We’re of the opinion that no performer’s appeal has dropped as much over time as Al Jolson‘s.
By that we mean, given what a huge star he once was, it’s intriguing how dated and, well, odd he sounds to many people today.
Not that any other performers who became stars in the first three decades of the 20th century are moving many records (or mp3s) these days, but Jolson, to our ears, stands nearly alone among the stars of that era as a not terribly easily acquired taste for 21st century listeners.
This profile, first published in 1934, reviews Jolson’s rise from a hardscrabble childhood to unparalleled stardom. Give it a read, and see if you’re won over. And when you reach the end, we’ve included a pair of Jolson recordings for your consideration. “Sonny Boy,” especially, is Al at his most … emotive.
Tag: Al Jolson
In Your Hat, pt. 12
|If you took a rabbit out of those suckers’ hats
They would squawk just the same:
They all have two strikes on them
When they are born.
“May every hat check bring you a fat check—and may no meanie neglect my Renee—who never wrecks hats each time she checks hats—Frances Williams.”
“Oh, look, I am in your book—thanks for letting me.”
“To Renee, who expects something clever from me but won’t get it.”
“To Renee, from her worst customer.”
“To a real and sweet girl, with loads of knockouts.
Lightweight Champion of the World.”
“Who takes what you give graciously. All life is a game of give and take. For what she takes she gives in a return a smile, a cheerful greeting and your belongings. May you go a long ways and prosper. Keep smiling Renee, it’s what we all go for.”
Duchess of Sardi,
Baron George Jessel,
Colonel of the Bronx Grenadiers
And Vis-count of Brownsville.”
“You’ll always be Miss Shapiro to me—one of my best yarns. Sidney Skolsky
P.S. She sleeps in the raw!”
“My hat’s off to you. (Get it?) Je parle français aussi. (I hope that’s right).”
“My autograph I here inscribe,
A member of the organ tribe
Poet (?) of the Organ.”
“Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”
“A mon amie Renee en souvenir des Ziegfeld Follies 1931.”
“A hat girl who has more in her head than all the brains those hats cover. A little princess on a door mat—An oriental pearl in a suffocating shell—a ruby in a musty purse, but watch her.”
“To Renee. In memory of my first daughter of four kilos.”
“Because I like red-heads.”
We have some big news for you, straight from Cladrite Industries’ central office in the heart of New York City:
It’s with great pleasure that we announce that Cladrite Radio will now be featuring performances taken from rare Vitaphone shorts, via recordings generously provided by one of the driving forces behind the Vitaphone Project, Ron Hutchinson, corresponding secretary and editor of the organization’s newsletter, The Vitaphone News.
That’s right, listeners of Cladrite Radio will be able to enjoy recordings that date back eighty years and more and are not commercially available anywhere, including performances by such Cladrite favorites as Rudy Vallée, Ben Bernie and His Orchestra, Horace Heidt and His Calfornians, and Abe Lyman and His Band, just to name a few.
What are Vitaphone shorts and The Vitaphone Project?
Well, here’s a snippet from a 1926 short featuring an act called Witt & Berg (note: the restored shorts are much clearer than this online sample):
And here are a couple of the songs we’ll be featuring in our first batch Vitaphone recordings:
Grace Johnston and The Indiana Five — “Bashful Baby”
Tal Henry and His North Carolinians — “Milenberg Joys”
Anyone with a casual interest in classic movies knows that The Jazz Singer (1927), starring Al Jolson, is considered the first “talkie” feature motion picture (even though that picture is arguably a silent movie with sound segments). (Incidentally, the recent three-disc DVD reissue of The Jazz Singer includes a disc that features several Vitaphone shorts.)
The same process used to create the sound for that ground-breaking picture was also used in literally hundreds of short subjects, dating back a year earlier to 1926.
The Vitaphone process depended on the use of a separate 16-inch record that was synchronized with the film, as opposed to the later practice of imprinting the sound on the edge of the film itself.
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In Your Hat, pt. 1
If you’re at all like us (and honestly, who wouldn’t want to be?), the celebrity gossip of the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s is a lot more interesting than the blather that’s bandied about today.
So we’re excited to share with you the introduction (contributed by Louis Sobol, a longtime Broadway columnist for the Hearst newspapers) and first chapter of a 1933 memoir by Renee Carroll, a woman who, in her role as hat check gal at NYC’s Sardi’s restaurant (and this is when Sardi’s was Sardi’s, friends), got to know the rich and famous (and occasionally even talented) on an intimate basis.
Even the title of the book, In Your Hat, has a gum-snapping sassiness that we like. And there are the celebrities who appear in the book: Ernst Lubitsch, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Maurice Chevalier, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Flo Ziegfeld, the Marx Brothers, and so many more. And the illustrations throughout the book, rendered by Alex Gard. We think you’ll find this book a real treat.
Just consider it a loan from the Cladrite Library, and don’t fold the page corners to mark your place. Use a bookmark, for Pete’s sake.
RENEE CARROLL, a red-headed beauty, who smiles you out of your last quarter in exchange for a hat and coat which wouldn’t lure a quarter out of the most philanthropic pawn-broker in town, has written this book about the people whose names (and some of the names are awfully uneuphonious) hit you smack in the face every time you pick up a newspaper, stare up at a billboard or cluster of theater incandescents, or go into a huddle with other gossipy neighbors. In other words, it’s a book about celebrities, and take it from me, Renne knows her celebs.
I wish she hadn’t written this book. I wish she had gotten it together and then delivered it, paragraph by paragraph, to me. It would have made my daily task of columning such a simple thing. I turn green with envy at the names and the anecdotes she’s woven about them. Lubitsch, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Maurice Chevalier, Harry Richman, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Lou Holtz, Lee Shubert, Flo Ziegfeld, Daniel Frohman—oh, what’s the use. Such names—such stories!
There’ll never be another book quite like this. I know of no one else in this town, and that includes the Broadway columnists, who has contacted the people of the stage and the screen and what was once known as Tin Pan Alley quite as closely or intimately as Renee of the flaming coiffure and the ingratiating smile. They drop their masks for Renee.
And Gard has drawn the illustrations. Gard, the cynical, whose crayon caricatures catch the soul of you. Cruel, grotesque caricatures, they but don’t, don’t mind that. Gard will tell you in that unaffected manner of his, “I draw you like that because I am loving you like a brother.” And then he’ll sharpen your ears and hook your nose and twist your lips but the likeness of you is there—and, as I’ve said, the soul.
Hats off, then, to Renee Carroll, for a grand book, and to her associate Gard for the pictures. I hope it’s the first of a series.
WHEN Arnold Rothstein, kingpin gambler, peeled that thousand-dollar note off his roll and threw it in my direction, I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether I was a success on Broadway or a failure in life. I don’t know today why he did it. Maybe because I wasn’t wearing any stockings, or maybe he felt that knowing a redhead might bring him luck in his much-publicized profession.
We were at Tex Guinan‘s club. There were Tex and Tommy Guinan at the table, “Feet” Edson, one of Owney Madden’s mob; Jake Horwitz, a friend of Rothstein’s, and my girl friend. The reason for my presence was that I was supposed to be chaperoning my girl friend because she didn’t want people to be thinking that she was Jake’s woman. I don’t know how my being there made any difference in the situation because then people would be thinking that Jake was maintaining a harem on the Main Stem,—and we were two of the battalion. But that’s the way they figure things on Broadway, where “captive” is spelled “keptive.”
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