Al Jolson (1886 - 1950)

Al Jolson
1886 - 1950
updated October 07, 2020
Al Jolson, father to 3 children, was born on May 26, 1886 in Srednike, Lithuania. He married Ruby Keeler on September 21, 1928 in and they later divorced on December 26, 1939 at United States. They gave birth to Al Jolson II. He married Erle Galbraith on March 24, 1945 in and Al died on October 23, 1950 in . They gave birth to Asa Jolson and Alicia Jolson. Al died on October 23, 1950 in California at 64 years of age.

Al Jolson was a Lithuanian-born U.S. singer, songwriter and actor who performed in vaudeville and minstrel shows and best known for his role in "The Jazz Singer". He was born on May 26, 1886, in Srednike, Lithuania and made his first stage appearance 1899 in Washington, D.C., performing in vaudeville before joining a minstrel show in 1909. In New York City, he was featured in musicals and known for his high-energy act. In 1927, Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, the first feature film with synchronized speech. He died in California in 1950.

His family immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old, and Jolson and his three older siblings were raised in Washington, D.C. At a young age, Jolson began singing and dancing on the streets for money. Frustrated by his cantankerous relationship with his father, a conservative Rabbi, Al and his brother, Harry, changed their last name to "Jolson" and moved to New York City, soon beginning a vaudeville act together. Jolson began performing on stage in 1899 and, a decade later, he joined a minstrel troupe. A few years later, he began performing his own act in San Francisco, California.

Jolson starred in multiple New York musicals, including Sinbad (1918). The musical included the George Gershwin song "Swanee," which became Jolson's hallmark song. In 1921, he introduced the song "My Mammy" to the public via the show Bombo. Jolson's records sold millions of copies.

(Today doing anything in blackface is considered racist and hostile. So his stage work was stained by controversy, as Jolson frequently wore blackface on stage. His vaudeville act became known for its use of dark facial makeup and white gloves. While critics saw Jolson as a racist egomaniac, others maintained that his fame was well-deserved, thanks to his enthusiastic stage presence. His performances were marked by interaction with the audience, fervent gesturing and vibrating his voice. Jolson was so beloved by audiences that New York City's Imperial Theatre was named after him in 1921.

Jolson's most famous performance came in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, the first feature in history to include synchronized speech. The film marked the end of the silent movie age and began Jolson's film career. Though he was middle-aged and not the most talented actor, Jolson's singing made him a magnetic movie star. He went on to appear in films such as The Singing Fool (1928) and Swanee River (1940), and provided the voiceover for a movie based on his life entitled The Jolson Story (1946).
Personal Life and Legacy
Jolson married four times and had three adopted children. He was very supportive of American troops, performing for soldiers in World War II and the Korean War. He died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950. His gravesite in Los Angeles' Hillside Memorial Park features a large monument to his career, a life-sized statue of Jolson genuflecting as if he just finished a performance.
The announcement of his death came over the radio on my and my twin brother's birthday. My older brother and my mother and my twin and I cried.
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Al Jolson Biography

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Al Jolson
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Al Jolson
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Al Jolson was born on in Srednike, Lithuania
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Al Jolson died on in California United States
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Al Jolson was born on in Srednike, Lithuania
Al Jolson died on in California United States
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actor, singer, comedian

Military Service

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.

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.

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.

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Al Jolson Family Tree

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Al Jolson & Ruby Keeler

September 21, 1928 - December 26, 1939
Cause of Separation: Divorce
United States
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Aug 25, 1909 - Feb 28, 1993

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1935 - Unknown
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Al Jolson & Erle Chenault (Galbraith) Jolson

March 24, 1945 - October 23, 1950
Cause of Separation: Death
United States

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Dec 1, 1922 - Jan 11, 2004

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1948 - Unknown
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1949 - Unknown

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Al Jolson Obituary

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Al Jolson dies on crest of a wave
From Alistair Cooke
Wed 25 Oct 1950 05.48 EST
36
Al Jolson died in San Francisco last night too late to hit the headlines of the morning papers, but in the evening papers to-day he swept everything before him, including President Truman at the fifth anniversary of the United Nations.

