Al Jolson
American entertainer
Al Jolson
Al Jolson was an American singer, comedian, and actor. In his heyday, he was dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer". His performing style was brash and extroverted, and he popularized a large number of songs that benefited from his "shamelessly sentimental, melodramatic approach".
Biography
Al Jolson's personal information overview.
{{personal_detail.supertitle}}
{{personal_detail.title}}
{{personal_detail.title}}
Photo Albums
Popular photos of Al Jolson
News
News abour Al Jolson from around the web
Free blues! Free opera! Free polka! Free Al Jolson! - Buffalo News (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
And there is also plenty of Al Jolson, always a plus. There is a fair amount of classical music. Don't know any classical music? Sure you do. Here is the Brahms Lullaby ... ...sung by Ernestine Schumann-Heink. During World War I she had sons on both
Article Link:
Google News article
Remembering Jerry Leiber, the 'Hound Dog' Poet of Rock 'n' Roll - TIME
Google News - over 5 years
That scene might have come straight from The Jazz Singer, the Al Jolson hit movie about a stern cantor and his blues-loving son, but it reflected the tension between any immigrant parent, wanting traditional success for his children, and the child
Article Link:
Google News article
Jolson at the Winter Garden Extends at El Portal Through September 25 - TheaterMania.com
Google News - over 5 years
As previously reported, Mike Burstyn will star as Al Jolson in the show. Co-written by Burstyn and Castellino, the musical is a recreation of Al Jolson's famous Sunday concerts at the noted New York Broadway theatre, the Winter Garden
Article Link:
Google News article
Jolson at the Winter Garden, With Mike Burstyn, Plays LA Starting Sept. 6 - Playbill.com
Google News - over 5 years
Mike Burstyn will reprise his turn as famed 20th-century entertainer Al Jolson in a California engagement of Jolson at the Winter Garden Sept. 6-18 at the El Portal Theatre. The musical premiered in Florida in March
Article Link:
Google News article
Enter Your E-Mail Address: - Broadway World
Google News - over 5 years
Al Jolson, once dubbed as The World's Greatest Entertainer, will return to North Hollywood at the historic El Portal Theatre in the person of critically acclaimed Broadway actor, Mike Burstyn (Winner of Two Israeli "Oscars"; Broadway: Barnum;
Article Link:
Google News article
Movie star's rare Packard fetches $1.1 million at Concours auction - Hometownlife.com
Google News - over 5 years
A 1932 Packard originally owned by actor and singer Al Jolson led the field Saturday as an auction of collectible cars in Plymouth Township generated more than $7.6 million in sales. The Packard Twin Six convertible, one of only two made, fetched $1.1
Article Link:
Google News article
What apps/games should be included on Will & Kate's IPad2 -- gift from Gov ... - San Francisco Chronicle (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
There's ITunes filled with California songs -- "California, Here I Come," (the classic Al Jolson version), along with Notorious BIG, LLCoolJ's "Going Back to Cali,'' Beach Boys, Mamas and Papas "California Dreamin','' and more
Article Link:
Google News article
LET'S TWIST AGAIN - WeHo News
Google News - over 5 years
The show takes one potentially disastrous turn in the second act that calls upon Robert Loftin and Vivian Nixon to embody Al Jolson and Josephine Baker. Not only is it a thankless task for any performer, but because of the plot machinations that get us
Article Link:
Google News article
Hamilton Township, Egg Harbor City In Your Town, Edition of July 8, 2011 - Shore News Today
Google News - over 5 years
The Egg Harbor City Historical Society annual dinner meeting will begin with cocktails at 5:30 pm Monday, July 25 at Renault Winery, 72 Bremen Ave., followed by dinner and a presentation by Woody's Projection Service on the life of Al Jolson,
Article Link:
Google News article
U.S. Census Bureau Daily Feature for July 5 - PR Newswire (press release)
Google News - over 5 years
Most movie buffs know the first film with a partial soundtrack was "The Jazz Singer," with superstar Al Jolson. But not too many can name the first movie with a full-length soundtrack, which opened on this date in New York in 1928
Article Link:
Google News article
Are you a Washingtologist? - Washington Post (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
From Al Jolson to streetcars, Cultural Tourism DC's latest quiz is now on our Washingtology page. Answer five questions to see if you are a true Washingtologist. Streetcar buff Charlie Pineda volunteers at the National Capital Trolley
