Cast & Crew
Alfred E. Green
In Washington, D.C., at the turn of the century, twelve-year-old Asa Yoelson, the son of Cantor Yoelson, dreams of a life in show business. While attending a burlesque show with his friend, Ann Murray, Asa sings aloud with the music and catches the attention of comedian Steve Martin. Later, Steve visits the Yoelsons and offers Asa a part in his burlesque act, but Asa's father refuses to allow his son to sing outside of the synagogue. Determined to sing with Steve, Asa runs away from home and boards a train for Baltimore, where the burlesque troupe is performing its next show. No sooner does Asa arrive in Baltimore than he is picked up as a runaway and placed in St. Mary's Home for Boys. There Asa joins the church choir until Father McGee, the head of St. Mary's, reunites him with his parents. With help from Steve, Asa manages to persuade his parents to allow him to join him on tour, and Asa is cast as a "stooge" who sings from his seat in the audience. When Asa's adolescent voice starts to change during a performance, he begins to whistle instead and is such a hit that Steve decides to alter the act and have Asa work with him onstage. As the years pass and the act continues on the road, Asa decides to change his name to "Al Jolson." His parents have accepted their son's desire to remain in show business and follow his career, but Al's visits home are infrequent. When Al is a grown man, he realizes that his singing voice is better than ever. He begs Steve to let him sing onstage, but Steve wants to wait until they have time to re-work the act. The next day, when Al realizes that one of his fellow performers, Tom Baron, is too drunk to perform his blackface routine, he takes Tom's place. As soon as the stage manager realizes that Al is taking over Tom's routine, he orders the curtains closed, but Al goes through the curtains and jokingly tells the audience "You ain't heard nothin' yet." The performance, which is a hit with the audience, is seen by minstral-show producer Lew Dockstader, who later offers Al a part in his show. Out of loyalty to Steve, Al is reluctant to accept, but Steve encourages him to move on. Al joins the minstrel troupe, but soon tires of Dockstader's traditional songs. While in New Orleans, Al hears jazz music for the first time and tries to convince Dockstader to include some new arrangements in the show. Dockstader is uninterested in jazz and the two men agree that Al should move on. While visiting his family in Washington, Al receives a telephone call from Tom, now a director, who offers him a spot at the Winter Garden in New York City. Al accepts the job and is an instant hit. He keeps Tom's show running in New York for two years, and hires Steve as his manager. Al enjoys his success and works constantly, disregarding the pleas of his parents and Steve, refuses to take a vacation or even a day off. In 1927, at the peak of his career, Al announces that he is leaving the stage to appear in the first sound motion picture. During his farewell show, Al meets and falls instantly in love with dancer Julie Benson. Later that night, Julie rejects Al's marriage proposal, but keeps in touch with him through long-distance telephone calls. When Julie opens on Broadway in the play Liza , Al surprises her by attending the performance and sings to her from the audience. After completing his role in the film The Jazz Singer , Al returns to New York, where the film's premiere creates a sensation. He soon marries Julie, promising that he will stop working so hard and build her a home in the country. More films, both for Al and for Julie, constantly delay their plans, however. Despite her own success, Julie continues to long for a life in the country and threatens to leave Al if he does not quit show business. Al eventually grants Julie's wish and retires from the limelight to a country home near Los Angeles, where he, Julie and Steve live a quiet life. Not wanting to lose Julie, Al refuses to sing for over two years. Although she is glad that Al has retired, she worries that he is not happy. When Mr. and Mrs. Yoelson come for a visit on their anniversary, Al reluctantly sings for them, then agrees to go to a nightclub to celebrate. When asked to come onstage, Al at first refuses, then relents, and after his first song, recites his popular phrase, "You ain't heard nothin' yet," and continues to sing. Watching Al's happiness while performing, Julie tells Steve that she was wrong to ask him to give up his career and walks out of the nightclub, leaving her husband to the audiences he loves.
Alfred E. Green
P. J. Kelly
Lawrence W. Butler
B. G. De Sylva
L. Wolfe Gilbert
Gordon S. Griffith
Joseph H. Lewis
Sam M. Lewis
James V. Monaco
Lewis F. Muir
M. W. Stoloff
Harry Von Tilzer
Best Supporting Actor
The Jolson Story
Just who was going to play Al Jolson on screen became the number one topic around town. Jolson wanted to do it himself, of course, but he was nearly 60 and Cohn talked him out of it. Cohn did give Jolson a say in the casting process, however, as the studio began testing dozens of hopefuls. Jolson wanted James Cagney, but Cagney wasn't interested in doing another musical biopic after Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). None of those who were given screen tests seemed right, but then no one really could seem right for such a distinctive, larger-than-life character. Frustrated, Cohn and Jolson decided to take another look at some of the tests, only to realize that the very first actor they had auditioned was excellent. The man was Larry Parks, 30, a "B" movie actor who had appeared in almost three dozen Columbia films since 1941.
