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Al Jolson Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (4)  | Trade Mark (1)  | Trivia (24)  | Personal Quotes (3)  | Salary (2)

Overview (5)

Born in Srednik, Kovno Governorate, Russian Empire [now Seredzius, Lithuania]
Died in San Francisco, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameAsa Yoelson
Nickname Jolie
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Al Jolson was known in the industry as "The World's Greatest Entertainer," for well over 40 years. After his death his influence continued unabated with such performers as Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Jackie Wilson and Jerry Lee Lewis all mentioning him as an inspiration. Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in Lithuania to Cantor Moishe Yoelson, who emigrated alone to Washington, DC, to establish himself. After four years he sent for his family. Nine months later his wife, Naomi, died (apparently during childbirth), which devastated the eight-year-old Asa. Young Al would soon find his outlet in the theater. Soon he was singing with his older brother, Harry, for senators and soldiers. He entertained the troops that were headed for the Spanish-American War.

Jolson's career in vaudeville started with his brother in New York, but never really got off the ground. Different partners allowed Jolson to experiment, but it was as a solo act in San Francisco that he finally hit it big. He was signed eventually by Lew Dockstaders' Minstrels. It is important to note that, although performing in blackface, Dockstader's was not a minstrel show in the traditional sense of the "Tambo and Bones" variety of the previous century. It was a sophisticated, topical, Broadway-style revue. The myth lingers to this day that Jolson was a minstrel. He most certainly was not.

Jolson's stay in vaudeville was relatively short, as his talent was quickly recognized by the Shubert Brothers, who signed him to appear in the opening show of their new Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in April of 1912. Thus began what many consider to be the greatest career in the history of Broadway. Not a headliner initially, Jolson soon became "King of the Winter Garden," with shows specifically written for him. "Winter Garden" and "Jolson" became synonymous for close to 20 years. During that time Jolson received reviews that have yet to be matched. Audiences shouted, pleaded and often would not allow the show to proceed, such was the power of his presence. At one performance in Boston, the usually staid and conservative Boston audience stopped the show for 45 minutes! He was said to have had an "electric' personality, along with the ability to make each member of the audience believe that he was singing only to them.

In 1927 Jolson starred in the New York-shot The Jazz Singer (1927) and the rest is film history. But just before it was theatrically released, producer, Warner' His appearance in that film, nowadays considered a somewhat creaky, stodgy and primitive museum piece, electrified audiences and caused a sensation. Jolson was bigger than ever and Hollywood came a-calling. However, Jolson on film was a pale version of Jolson on stage. His screen appearances, with some exceptions, are stiff and wooden. Though he continued into the 1930s to star on radio, he was no longer quite the star he had been.

During World War II, Jolson entertained troops in Africa and Sicily but was cut short by a bout of malaria and pneumonia. Always a favorite with audiences, he continued to entertain in the United States when he met his fourth wife, Erle Chenault Galbraith, an x-ray technician.

By the mid-'40s, though. his stardom had faded quite a bit. Columbia Pictures, inspired by the success of Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), decided that a Jolson biography might work as well. In 1946 it released The Jolson Story (1946), with song-and-dance man Larry Parks miming to Jolson's vocals. It was the surprise smash hit of the season and the highest grossing film of the year. Parks received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Jolson was now as big, or bigger, than ever. So successful was the film that Columbia made a sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949), which remains one of a few biography sequels in film history (Funny Girl/Funny Lady - the story of fellow Winter Garden performer Fannie Brice is another rare example). It was also quite successful at the box office. So big had Jolson's star risen that in 1948, when Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como were at their peaks, Jolson was voted "The Most Popular Male Vocalist" by a Variety poll.

In 1950, against his doctor's orders, Jolson went to Korea to entertain his favorite audience, American troops. While there his health declined and shortly after his return to the U.S. he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Joseph Ciolino

Spouse (4)

Erle Chenault Galbraith (24 March 1945 - 23 October 1950) ( his death) ( 2 children)
Ruby Keeler (21 September 1928 - 27 December 1940) ( divorced) ( 1 child)
Ethel Delmar (22 July 1922 - 19 April 1926) ( divorced)
Henrietta Keller (20 September 1907 - 8 July 1920) ( divorced)

Trade Mark (1)

First registered human voice heard on film.