Article Link:
Google News article
A Celebrity Packard and a Transparent Pontiac at RM's Michigan Sale - Art Daily
Google News - over 5 years
RM Auctions, the world's largest collector car auction house for investment-quality automobiles, will lift the curtain on a famous 1932 Packard Twin Six Individual Custom Convertible Sedan, purchased new by American entertainer Al Jolson,
Article Link:
Google News article
A Celebrity Packard and a Transparent Pontiac Star at Michigan Collector Car ... - PR Newswire (press release)
Google News - over 5 years
Virtually unseen for nearly half a century, the rare 1932 Packard Twin Six Individual Custom Convertible Sedan by Dietrich was delivered new to famed American entertainer, Al Jolson, for the princely sum of $6600. Born in Russia in the late 1880s,
Article Link:
Google News article
ON STAGE: A capsule look at area theater shows - The Daily News Online
Google News - over 5 years
Cindy Millers presents a musical retrospective celebrating great entertainers of the past including Al Jolson, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Judy Gardland, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and others. For times and tickets,
Article Link:
Google News article
A rollicking 'Follies' at CPCC - Charlotte Observer
Google News - over 5 years
He was one of the two most popular American entertainers between 1910 and 1935 - Al Jolson was the other - but I'll bet even the audiences who watched this show 20 years ago knew nothing about Rogers except his tag phrase: "I never met a man I didn't
Article Link:
Google News article
Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Al Jolson
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1950
    Age 63
    During their marriage, the Jolsons adopted two children, Asa Jr. (born 1948) and Alicia (born 1949), and remained married until his death in 1950.
    More Details Hide Details After a year and a half of marriage, his new wife had never seen him perform in front of an audience, and the first occasion came unplanned. As told by actor comedian Alan King, it happened during a dinner by the New York Friars' Club at the Waldorf Astoria in 1946, honoring the career of Sophie Tucker. Jolson and his wife were in the audience along with a thousand others, and George Jessel was MC. He asked Al, privately, to perform at least one song. Jolson replied, "No, I just want to sit here." Then later, without warning, during the middle of the show, Jessel says, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the easiest introduction I ever had to make. The world's greatest entertainer, Al Jolson." King recalls what happened next: Despite their close relationship growing up, Harry did show some disdain for Al's success over the years. Even during their time with Jack Palmer, Al was rising in popularity while Harry was fading. After separating from Al and Jack, Harry's career in show business, however, sank greatly. On one occasion—which was another factor in his on-off relationship with Al—Harry offered to be Al's agent, but Al rejected the offer, worried about the pressure that he would have faced from his producers for hiring his brother as his agent. Shortly after Harry's wife Lillian died in 1948, Harry and Al became close once again.
    The dust and dirt of the Korean front, from where he had returned a few weeks earlier, had settled in his remaining lung and he was close to exhaustion. While playing cards in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel at 335 Powell Street in San Francisco, Jolson collapsed and died of a massive heart attack on October 23, 1950.
    More Details Hide Details His last words were said to be "Boys, I'm going." His age was given as 64. After his wife received the news of his death by phone, she went into shock, and required family members to stay with her. At the funeral, police estimated upwards of 20,000 people showed up, despite threatened rain. It became one of the biggest funerals in show business history. Celebrities paid tribute: Bob Hope, speaking from Korea via short wave radio, said the world had lost "not only a great entertainer, but also a great citizen." Larry Parks said that the world had "lost not only its greatest entertainer, but a great American as well. He was a casualty of the Korean war." Scripps-Howard newspapers drew a pair of white gloves on a black background. The caption read, "The Song Is Ended."
    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. "And a lean, smiling Jolson drove himself without letup through 42 shows in 16 days."