Also cast were William Demarest, borrowed from Paramount to play "Steve Martin," a fictional composite character of several of Jolson's friends, and Evelyn Keyes as Jolson's third wife, singer/dancer Ruby Keeler. The real Ruby Keeler, however, objected to the use of her name in the film, as she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with her ex-husband. She demanded and received a payment from Columbia in order to have her likeness portrayed, but her name on screen was changed to "Julie Benson." Keyes lobbied relentlessly to win this part, later recalling, "I worked harder at getting that role than anything else in my life. I sent Cohn telegrams every day. I phoned him twice a day, three times, sometime half a dozen times."
For Parks, The Jolson Story was the high point of his career. It was decided early on that Al Jolson's real voice would be heard singing all the songs in the movie, meaning Parks had to train himself to mouth the songs perfectly. He did - not by merely lip-synching, but by singing at full volume when the cameras rolled. That way it would be obvious that he was actually singing, even though the voice heard in the final film was indeed Jolson's. Parks later said, "The big problem was that Jolson sang every song as if he was going to drop dead at the end of it - at full volume all the way - and my problem was to act out different emotions with Jolson singing at full pitch. It's very difficult to collapse in mid-song while the voice is at full-throat."
Parks was not familiar with Jolson's early Warner Brothers movies and had never even seen the star perform live. When Jolson learned this, he put on an impromptu show for the young actor; Jolson never could resist performing and being the center of attention. As for the old movies, Jack L. Warner refused to loan prints to Columbia for Parks to study. Warner had turned down the chance to produce this film and was now incensed that Columbia had given it a "go." He even tried desperately to bring it back to his studio, but was too late. According to Parks' widow Betty Garrett, Parks managed in the end to look at just one Jolson movie, in which Jolson was part of an all-star cast and sang "California, Here I Come."
Garrett also claims that Jolson worked with Parks only a little bit, teaching him some signature body movements, but he always resented that the "kid" was playing him and ultimately became such a nuisance that his access to the set was restricted. Parks, Garrett wrote, did not imitate Jolson so much as channel the "essence" of Jolson.
For the "Swanee" number, in which the character dances down the runway at the Winter Garden theater while singing, Jolson found Parks' re-enactment unsatisfactory. He insisted to Cohn that for this sequence he be permitted to play himself, and Cohn acquiesced. It was filmed in long shot so that it wouldn't be too obvious that it wasn't Parks on display, but eagle-eyed viewers will be able to see the difference.
"Swanee" is but one of dozens of songs crammed into The Jolson Story. Among the others: "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "You Made Me Love You," "April Showers" and "About a Quarter to Nine." The song "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" is heard over the opening credits, which was quite a rarity for that era.
One song was written expressly for the film and became a hit: "The Anniversary Song." According to author Michael Freedland, it was written on about six hours notice for a scene in which Jolson's parents celebrate their wedding anniversary: "Nothing came to mind until Al started to hum an old Viennese melody, long in the public domain. Saul Chaplin got to work on a lyric and new arrangements, and by the time he was finished, both he and Jolson had earned themselves a fortune. Both men have their name on the song's credits."
After five months of production time and six months of post, The Jolson Story was successfully previewed in Santa Barbara. Jolson surreptitiously listened as the audience exited. One elderly woman, in a now-famous remark, said: "What a pity that Jolson never lived to see this."
The final cost of The Jolson Story was an astronomical $2.5 million, but the gross would total almost $8 million. For his part, Jolson received half the profits as well as an additional $25,000 for recording the film's songs. He and Cohn also signed a deal with Decca for an album of eight songs from the movie, a very innovative idea at the time. Within a month of the album going on sale, Jolson had earned royalties of $400,000. In a true comeback, Jolson also got a radio show, made more new records, and won over an entire new generation of fans. He was suddenly "hip" again, and luckily his voice was as fine as ever.
Critics were mixed on The Jolson Story (NY Times: "To the visually discriminating customer it is the soundtrack that will recommend the film"), but the financial success spoke for itself, and even Oscar® took notice. The Jolson Story took home Academy Awards for Best Score and Sound, and was nominated for Best Actor (Larry Parks), Best Supporting Actor (William Demarest), Best Editing and Best Cinematography.
