Times Square Tintypes: Al Jolson

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles the Singing Fool, Al Jolson.
 

AL’S HERE

MAMMY!!! AL JOLSON. He drinks a bucket of bromo-seltzer every day.
Caricature of Al JolsonIs very superstitious. He is always knocking wood.
His real name is Asa Yoelson. Got the name Jolson when he was the singing mascot for a regiment in the Spanish-American war. A soldier asked him what his name was. He replied “Yoelson.” The soldier said: “That’s a Swedish name—you’re no Swede. Your name’s Jolson only you don’t know how to pronounce it.” From then on Jolson was his name.
Although he has been married three times women play a small part in his life.
He owns part of the St. Louis National Baseball Club.
His first appearance at the Winter Garden was in the show that opened that theater, Little Miss Innocence. It would be great to record that he made a big hit. The truth of the matter is that he made his first appearance on the stage after midnight and that no one paid any attention to him.
Likes to be patted on the back and is always surrounded by “Yes-men.” It was Walter Winchell who asked: “How many yes-men make a Jolson?”
Is not on speaking terms with his brother Harry. He wishes his brother wouldn’t use his name.
He has to read something in order to fall asleep.
Once started work in a D. W. Griffith picture. Then went to court in order to break the contract. On the witness stand he said: “I knew I was terrible and would never make a hit in pictures.” He was released from the contract. Today he has revolutionized the motion picture industry.
He cracks his knuckles when he is nervous.
His big passion in life is applause. Let an audience encourage him and he’ll break a vocal chord.
As a kid he sang on the streets of Washington and in the backroom of saloons. His boyhood pal at the time was Bill Robinson.
He is known as the second best verse writer in Tin Pan Alley. He doesn’t keep the profits on his songs but donates them to a tuberculosis camp.
Hates cold weather. So much so that one frosty night in Chicago he returned to his hotel room after the evening’s performance of Bombo. While undressing he noticed a sign across the street blinking: “It’s June in Miami. It’s June in Miami.” The next morning he was on his way to Miami, leaving the show cold.
He beams with happiness if anyone compliments him on his ballroom dancing.
Never took a singing lesson until he was past thirty-five. Then stopped after the sixth lesson because he thought they were hurting his voice.
He’s as sentimental as his songs.
Is a great showman and never misses an opportunity. When he arrived in Hollywood to make The Jazz Singer the entire town was at the station to meet him. He sang: “California, Here I Come.”
Mark Hellinger is now writing his life story. Hellinger got all his data when he accompanied the singing fool on his honeymoon abroad. Mark was the odd man.
His favorite word is “baby.”
He bet as much as $100,000 on a horse race and lost.
Never laughs at a joke except to be polite. If the joke really amuses him he says with a serious face, “That’s very funny.”
He knows a kosher restaurant in almost every important town.
Was a personal friend of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. One evening he had dinner with President Harding at the white House. Pork chops was the dish and every time he picked one up the President’s dog, Laddie Boy, would jump and grab it. This wouldn’t have happened if Jolson had been using his knife and fork.
He likes to drive a car fast.
If he ever has a son he wants him to be like Buddy De Sylva.
His favorite game is Hearts. If he loses he makes alibis. If he wins he gloats over the victory.

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Times Square Tintypes: Eddie Cantor

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles the popular comic, singer and vaudevillian Eddie Cantor.
 