    More Details Hide Details Before returning to the U.S., General Douglas MacArthur, leader of UN forces, gave him a medallion inscribed "To Al Jolson from Special Services in appreciation of entertainment of armed forces personnel ‑ Far East Command", with his entire itinerary inscribed on the reverse side. A few months later, an important bridge, named the "Al Jolson Bridge", was used to withdraw the bulk of American troops from North Korea. The bridge was the last remaining of three bridges across the Han River and was used to evacuate UN forces. It was demolished by UN forces after the army made it safely across in order to prevent the Chinese from crossing. Alistair Cooke wrote, "He Jolson had one last hour of glory. He offered to fly to Korea and entertain the troops hemmed in on the United Nations precarious August bridgehead. The troops yelled for his appearance. He went down on his knee again and sang 'Mammy', and the troops wept and cheered. When he was asked what Korea was like he warmly answered, 'I am going to get back my income tax returns and see if I paid enough.'" Jack Benny, who went to Korea the following year, noted that an amphitheater in Korea where troops were entertained, was named the "Al Jolson Bowl."
    In 1950, according to Jolson's biographer Michael Freedland, "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.'
    More Details Hide Details 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!'"
    In 1950, it was announced that Jolson had signed an agreement to appear on the CBS television network, presumably in a series of specials.
    More Details Hide Details
    In 1950, he again became the first star to entertain GIs on active service in the Korean War, performing 42 shows in 16 days.
    More Details Hide Details He died just weeks after returning to the U.S., partly owing to the physical exertion of performing. Defense Secretary George Marshall posthumously awarded him the Medal of Merit. According to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, "Jolson was to jazz, blues, and ragtime what Elvis Presley was to rock 'n' roll." Being the first popular singer to make a spectacular event out of singing a song, he became a rock star before the dawn of rock music. His specialty was performing on stage runways extending out into the audience. He would run up and down the runway, and across the stage, "teasing, cajoling, and thrilling the audience", often stopping to sing to individual members; all the while the "perspiration would be pouring from his face, and the entire audience would get caught up in the ecstasy of his performance". According to music historian Larry Stempel, "No one had heard anything quite like it before on Broadway." Author Stephen Banfield agreed, writing that Jolson's style was "arguably the single most important factor in defining the modern musical".
  • 1949
    Age 62
    In 1949, the movie Jolson Sings Again recreated some scenes showing Jolson during his war tours.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1947
    Age 60
    His own 1930s shows included Presenting Al Jolson (1932) and Shell Chateau (1935), and he was the host of the Kraft Music Hall from 1947 to 1949, with Oscar Levant as a sardonic, piano-playing sidekick.
    More Details Hide Details Jolson's 1940s career revival was nothing short of a success despite the competition of younger performers such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and he was voted the "Most Popular Male Vocalist" in 1948 by a poll in Variety. The next year, Jolson was named "Personality of the Year" by the Variety Clubs of America. When Jolson appeared on Bing Crosby's radio show, he attributed his receiving the award to his being the only singer of any importance not to make a record of "Mule Train", which had been a widely covered hit of that year (four different versions, one of them by Crosby, had made the top ten on the charts). Jolson joked about how his voice had deepened with age, saying "I got the clippetys all right, but I can't clop like I used to." When Jolson appeared on Steve Allen's KNX Los Angeles radio show in 1949 to promote Jolson Sings Again, he offered his curt opinion of the burgeoning television industry: "I call it smell-evision." Writer Hal Kanter recalled that Jolson's own idea of his television debut would be a corporate-sponsored, extra-length spectacular that would feature him as the only performer, and would be telecast without interruption.
  • FIFTIES
  • 1946
    Age 59
    In 1946, during a nationally broadcast testimonial dinner in New York City, given on his behalf, he received a special tribute from the American Veterans Committee in honor of his volunteer services during WWII.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1945
    Age 58
    They were married on March 22, 1945.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1942
    Age 55
    Some of the unusual hardships of performing to active troops were described in an article he wrote for Variety, in 1942: "In order to entertain all the boys... it became necessary for us to give shows in foxholes, gun emplacements, dugouts, to construction groups on military roads; in fact, any place where two or more soldiers were gathered together, it automatically became a Winter Garden for me and I would give a show."