Three years later, Cohn released a sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949). Parks again starred as Jolson and even played himself in the portion of the film that deals with the production of The Jolson Story, but his participation was preceded by a court battle with Columbia. Before filming had started on The Jolson Story, Harry Cohn tried to get Parks to sign a new seven-year contract even though he still had a few years to go on his existing one. Parks didn't want to tie himself down with this potential hit in the works, but Cohn said, "If you don't sign this contract, we not only won't give you the Jolson picture, we'll ruin your career. You'll go back to doing bit parts." Parks gave in and signed. When Jolson Sings Again came around and Columbia refused to raise Parks' salary from $750/week, the actor sued, claiming he had signed the contract under duress. A judge ruled that Parks had to honor the contract but was free to work elsewhere as well. In the end, this forced Columbia to give him a hefty raise.
Producer: Gordon Griffith, Sidney Skolsky
Director: Alfred E. Green
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Harry Chandlee, Stephen Longstreet, Andrew Solt
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Film Editing: William Lyon
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson, Walter Holscher
Music: Saul Chaplin, George Duning, Hugo Friedhofer, Arthur Morton, Marlin Skiles, Morris Stoloff
Cast: Larry Parks (Al Jolson), Evelyn Keyes (Julie Benson), William Demarest (Steve Martin), Bill Goodwin (Tom Baron), Ludwig Donath (Cantor Yoelson), Scotty Beckett (Asa Yoelson).
by Jeremy Arnold
Betty Garrett, Betty Garrett and Other Songs: A Life on Stage and Screen
Michael Freedland, Jolson
Herbert G. Goldman, Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life
Robert Oberfirst, Al Jolson: You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet
The Jolson Story
Working titles for this film were The Life of Al Jolson, The Al Jolson Story and The Story of Al Jolson. Al Jolson's rendition of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" is an early example of a song being performed over the opening credits. In addition to the songs listed above, excerpts from many well-known numbers are also heard in the film, including "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along," "We're in the Money" and "Forty-Second Street." Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in Russia on May 26, 1886. Around 1895, his parents emigrated to Washington, D.C., where his father worked as a cantor. As depicted in the film, Jolson, who sang with his father during services, left home as a young man to start a career in show business. He first appeared with a circus, then was hired as a burlesque and vaudeville singer. As a minstrel show singer, he appeared in blackface, a theatrical convention with which he became strongly associated. In 1911, he was cast in his first important role in the Broadway show La Belle Paree. In 1923, film director D. W. Griffith hired him for Mammy's Boy, but the picture was never made. Jolson sang three songs in Warner Bros.' 1926 experimental sound short Al Jolson in A Plantation Act sings "April Showers" (And Other Songs), and was subsequently cast in the studio's ground-breaking 1927 "talkie" The Jazz Singer (see entry above). After starring in many successful film musicals during the 1930s, Jolson's popularity began to wane. His career was somewhat revived when he went on tour entertaining troops during World War II. Jolson died from a heart attack on October 23, 1950, shortly after returning from a tour entertaining troops in Korea. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Merit posthumously in recognition of his many goodwill tours.
In August 1945, according to pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, Columbia borrowed Bruce Humberstone from Twentieth Century-Fox to direct The Jolson Story. Subsequent Hollywood Reporter news items indicate that Humberstone returned to his home studio two months later, after encountering too many script delays. Columbia replaced Humberstone with Alfred E. Green, who was assigned to the film two days prior to the picture's October 24 start date. The extent of Humberstone's contribution to the final film has not been determined.
In a 1975 LAHEx interview, Humberstone claimed that Columbia production executive Harry Cohn, while explaining the reasons for the script delay, indicated that the film had no real producer assigned to it. According to Humberstone's recollection of Cohn's statements, producer Sidney Skolsky, a former assistant at Warner Bros., contributed nothing more to the film than the basic idea, which was offered in exchange for a screen credit. When Humberstone suggested that Cohn hire producer Sidney Buchman to oversee the production, Cohn told him that the decision required the approval of Jolson, who held a fifty percent controlling interest in picture. According to Humberstone, both Jolson and Cohn agreed to give up ten percent of their shares and offered them to Buchman to produce the film. The interview also indicates that Jolson gave a ten percent share to Humberstone for his "spunk" in suggesting the plan. Buchman was reportedly unaware that Humberstone had arranged his hiring. One week after Buchman took over the production, Humberstone quit, complaining that he could not work with a script that was being written only a few pages each day, and with a producer who was always on the set. Although Buchman did not receive screen credit for his contribution to The Jolson Story, he went on to produce the film's sequel, Jolson Sings Again .
According to modern sources, Warner Bros. head Jack L. Warner, who initially rejected Skolsky's proposal to film Jolson's story, tried to beat Columbia to it when he learned that Cohn was planning a Jolson film. Warner reportedly offered Jolson $200,000 for the rights to film his story and engaged the services of director Michael Curtiz before Jolson ended up signing a contract with Cohn. The modern source also claims that Cohn considered a number of actors to play the part of Jolson before he eventually settled on Parks. After offering the role to James Cagney, who refused the part, Cohn offered the role to Danny Thomas. Although Thomas reportedly refused the role when Cohn asked him to undergo an operation to reduce the size of his nose, he later played Jolson's role in Warner Bros.' 1953 remake of The Jazz Singer. Other actors considered for the title role were José Ferrer and Richard Conte, according to modern sources.