FROM GAGS TO RICHES

EDDIE CANTOR. His name isn’t Eddie and it isn’t Cantor. It’s Izzy Iskowitch.
Caricature of Eddie CantorHe never saw his mother or father.
Although a bundle of nerves and energy on the stage, he is very quiet at home. Likes to sit around in pajamas and rest.
His theatrical career started as a singing usher in a movie house. Also was in Gus Edwards‘s “Kid Kabaret” act. Then he joined Bedini and Arthur, a noted team of jugglers. He brought them articles to juggle. Later he became half of the vaudeville team of “Cantor and Lee.”
When working before a microphone or making a record he feels depressed because an audience can’t see his eyes.
Was once an errand boy for the Isaac Gellis Wurst Works.
His birthday, if you’re interested, is January 31. He was born in 1892 on Eldridge Street, New York. His great hobby in life is maintaining the Surprise Lake Camp for boys of the East Side. Who, like himself when a youth, never get any air or sunshine.
First started his peppy style of racing up stage and down in 1910 singing a song called “The Ragtime Violin” written by a new song-writer named Irving Berlin.
Enjoys boxing with people. Often in his dressing room when a male visitor enters he will spar with him. He would like to be a strong man.
The dream of his life for many years was to build his own home. While the house was being completed he was thinking of selling it.
He is a good business man and quick to sense an opportunity. Wall Street had no sooner crashed than he had written a book called, Caught Short. Even in his dressing room he is business-like, having a secretary, a desk and a telephone.
The first play he ever saw was The Talk Of New York by George M. Cohan, starring Victor Moore, at the Grand Opera House, Twenty-third Street and Eighth Avenue.
He has his clothes made by Mayor Walker‘s tailor.
Is fussy about food. Eats with an eye to calories and vitamines. Every so often, however, he falls off the wagon and goes in for a heavy kosher meal which he loves.
His two favorite games are ping-pong and casino. He is a swell casino player.
The first play he ever appeared in was Canary Cottage, written by Earl Carroll.
Is always running to a doctor for something or other. One day a doctor examined him and said: “There’s something wrong with a gland in your throat. That’s the reason your eyes bulge. But I’m happy to say that I can cure you.” Cantor looked at the doctor and before racing from his office said: “You don’t fix that gland. I should pay you yet to take away my livelihood. No, sir! Good-bye!”
He would like to be the founder of a new religion.
Is a hard worker on the stage. When he was in the last Follies he said to a friend: “Drop around any time. I’m always on.”
In his new home which he calls, “The House That Zeigfeld’s Jack Built,” the bathroom contains every type of a shower. He is able to take a shower standing, sitting, leaning or reclining.
He hates bad wine, bad women and bad songs. Especially bad songs.
Has a passion for hats. His dressing room is generally crowded with special made headgear both for street use and for comedy purposes.
The ambition of his life is to be the father of a boy. He has five daughters. They are Marjorie, Natalie, Edna, Marilyn, and Janet. Marjorie and Natalie were named after relatives. Edna, because it was a pretty name. Marilyn was named after Marilyn Miller. Janet was named after the nurse.
After his fifth daughter was born one wit wisecracked: “Cantor is trying to raise his own Albertina Rasch ballet.”
In his home he has a special room where he keeps copies of My Life Is In Your Hands.
He has only one mark on his body. It is a scar on his forehead, a result of his wild childhood days.
Although he is worth two million dollars, his signature on a check isn’t worth a penny. His checks must be signed by Dan Lipsky who is his proxy for life.
In his book, My Life Is In Your Hands, he remembers the story of his life from two years before he was born.

In Your Hat, pt. 13

In the 13th and final chapter of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she admits, after a dozen chapters spent glorifying the world of show business and the performers who populate it, that she finds the whole circus a bit depressing. It’s the has-beens, more than the wanna-bes, that sadden her, it seems, and she insists that she’s content to stick with the going concern that is her hat check concession. “I know that’s going to last,” Carroll writes.

She was wrong, of course. Hats have fallen mostly out of favor (though some of us still wear them), and many restaurants today don’t even offer a coat check service. But, for the most part, hats hung in there long enough for Ms. Carroll.

If you read to the end of this brief closing chapter, you’ll find some updates from throughout Ms. Carroll’s life, written in 1947 and 1951.

WELL, I’ve finished my fifth year at Sardi’s. The only thing that have increased are the measurements of my hips, the number of people I know, and the size of my tips! But I’ve never been happier in my life.
Broadway is a funny place. It means so many different things to so many different people. To those who had to fight their way up only to find, as the great Winchell puts it, “It’s easy enough to climb to the top of the ladder—the hard thing is to stay there”, Broadway is just a tragedy of shattered hopes. To those who are just starting out, with all their illusions still glittering brightly, Broadway is “the greatest community in the world.”
But to me, standing on the sidelines and watching the whole panorama unfold past my hat check cubby-hole, Broadway is just another street. It may have more mazdas, but it’s just as good a place to keep away from as the proverbial pool-room on the proverbial Main Street. It has its rewards, sure!—But so, too, have Broadway in Podunkville, and Metropolitan Avenue in Sqeedunk Hollow.
I wouldn’t swap my job for all the five-year contracts (with options) in Hollywood! I wouldn’t change places with all the girls Earl Carroll hopes he’s going to “discover” in the next five years! A few years of my face and figure might be enough for the theatre and movie-going public—but they’ll always want to have their hats checked. And as long as I don’t get their derbies mixed up, they’re going to need me. But show business—phooey! You fade quicker than a bleached blonde.

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In Your Hat, pt. 12

In Chapter 12 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars Renee Carroll, she reveals what various celebrities wrote in her collection of autograph books, and she follows that with tales of what the stars of the day liked to eat when they patronized Sardi’s.

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.

TEXAS GUINAN

THAT’S an autograph left in my book by Tex. I’m not quite clear as to its meaning, and I don’t think she is either. But vaguely, it’s Broadway’s philosophy. If somebody pats you on the back, he’s only locating a spot for the knife thrust. If you give a sucker a break, he’s liable to shove his hand in and rip it apart.
Of course, all this is only sentimental hooey, and the boys and girls on Broadway are just as maudlin about one another as boys in an English boarding school. They all want to appear like awful, terrible “bad mans” with no hearts at all. The visage is stern, but the head and heart are made of mush, and it oozes through your fingers when you squeeze it.
I’ve got three books full of autographs. Perhaps a glance at some of them might throw an interesting light on the writers. I particularly like that of Frances Williams, whose cheeriness and glibness is not limited to her appeareances on the stage.