    More Details Hide Details After returning from a tour of overseas bases, the Regimental Hostess at one camp wrote to Jolson, "Allow me to say on behalf of all the soldiers of the 33rd Infantry that you coming here is quite the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to us, and we think you're tops, not only as a performer, but as a person. We unanimously elect you Public Morale Lifter No. 1 of the U.S Army." Jolson was officially enlisted in the United Service Organizations (USO), the organization which provided entertainment for American troops who served in combat overseas. Because he was over the age of 45, he received a "Specialist" rating that permitted him to wear a uniform and be given the standing of an officer. While touring in the Pacific, Jolson contracted malaria and had to have his left lung surgically removed.
    Upon doing his first, and unannounced, show in England in 1942, the reporter for the Hartford Courant wrote, "... it was a panic.
    More Details Hide Details And pandemonium... when he was done the applause that shook that soldier-packed room was like bombs falling again in Shaftsbury Avenue." From an article in the New York Times: "He Jolson has been to more Army camps and played to more soldiers than any other entertainer. He has crossed the Atlantic by plane to take song and cheer to the troops in Britain and Northern Ireland. He has flown to the cold wastes of Alaska and the steaming forests of Trinidad. He has called at Dutch‑like Curaçao. Nearly every camp in this country has heard him sing and tell funny stories."
    He demanded permission to go anywhere in the world where there is 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".
    More Details Hide Details From a New York Times interview in 1942: "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." Shortly after the war began, he wrote a letter to Steven Early, press secretary to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, volunteering "to head a committee for the entertainment of soldiers and said that he "would work without pay... and would gladly assist in the organization to be set up for this purpose". A few weeks later, he received his first tour schedule from the newly formed United Services Organization (USO), "the group his letter to Early had helped create".
  • FORTIES
  • 1935
    Age 48
    In 1935, Al and Ruby adopted a son, Jolson's first child, whom they named "Al Jolson Jr." In 1939, however — despite a marriage that was considered to be more successful than his previous ones — Keeler left Jolson, and later married John Homer Lowe, with whom she would have four children and remain married until his death in 1969.
    More Details Hide Details In 1944, while giving a show at a military hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Jolson met a young X-ray technologist, Erle Galbraith. He became fascinated with her and more than a year later he was able to track her down and hired her as an actress while he served as a producer at Columbia Pictures. After Jolson, whose health was still scarred from his previous battle with malaria, was hospitalized in the winter of 1945, Erle visited him and the two quickly began a relationship.
    Returning to Warners, Jolson bowed to new production ideas, focusing less on the star and more on elaborately cinematic numbers staged by Busby Berkeley and Bobby Connolly. This new approach worked, sustaining Jolson's movie career until the Warner contract lapsed in 1935.
    More Details Hide Details Jolson co-starred with his actress-dancer wife, Ruby Keeler, only once, in Go Into Your Dance. Jolson's last Warner vehicle was The Singing Kid (1936), a parody of Jolson's stage persona (he plays a character named Al Jackson) in which he mocks his stage histrionics and taste for "mammy" songs—the latter via a number by E. Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen titled "I Love to Singa", and a comedy sequence with Jolson doggedly trying to sing "Mammy" while The Yacht Club Boys keep telling him such songs are outdated. According to jazz historian Michael Alexander, Jolson had once griped that "People have been making fun of Mammy songs, and I don't really think that it's right that they should, for after all, Mammy songs are the fundamental songs of our country." (He said this, in character, in his 1926 short A Plantation Act.) In this film, he notes, "Jolson had the confidence to rhyme 'Mammy' with 'Uncle Sammy'", adding "Mammy songs, along with the vocation 'Mammy singer', were inventions of the Jewish Jazz Age."
  • 1934
    Age 47
    In 1934, he starred in a movie version of his earlier stage play Wonder Bar, co-starring Kay Francis, Dolores del Río, Ricardo Cortez, and Dick Powell.