According to a September 1946 Cue article, Columbia made repeated recordings of Jolson singing his most popular songs, in order to get the best possible versions. Parks then matched as exactly as possible Jolson's mouth, head and body movements. According to the article, this method created the most convincing dubbing on screen to date. One of the film's songs, "Anniversary Song," was popularized by the film and was named the number one song on Billboard magazine's 1947 Honor Roll of Hits. Cue also noted that Parks prepared for his role by spending three months with Jolson, listening to his recordings and watching his films. Jolson himself appears in the film in a long shot, during the "Swanee" number. Modern sources also credit Rudy Wissler as Scotty Beckett's vocal double.
Jolson's third wife, singer, actress and dancer Ruby Keeler, was portrayed in the film as the character "Julie Benson." According to an October 1946 article in Time magazine, Keeler was paid $25,000 for her cooperation on the production but refused to allow her name to be used in the film. Actor William Demarest, who plays "Steve Martin" in the film, played a somewhat similar character in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer. [According to a modern source, author Samson Raphaelson was inspired to write his short story "A Day of Atonement," on which The Jazz Singer is based, after seeing Jolson perform "Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow."] Columbia borrowed Demarest from from Paramount for this production. Technical advisor Robert Gordon also appeared in The Jazz Singer. Contemporary sources note that the final cost of the film was $2,500,000.
In August 1946, the film had a preview screening in Santa Barbara, CA. According to the Cue article, Jolson, who attended the preview, overheard an audience member comment that it was "too bad that Jolson isn't alive to see this picture." The film was a box office hit, especially in New York, where it was booked as a special engagement. Prior to its January 1947 general release, the picture was booked on a "day and date" basis in various cities around the country.
In March 1947, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the Shubert family had filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Columbia, charging the studio with using the Shubert name and filming shots of the Shubert-owned Winter Garden Theatre without permission. The suit was heard in New York's Supreme Court, where lawyers representing Columbia claimed that the use of the Winter Garden was only incidental in the telling of Jolson's story. The suit was dismissed in June 1947, when the judge presiding over the case ruled that the Shuberts did not have claim to any property rights in the name of their theater. The ruling was appealed by the Shuberts in 1948, but the case was again dismissed.
In February 1948, according to a Hollywood Reporter article, Larry Parks filed suit against Columbia, claiming that in 1945, he was pressured by Cohn into signing an "unsatisfactory" contract. Parks further alleged that Cohn gestured with a riding crop while demanding that the actor choose between a stint in Columbia's "B" pictures, or a weekly salary of eight hundred dollars. According to the article, the attorney representing Columbia responded to the accusations by denying any duress, and stating that Parks had received a $10,000 bonus for his work on The Jolson Story. Parks claimed that the bonus amount was to have been $25,000, and that it was cut to $10,000 when he refused to extend his contract for one more year. On March 3, 1948, according to Hollywood Reporter, the judge presiding over Parks's case ruled that even though Parks had been subjected to undue duress, he had waited too long before seeking reparations, and was, therefore, still subject to the terms of his contract. In May 1948, Parks made a public announcement in the press stating that he would immediately cease to honor the contract he made with Columbia in 1945. The day after Parks made his announcement, the studio released a statement in which it condemned the actor's "habit of trying his case in the newspapers," and warned that Columbia would use every legal means in its power to prevent Parks from abrogating his contract. By September 1948, according to Hollywood Reporter, Parks and Columbia had settled their differences and announced their collaboration on a planned sequel to The Jolson Story, which was eventually released in 1950 under the title Jolson Sings Again.
The Jolson Story received Academy Awards for Best Music and Best Sound Recording, and was nominated for awards in the categories of Best Actor (Larry Parks), Best Supporting Actor (William Demarest), Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. Parks reprised his Jolson role for the sequel and also portrayed the singer in a Lux Radio Theatre dramatization of The Jolson Story, which aired on February 16, 1948. The Jolson Story, which had grossed $8,000,000 by August 1953, was re-released in 1954 in wide-screen format with stereophonic sound. According to a May 1954 Variety news item, four minutes were cut from the original film for the re-release version. On August 14, 1969, a re-issued version of the film in 70mm format began a roadshow engagement in London. The 70mm re-issue had its American premiere in August 1975.
Released in United States 1946
John Howard Lawson disliked the final script and had his name removed from the credits. Al Jolson dubbed Larry Parks' singing.
Released in United States 1946