At sixty-four he was the luckiest man in show business. He went from minstrel show to blackface, from vaudeville to Broadway before he hit a fabulous prosperity as the most sentimental of all sentimental singers, a poor Russian cantor's son daubed with burnt cork and down on one knee sobbing for the "mammy" he had never known in a south that nobody ever knew.

For twenty dazzling years he was "as corny as Kansas in August, high as a flag on the fourth of July." He knew it, he revelled in it, and then the fashion slumped. Jazz overtook ragtime, vaudeville languished, the "era of wonderful nonsense" exploded as flat as a bottle of Texas Guinan's forty-dollar-a-bottle imitation champagne. Jolson was out on the sidewalk and soon out in the hinterland picking up one-night fees in crummy night clubs a thousand miles from the Broadway he had ruled.

First "all-talking" picture

His last brief vogue was after he had starred in 1927 in "The Jazz Singer," the first full-length "all-talking," all-squawking picture. He had little to offer to the fast-maturing sound film, but he bawled and whinnied for a while over the equally adolescent radio networks. Then radio too broke through the creaking stereotypes of vaudeville back-chat and old Kentucky homes into the vertiginous comedy of the Marx Brothers, the whimsicality of Jack Benny, the relaxed and urbane mockery of the Bing Crosby show. By the late thirties Jolson was the most thorough has-been in the American theatre.

During the war he tried to pick himself up again but there were few takers. Only a Hollywood producer, mulling over the ups and downs of Jolson's life, took what was thought to be a suicidal risk in filming a movie of it. It was one of the box-office champions of 1946-7. It inspired a sequel, made famous an obscure movie actor who impersonated Jolson, and catapulted Jolson himself back to Broadway, to the radio and to the big money.

Asked how he had planned his come-back, he replied: "That was no come-back, I just couldn't get a job." Once again he was called "the world's greatest entertainer." He was a guest star on every star radio programme. For a reason no one has ever satisfactorily explained, his records, old and new, started to sweep the hit parade and sell in the tens and hundreds of thousands. An enforced bachelor after three unsuccessful marriages, he married again, a lovely 21-year-old brunette. He gave a banquet for her, "only because it'll give me a chance to show her how I work with an audience. She's too young to have seen me." A guest congratulated him on his pretty daughter. "Mister," Jolson said, "she's too young to be my daughter. She's my wife."

His death

He 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."

He had been back only a month and last night was in a San Francisco hotel, on his way to Hollywood to be the guest on Bing Crosby's radio show. It was ten o'clock. He was playing gin rummy with three friends. He felt a little off colour and asked a friend to go out and get him some bicarbonate of soda. He lay down. Before they called the doctor, he said, "It looks like the end." The friends ridiculed his scare but Jolson remarked that he "had no pulse." He invited the doctor to "pull up a chair and hear a story or two." Then he said, "Hell, Truman had only one hour with MacArthur. I had two." A few minutes later he died.

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Other Records of Al Jolson

1886 - 1950 World Events

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In 1886, in the year that Al Jolson was born, on February 14th, the first train left Los Angeles for the East -by the way of the transcontinental railroad - with a cargo of oranges. Due to irrigation and the import of water, Los Angeles was the ideal place to grow oranges - which became a popular addition to Christmas stockings.

In 1896, he was only 10 years old when on January 28th, the first ticket for speeding - called "furious driving" - was issued. Walter Arnold of Kent England was fined 1 shilling plus costs - for going 8 mph. The speed limit was 2 mph.

In 1906, Al was 20 years old when the great San Francisco earthquake hit, estimated at 7.8 on the Richter scale. The earthquake caused fires that raged for days and between the earthquake and the fire, about 3,000 people were killed and 80% of the City was destroyed.

In 1946, by the time he was 60 years old, on July 4th, the Philippines gained independence from the United States. In 1964, Independence Day in the Philippines was moved from July 4th to June 12th at the insistence of nationalists and historians.

In 1950, in the year of Al Jolson's passing, on October 2, Charlie Brown appeared in the first Peanuts comic strip - created by Charles Schultz - and he was the only character in that strip. That year, Schultz said that Charlie was 4 years old, but Charlie aged a bit through the years.

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