    More Details Hide Details The movie is a "musical Grand Hotel, set in the Parisian nightclub owned by Al Wonder (Jolson). Wonder entertains and banters with his international clientele." Reviews were generally positive: "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."; and, "Those who like Jolson should see Wonder Bar for it is mainly Jolson; singing the old reliables; cracking jokes which would have impressed Noah as depressingly ancient; and moving about with characteristic energy."
  • 1931
    Age 44
    Despite these new troubles, Jolson was able to make a comeback after performing a concert in New Orleans after "Wonderbar" closed in 1931.
    More Details Hide Details Warners allowed him to make one film with United Artists, Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, in 1933 (the film had to be retitled Hallelujah, I'm a Tramp in the UK and other English-speaking countries where "bum" means "butt" and where the slang word for a vagrant is "tramp" rather than "bum"). It was directed by Lewis Milestone and written by screenwriter Ben Hecht. Hecht was also active in the promotion of civil rights: "Hecht film stories featuring black characters included Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, co-starring Edgar Connor as Al Jolson's sidekick, in a politically savvy rhymed dialogue over Richard Rodgers music." A direct response to the Great Depression, it contains messages to his vagabond friends equivalent to "there's more to life than money" and "the best things in life are free". The New York Times reviewer wrote, "The picture, some persons may be glad to hear, has no Mammy song. It is Mr. Jolson's best film and well it might be, for that clever director, Lewis Milestone, guided its destiny. a combination of fun, melody and romance, with a dash of satire " Another review added, "A film to welcome back, especially for what it tries to do for the progress of the American musical "
  • 1928
    Age 41
    Jolson accepted Ziegfeld's offer and during their tour with Ziegfeld, the two started dating and were married on September 21, 1928.
    More Details Hide Details
  • THIRTIES
  • 1926
    Age 39
    Jolson had starred in a talking film before The Jazz Singer: a 1926 short subject entitled A Plantation Act.
    More Details Hide Details This simulation of a stage performance by Jolson was originally presented in a program of musical shorts, demonstrating the Vitaphone sound-film process. The soundtrack for A Plantation Act was considered lost in 1933, but was found in 1995 and restored by The Vitaphone Project. The short was included in Warner's 80th Anniversary release of The Jazz Singer on DVD. Warner Bros. had originally picked George Jessel for the role, as he had starred in the Broadway play. When Sam Warner decided to make The Jazz Singer a musical with the Vitaphone, he knew that Jolson was the star he needed to put it over. He told Jessel that he would have to sing in the movie, and Jessel balked, allowing Warner to replace him with Jolson. Jessel never got over it and often said that Warner gave the role to Jolson because he agreed to help finance the film.
  • 1923
    Age 36
    After taking the show on the road for a season, he returned in May 1923, to perform Bombo at his "first love," the Winter Garden.
    More Details Hide Details The reviewer for The New York Times 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." "I don't mind going on record as saying that he is one of the few instinctively funny men on our stage," wrote reviewer Charles Darnton in the New York Evening World. "Everything he touches turns to fun. To watch him is to marvel at his humorous vitality. He is the old-time minstrel man turned to modern account. With a song, a word, or even a suggestion he calls forth spontaneous laughter. And here you have the definition of a born comedian." Performing in blackface makeup was a theatrical convention of many entertainers at the beginning of the 20th century, having its origin in the minstrel show. Working behind a blackface mask gave the performer "a sense of freedom and spontaneity that he had never known". According to film historian Eric Lott, for the white minstrel man "to put on the cultural forms of 'blackness' was to engage in a complex affair of manly mimicry. To wear or even enjoy blackface was literally, for a time, to become black, to inherit the cool, virility, humility, abandon, or gaité de coeur that were the prime components of white ideologies of black manhood."
  • 1922
    Age 35
    In March 1922, he moved the production to the larger Century Theater for a special benefit performance to aid injured Jewish veterans of World War I.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1920
    Age 33
    Jolson was a political and economic conservative, supporting both Warren G. Harding in 1920 and Calvin Coolidge in 1924 for president of the United States.
