful return to Broadway for Hold On To Your Hats (1940) and a brief cameo as himself in the Gershwin biopic Rhapsody in Blue (1944) seemed to accelerate the downward spiral.

But in entertaining the troops as part of the USO - United Service Organizations - Jolson recaptured his power to electrify and enchant an audience, and the runaway success of the 1946 film The Jolson Story where he supplied the singing voice to the acting of Larry Parks heralded a triumphant comeback.

He died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23 1950.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: american; culture; entertainer; music
Celebrating the memory of the World's Greatest Entertainer, Al Jolson, on the 57th anniversary of his death.
1 posted on 10/23/2007 12:50:04 PM PDT by B-Chan
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To: B-Chan

LOVED it, thanks for this!


2 posted on 10/23/2007 12:57:06 PM PDT by freepertoo
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To: B-Chan
They say Jolson was the first performer to make a big deal about singing a song...gesticulating madly running around on stage. Before him the popular singers were Irish tenors like George Gaskin and John Mckormack who would stand still on stage.
3 posted on 10/23/2007 12:57:53 PM PDT by Borges
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To: B-Chan

4 posted on 10/23/2007 12:59:18 PM PDT by taylorstreet
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To: Borges

From Google”

Asa Yoelson would never be the same again [after his mother’s death when he was but eight]. He grew up in that moment – probably as much as he would ever grow up. Al Jolson, for all his tough, earthy exterior, would remain an emotional child for the rest of his life – a self assured braggart who was terrified of being alone, a sentimentalist with a heart of gold who made life miserable for those around him, and a lothario who chased, conquered, and in turn ignored young women. In short, a man-boy, full of seeming contradictions and haunted by the specter of his mother’s death.
- Herbert G. Goldman Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life (New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 1988


5 posted on 10/23/2007 1:05:03 PM PDT by Old Professer (The critic writes with rapier pen, dips it twice, and writes again.)
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To: B-Chan

Favorite Jolson tune — “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night?”


6 posted on 10/23/2007 1:10:17 PM PDT by Harpo Speaks (Honk! Honk! Honk! Either it's foggy out, or make that a dozen hard boiled eggs.)
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To: B-Chan

My grandma tried to name my dad after a Jolson character, Davey Lee. Fortunately for Dad, the parish priest intervened when he was baptized and changed it to David Lee. Dad ate dinner with Jolson when he was stationed in Korea. Said he was a down to earth kind of guy.


7 posted on 10/23/2007 1:12:10 PM PDT by Enough_Deceit (Confessions of a middle-aged drama queen. ;-))
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To: Harpo Speaks

My favorite “California Here I Come”


8 posted on 10/23/2007 1:12:29 PM PDT by Scarchin (+)
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To: Harpo Speaks

WHERE DID ROBINSON CRUSOE GO WITH FRIDAY ON SATURDAY NIGHT?
From the Broadway Musical “Robinson Crusoe, Jr.” (1916)
(Sam M. Lewis / Joe Young / George W. Meyer)

Over a thousand years, or maybe more
Out on an island on a lonely shore
Robinson Crusoe landed one fine day
No rent to pay
No wife to obey
His good man Friday was his only friend
He didn’t borrow or lend
They built a little hut
Lived there till Friday, but
Saturday night it was shut

Where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?
Every Saturday night they would start in to roam
And on Sunday morning they’d come staggering home
They went hunting for rabbits when the weather grew colder
But Crusoe came home with a hare on his shoulder
Now, where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?

Robinson Crusoe was a good old scout
Robinson Crusoe knew his way about
He’d go out hunting chickens now and then
But he knew when
He was chasing a hen
Once he told Friday, “You must stay at home
I’ve got to go out alone”
Friday felt very blue
He said, “It’s wrong of you
Couldn’t you fix it for two?”

Where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?
One fine Saturday night they had nothing to do
So they started counting all the girlies they knew
Friday counted to thirteen, and Crusoe said, “Brother,
You know, thirteen’s unlucky. Let’s go get another”
So, where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?

Where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?
Every Saturday night they would start in to roam
And on Sunday morning they’d come staggering home
On this island lived wild men and cannibal crimmin
And you know where there are wild men, there must be wild women
So, where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?


9 posted on 10/23/2007 1:14:13 PM PDT by Harpo Speaks (Honk! Honk! Honk! Either it's foggy out, or make that a dozen hard boiled eggs.)
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To: Enough_Deceit
Fortunately for Dad, the parish priest intervened when he was baptized and changed it to David Lee.

I heard a similar story from old Mrs. Roth who lived next door to us when I was growing up. She said her boy grew up to be a fine singer. But she didn't care for his type of music. "He's running with the devil", she'd tell us. I never paid much attention.

10 posted on 10/23/2007 1:17:56 PM PDT by ClearCase_guy (The broken wall, the burning roof and tower. And Agamemnon dead.)
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To: B-Chan

Just saw the original “Jazz Singer” for the first time last week. Amazing stuff.


11 posted on 10/23/2007 1:21:10 PM PDT by rightwingintelligentsia (When gov't wants to fix something, chances are it was the gov't that broke it in the first place.)
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To: Borges
One Orson Welles appearance on Johnny Carson had him talking about Hollywood parties back in the day. He was asked ahead of time to do a magic bit at a party.

Fine. So when the entertainment portion of the party was about to begin, Welles stashes a rabbit in his clothes.

Little did he know that Jolson was to get up first, and not relinquish the attention for hours.

"Do you know what it's like to sit there with a rabbit doing it's business in your clothes for hours?"

12 posted on 10/23/2007 1:26:25 PM PDT by Calvin Locke
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To: Calvin Locke

Dang it. Second “it’s” ==> its


13 posted on 10/23/2007 1:30:18 PM PDT by Calvin Locke
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To: B-Chan
I collect old time radio and one of my favorites features an Al Jolson vocal called "It's a Thrill When A Real Piano Player Sits Down at the Keys"

As the song opens, you find there's an extra thrill because the piano player is Jimmy Durante.

14 posted on 10/23/2007 1:45:28 PM PDT by capt. norm (Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.)
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To: B-Chan

The best...

http://youtube.com/watch?v=fZUxVggyyYY

Jolson sing’s “Sonny Boy”


15 posted on 10/23/2007 2:09:27 PM PDT by PetroniusMaximus
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To: Harpo Speaks

Favorite Jolson tune: “Golden Gate” (Brunswick Records #3775, 1928)


16 posted on 10/23/2007 2:13:18 PM PDT by Fiji Hill
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To: B-Chan
The World's Hammiest Performer, maybe. Subtle the guy was not. Even his grave, visible from the 405 freeway, is over the top.


17 posted on 10/23/2007 2:25:54 PM PDT by Bubba Ho-Tep
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To: B-Chan

Jolson had just returned from entertaining troops in Korea when he passed away.

Back in the 1990’s they did a postage stamp of him.

His blackface performances would be run out of town by the PC crowd today but many imitated it.

I remember Benny Hill doing some blackface performances in his TV series including one skit where he played Idi Amin.


18 posted on 10/23/2007 4:50:39 PM PDT by Nextrush (Proudly uncommitted in the 2008 race for president for now)
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To: taylorstreet
I loved the guy..but he wouldn't have lasted a second today..

sw

19 posted on 10/23/2007 5:00:51 PM PDT by spectre (spectre's wife)
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