Trivia (24)

His life story is told in the stage show "Jolson" on the West End stage starring Brian Conley.
Interred at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California, USA.
Adopted children (with Erle): Asa Jr (b. 1948), Alicia (b. 1949) Adopted son (with Ruby): Al Jr (b. 1935).
His life story told in 1999 musical "Jolson & Co.", premiered off Broadway; York Theater Company production.
Wrote the theme song for the 1920 Warren G. Harding-Calvin Coolidge Republican campaign, "Harding, You're the Man for Us!".
Died while playing cards in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California.
Brother of vaudeville entertainer Harry Jolson [1884-1952].
In a recently released 1918 draft card, Jolson gives his name as "Albert Jolson".
Has one of the most elaborate burial sites in the United States. It is so large that it can be seen from the 405 (San Diego Freeway) in Culver City. The memorial which is central to the entire park consists of a large canopy supported by six enormous white stone columns with a series of terraced blue tiled cascading waterfalls. Beneath the canopy is Mr. Jolson's black marble sarcophagus and to the side a three foot bronzed statue of the entertainer which is in his famous kneeling position - the "Mammy pose". The ceiling of the canopy has a large mosaic of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. Cascading next to the waterfalls various flowers, shrubs and trees enhance this already magnificent burial site. There is also a marble meditation bench where you can sit and take in the breathtaking splendor of the Jolson memorial as well as the beautifully manicured grounds of Hillside Memorial Park.
First musical artist to sell over 10 million copies.
Played a critical part in the film careers of James Cagney and Joan Blondell. Jolson owned the rights to Marie Baumer's play, "Penny Arcade" and insisted that Warner Brothers retain the two lead actors in the film version, retitled Sinners' Holiday (1930). Ironically, Cagney would never meet his benefactor, although he later starred with Jolson's then-wife Ruby Keeler in Footlight Parade (1933).
On August 11, 2006, in recognition of his generosity, talent, and the magnitude of his stardom, the City of New York re-named the block of Broadway that runs past the Winter Garden Theater, unveiling a street sign reading: "Al Jolson Way.".
Portrayed by Larry Parks twice, first in The Jolson Story (1946) and then in Jolson Sings Again (1949).
His granddaughter Kate Jolson was a tennis star at Beverly Hills High School.
Elvis Presley has said that Jolson was his idol and he recorded "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", one of Jolson's last recordings, in tribute.
Distant cousin of Dave Ehrman.
A staunch supporter of the Republican Party, he wrote the theme song for the 1924 presidential campaign, "Keep Cool with Coolidge".
Was close friends with Bing Crosby and became a regular guest on Crosby's radio show.
He was awarded 3 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 6622 Hollywood Boulevard; for Radio at 6750 Hollywood Boulevard; and for Recording at 1716 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.
He failed the first screen test to portray himself in Jolson Sings Again (1949) which was attributed to his age 63, at that time. Larry Parks won the role.
He once entered a sound-a-like contest and as a joke sang as a sound-a-like for himself. He came third.
There is a sign at Broadway and 51st Street naming it Al Jolson Way.
He is mentioned in The Proclaimers "I'm On My Way.".
Had 150 overcoats in his closet when he died.

Personal Quotes (3)

I'll tell you when I'm going to play the Palace. That's when Eddie Cantor and George Burns and Groucho Marx and Jack Benny are on the bill. I'm going to buy out the whole house, and sit in the middle of the orchestra and say, 'Slaves, entertain the king!'
[reported last words, 10/23/50] Oh, God, this is it! I'm going!
[on Jack L. Warner] I can't see what J.W. can do with an Oscar. It can't say yes.

Salary (2)

The Jazz Singer (1927) $75,000
The Singing Fool (1928) $150,000

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