    More Details Hide Details As "one of the biggest stars of his time, he worked his magic singing Harding, You're the Man for Us to enthralled audiences... and was subsequently asked to perform Keep Cool with Coolidge four years later. Jolson, like the men who ran the studios, was the rare showbiz Republican." Although a Republican, Jolson publicly campaigned for Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. By the next presidential election (1936), he was back to supporting Republican Alf Landon and would not support another Democrat for president during his life. In the summer of 1928, Jolson met young tap dancer, and later actress, Ruby Keeler in Los Angeles (Jolson would claim it was at Texas Guinan's night club) and was dazzled by her on sight. Three weeks later, Jolson saw a production of George M. Cohan's Rise of Rosie O'Reilly, and noticed she was in the show's cast. Now knowing she was going about her Broadway career, Jolson attended another one of her shows, Show Girl, and rose from the audience and engaged in her duet of "Liza". After this moment, the show's producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, asked Jolson to join the cast and continue to sing duets with Keeler.
    By 1920, Jolson had become the biggest star on Broadway.
    More Details Hide Details His next play, Bombo, would also take his career to new heights and became so successful that it went beyond Broadway and held performances nationwide. It also led Lee Shubert to rename his newly built theater, which was across from Central Park, as Jolson's 59th Street Theatre. Aged 35, Jolson became the youngest man in American history to have a theatre named after him. But on the opening night of Bombo, and the first performance at the new theatre, he suffered from extreme stage fright, walking up and down the streets for hours before showtime. Out of fear, he lost his voice backstage and begged the stagehands not to raise the curtains. But when the curtains went up, he "was still standing in the wings trembling and sweating." After being physically shoved onto the stage by his brother Harry, he performed and received an ovation that he would never forget: "For several minutes, the applause continued while Al stood and bowed after the first act." He refused to go back on stage for the second act, but the audience "just stamped its feet and chanted 'Jolson, Jolson', until he came back out." He took 37 curtain calls that night and told the audience, "I'm a happy man tonight."
  • 1918
    Age 31
    In 1918, Jolson's acting career would be pushed even further after he starred in the hit musical Sinbad.
    More Details Hide Details It became the most successful Broadway musical of 1918 and 1919. A new song was later added to the show that would become composer George Gershwin's first hit recording—"Swanee". Jolson also added another song, "My Mammy," to the show.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1916
    Age 29
    In 1916, Robinson Crusoe, Jr. was the first musical in which he was featured as the star character.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1914
    Age 27
    Jolson would reprise his role as "Gus" in future plays and by 1914 achieved so much popularity with the theater audience that his $1,000-a-week salary was doubled to $2,000 a week.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1911
    Age 24
    On March 20, 1911, Jolson starred in his first musical revue at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City, La Belle Paree, greatly helping to launch his career as a singer.
    More Details Hide Details The opening night drew a huge crowd to the theater, and that evening Jolson gained audience popularity by singing old Stephen Foster songs in blackface. In the wake of that opening night, Jolson was given a position in the show's cast. The show closed after 104 performances, and during its run Jolson's popularity grew greatly. Following La Belle Paree, Jolson accepted an offer to perform in the musical Vera Violetta. The show opened on November 20, 1911 and, like La Belle Paree, was a phenomenal success. In the show, Jolson again sang in blackface and managed to become so popular that his weekly salary of $500 (based on his success in La Belle Paree) was increased to $750. After Vera Violetta ran its course, Jolson starred in another musical, The Whirl of Society, propelling his career on Broadway to new heights. During his time at the Winter Garden, Jolson would tell the audience, "You ain't heard nothing yet" before performing additional songs. In the play, Jolson debuted his signature blackface character, "Gus." The play was so successful that Winter Garden owner Lee Shubert agreed to sign Jolson to a seven-year contract with a salary of $1,000 a week.
    According to Esquire magazine, "J.J. Shubert, impressed by Jolson's overpowering display of energy, booked him for La Belle Paree, a musical comedy that opened at the Winter Garden in 1911.