“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.”

Most of the celebrities pore over the book, seeking inspiration in the lines already written. Very few show any originality at all. Al Jolson, in one of his brighter moments, scribbled:

“Oh, look, I am in your book—thanks for letting me.”

And Louis Sobol, the Journal‘s columnist, wrote:

“To Renee, who expects something clever from me but won’t get it.”

Russell Patterson, the artist, who very rarely wears a hat, said as much, regretfully, with:

“To Renee, from her worst customer.”

Tony Canzoneri, the prize fighter, dragged his trade in by the teeth when he inscribed:

“To a real and sweet girl, with loads of knockouts.
                                           Tony Canzoneri,
                   Lightweight Champion of the World.”

The professional gate crasher, Tammany Young, waxed philosophical and wrote:

“To Renee—
   “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.”

I think George Jessel‘s autograph amusing:

“To Renee—
            Duchess of Sardi,
               from
               Baron George Jessel,
               Colonel of the Bronx Grenadiers
               And Vis-count of Brownsville.”

Sidney Skolsky, the paragrapher, gave me away with:

“You’ll always be Miss Shapiro to me—one of my best yarns. Sidney Skolsky
               P.S. She sleeps in the raw!”

If you can remember Herbert Rawlinson, you’ll remember his signature, too:

“My hat’s off to you. (Get it?) Je parle français aussi. (I hope that’s right).”

And Jesse Crawford noted:

“My autograph I here inscribe,
A member of the organ tribe
               Jesse Crawford,
               Poet (?) of the Organ.”

The little movie star, Marian Marsh, gave me a a straight tip with:

“Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”

And Reri who starred in F.W. Murnau‘s Tabu and was brought to American by Ziegfeld, wrote in the only language she knew:

“A mon amie Renee en souvenir des Ziegfeld Follies 1931.”

I offer the inscription of Sam Shipman, the playwright, because it is more or less typical of Broadway sentiment and ways of thinking:

“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.”

And Everett Marshall, the lusty-voiced baritone, dropped this:

“To Renee. In memory of my first daughter of four kilos.”

While Faith Baldwin, the author of Self Made Woman, wrote simply:

“Because I like red-heads.”

I’ve got lots of drawings, too, by famous artists, all of them too risqué for reproduction, and in some cases too combustible for safekeeping. Some of our best known illustrators have garnished the pages of my little books with drawings that would make those paintings on the bathroom walls of old Pompeii quiver with shame.
But not all the good things happen in autograph books or at penthouse parties. I have a lot of laughs right in the restaurant.

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Snapshot in Prose: West, Vallée, & Crosby

In this week’s Snapshot in Prose, we visit not just one performer, but three: Mae West, Rudy Vallée, and Bing Crosby. It’s interesting to see what the attitudes toward these performers were in 1935. Pipe-smoking, sweater-wearing Bing Crosby as a “futuristic painter”? Who knew?

Personalities makes hits!

Somewhere a voice is singing. A tenor, slightly off-key, is yodeling from the confines of his morning bath. Love in Bloom is being watered by splashes from the shower and is interrupted only when our singer asks for a towel.
     Somewhere a voice is humming. A cracked soprano voice is coming from the cabinet files and trying to render Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries. To her fellow workers that voice is making Life a Bowl of Lemons.
     Somewhere a youth is whistling. He was coasting down the street on a bike and averring I’d Like to Spend One Hour with You.
     Who is responsible for the bathtub tenor? Who inspired the filing clerk, who put the song into the heart of our bicycle boy?
     Not just the songwriters, but the first one who injected into the songs enough of his personality and individuality to make the tunes stay in one’s memory. The bathtub singer is unconsciously imitating Bing Crosby, the filing cleark is secretly understudying Ethel Merman, while the boy on the bike is an embryo Eddie Cantor.
     Lucky is the songwriter who has an ace performer to “introduce” a song. An introduction in this case means a lifetime acquaintance; it means that like love another hit is sweeping the country!
     Who, for example, can take a song and make it a sensation quicker than Come-Up’n-See-Me-Sometime West? The lady of the curves may not have a soprano like Tetrazzini yet her aria, My Old Flame, or Troubled Waters, found more favor than Tettrazini’s Bell Song from “Lakme.”
     For this West, where men are men who fall in love with her and women do their best to imitate her, has as much sex appeal in her voice as she has in her body. Close your eyes and picture a scene as Mae sings you her songs.
     The humor of it, the meaning of it all is in her voice, in her insinuating drawl, in her half-closed eyes. It lies in the none too subtle movement of her hips. For West personifies what little children of my day used to call Sex. Her singing is frankly designed to appeal to the physical senses. