The Jolson Story

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The Jolson Story

1946 Theatrical Poster
Directed byAlfred E. Green
Produced bySidney Skolsky
Written byStephen Longstreet (screenplay)
Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Harry Chandlee (adaptation)
Andrew Solt (adaptation)
StarringLarry Parks
Evelyn Keyes
William Demarest
Bill Goodwin
Music byMorris Stoloff
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Editing byWilliam A. Lyon
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • October 10, 1946 (1946-10-10)
Running time128 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
 
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The Jolson Story

1946 Theatrical Poster
Directed byAlfred E. Green
Produced bySidney Skolsky
Written byStephen Longstreet (screenplay)
Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Harry Chandlee (adaptation)
Andrew Solt (adaptation)
StarringLarry Parks
Evelyn Keyes
William Demarest
Bill Goodwin
Music byMorris Stoloff
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Editing byWilliam A. Lyon
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date(s)
  • October 10, 1946 (1946-10-10)
Running time128 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

The Jolson Story is a 1946 musical biography which purports to tell the life story of singer Al Jolson. It stars Larry Parks as Jolson, Evelyn Keyes as "Julie Benson" (approximating Jolson's wife, Ruby Keeler), William Demarest as his manager, Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne as his parents, and Scotty Beckett as the young Jolson.

The Columbia Pictures production was written by Sidney Buchman (uncredited), Harry Chandlee, Stephen Longstreet and Andrew Solt. The dramatic scenes were directed by Alfred E. Green, with the musical sequences directed by Joseph H. Lewis. A sequel called Jolson Sings Again was released in 1949.

Contents

Plot

American burlesque performer Steve Martin (William Demarest) offers to play a song for his audience, if they agree to sing along. Only one person does sing, a young boy named Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett). Steve is bowled over by the boy's voice, but Asa realizes he should be singing at the synagogue with his father, Cantor Yoelson (Ludwig Donath). Asa arrives late, and is later reprimanded by his strict father. Asa is reluctant to explain where he was, but Steve Martin visits the Yoelsons' home. He explains that he heard Asa sing at the burlesque house, and that he wants Asa to be part of his act. Papa Yoelson refuses to consider it.

Asa is determined to be in the act, and runs away to Baltimore, where he is taken to a home for boys. The kindly superintendent, Father McGee (Ernest Cossart), finds Steve Martin and notifies Asa's parents. When they appear, Asa tells them that he will keep running away until they allow him to go into show business. Asa's mother (Tamara Shayne) believes that it would be better to give Asa what he wants than have him running away all the time.

On stage, Asa gets bored with singing songs the same way all the time, and begins to improvise. When his voice suddenly breaks, he starts whistling instead, but is unhappy and wants to go home. Steve says that they can work on stage together - previously Asa has only stood in the audience. Asa changes his mind, and his name: he performs as Al Jolson (Larry Parks).

At a show, blackface entertainer Tom Baron (Bill Goodwin) passes out drunk, and Al goes on in his place. Two theatrical entrepreneurs, Oscar Hammerstein (Edwin Maxwell) and Lew Dockstader (John Alexander), are in the audience. Dockstader realizes that it was really Al who was on stage, and hires him join his minstrel show. One night, Jolson is out walking when he hears the new, exciting jazz music; he enjoys it so much that he forgets that he has a show that night. Dockstader fires him.

Al visits his parents, but does not stay long, because he receives a call from Tom Baron, who is now a theater manager. Baron invites Al to join his Broadway show. Al insists on choosing his own material, including his signature tune, "Mammy", and he becomes so popular that he becomes the leading player and takes the show on tour.

At a Sunday night concert, Al meets an up-and-coming dancer named Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes). It is love at first sight for Al, and only a few hours after meeting her, he proposes to her. (Al Jolson was actually married four times. The character Julie Benson is modeled on his former wife Ruby Keeler.) She agrees, although she does not love him yet. They marry during Al filming The Jazz Singer, by which time Julie has fallen in love with him. But Julie is not as fond of show business as he is; she wants to quit and settle down. Al persuades her to continue with it, and they star in a film together, but eventually Julie can't stand any more. Al admits that he would rather have her than show business, and he finally quits. They move to the country.

Al refuses all job offers and absolutely will not sing, even for family and friends. But one night, they decide to celebrate the wedding anniversary of Al's parents. Papa Yoelson persuades him to sing for them, and then Tom Baron suggests they go to a nightclub and see an early floor show. Jolson is afraid of being recognized, but the crowd insists on a song. Although he tries to fob the crowd off, it is no use and he has to sing. Julie realizes he is happier than he has been in a long time, and decides to leave. She walks out of the picture, and out of his life, leaving Al to his first love: singing.

A successful sequel, Jolson Sings Again, was released in 1949.

Cast

Plot Accuracy

Some of the plot details are fictionalized. There is no evidence that Jolson ever appeared as a child singer, and he was brought up by his sister (not his mother, who had died). Jolson actually had three managers, who were combined into the William Demarest character. Ruby Keeler refused to allow her name to be used, so the writers used an alias, Julie Benson. In addition, a theatrical billboard in the film tells that Jolson's musical "Big Boy" was in the third year of its run. In reality, the show had two runs, one of six weeks (Jan 7 - Mar 14, 1925, 56 performances) and one of 15 weeks (Aug 24 - Dec 1925, 120 performances).

Production

Larry Parks' vocals were recorded by Al Jolson; Scotty Beckett's songs were recorded by Rudy Wissler. Al Jolson, determined to appear on screen somehow, persuaded the producer to film him instead of Larry Parks for the blackface "Swanee" number. Jolson is seen entirely in long shot; he performs on a theater runway.

Filming was already under way as a black-and-white feature when studio chief Harry Cohn, impressed by the scenes already filmed, decided to start the project all over as a Technicolor production.

Awards

Home video DVD cover

The film was a tremendous financial success, and won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording (John Livadary), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Larry Parks), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (William Demarest), Best Cinematography, Color and Best Film Editing.[1] The film was also entered into the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Quotations

Songs in the Film

  • Let Me Sing and I’m Happy
  • On the Banks of the Wabash
  • Ave Maria
  • When You Were Sweet Sixteen
  • After the Ball
  • By the Light of the Silvery Moon
  • Blue Bell
  • Ma Blushin’ Rosie
  • I Want a Girl
  • My Mammy
  • I’m Sitting on Top of the World
  • You Made Me Love You
  • Swanee
  • Toot, Toot, Tootsie! (Goo’ Bye)
  • The Spaniard That Blighted My Life
  • April Showers
  • California, Here I Come
  • Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)
  • There’s a Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder
  • Avalon
  • She’s a Latin from Manhattan
  • About, a Quarter to Nine
  • Anniversary Song
  • Waiting for the Robert E. Lee
  • Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody

References

External links