    More Details Hide Details Within a month Jolson was a star. From then until 1926, when he retired from the stage, he could boast an unbroken series of smash hits."
  • 1908
    Age 21
    In 1908 Jolson, needing money for himself and his new wife, Henrietta, returned to New York.
    More Details Hide Details In 1909, Al's singing caught the attention of Lew Dockstader, the producer and star of Dockstader's Minstrels. Al accepted Dockstader's offer and became a regular blackface performer.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1906
    Age 19
    By 1906 the two agreed to separate, and Jolson was on his own.
    More Details Hide Details Jolson became a regular at the Globe and Wigwam Theater in San Francisco, California, and remained successful nationwide as a vaudeville singer. He took up residence in San Francisco, saying the earthquake-devastated people needed someone to cheer them up.
  • 1904
    Age 17
    While performing in a Brooklyn theater in 1904, Al decided on a new approach and began wearing blackface makeup, which boosted his career.
    More Details Hide Details He began wearing blackface in all of his shows. In late 1905, Harry left the trio following an argument with Al. Harry had refused Al's request to take care of Joe Palmer, who was in a wheelchair, while he was dating. After Harry's departure, Al and Joe Palmer worked as a duo but were not particularly successful.
  • 1903
    Age 16
    In May 1903, the head producer of the burlesque show Dainty Duchess Burlesquers agreed to give Jolson a part in one show.
    More Details Hide Details Asa gave a remarkable performance of "Be My Baby Bumble Bee" and the producer agreed to keep him for future shows. Unfortunately, the show closed by the end of the year. Asa was able to avoid financial troubles by forming a vaudeville partnership with his brother Hirsch, now a vaudeville performer known as Harry Yoelson. The brothers worked for the William Morris Agency. Asa and Harry soon formed a team with Joe Palmer. During their time with Palmer, they were able to gain bookings in a nationwide tour. However, live performances were falling in popularity as nickelodeons captured audiences; by 1908, nickelodeon theaters were dominant throughout New York City as well.
  • 1902
    Age 15
    In the spring of 1902, he accepted a job with Walter L. Main's Circus.
    More Details Hide Details Although Main had hired Jolson as an usher, Main was impressed by Jolson's singing voice and gave him a position as a singer during the circus' Indian Medicine Side Show segment. By the end of the year, the circus had folded and Jolson was again out of work.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1894
    Age 7
    By 1894, Moses Yoelson could afford to pay the fare to bring Naomi and his four children to America.
    More Details Hide Details By the time they arrived, he had found work as a cantor at Talmud Torah Congregation in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where the family was reunited. Hard times hit the family when his mother, Naomi, died at 37 in early 1895. Following his mother's death, young Asa was in a state of withdrawal for seven months. For a period of time, young Asa spent time at the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a progressive reformatory/home for orphans run by the Xaverian Brothers in Baltimore (the same school which would later be attended by Babe Ruth). Upon being introduced to show business in 1895 by entertainer Al Reeves, Asa and Hirsch became fascinated by the industry, and by 1897 the brothers were singing for coins on local street corners, using the names "Al" and "Harry". They would usually use the money to buy tickets to shows at the National Theater. Asa and Hirsch spent most of their days working different jobs as a team.
  • 1891
    Age 4
    In 1891, his father, who was qualified as a rabbi and cantor, moved to New York to secure a better future for his family.
    More Details Hide Details
  • 1886
    Born
    Jolson claimed not to know when he was born, and later chose to claim he was born on May 26, 1886.
    More Details Hide Details His one-time sister-in-law Margie Keeler-Weatherwax (a sister of Ruby Keeler) claimed Jolson was the same age as their father, who was born in 1882, and that Jolson was 46 when he married the 18-year-old Ruby in 1928.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
All data offered is derived from public sources. Spokeo does not verify or evaluate each piece of data, and makes no warranties or guarantees about any of the information offered. Spokeo does not possess or have access to secure or private financial information. Spokeo is not a consumer reporting agency and does not offer consumer reports. None of the information offered by Spokeo is to be considered for purposes of determining any entity or person's eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, housing, or for any other purposes covered under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)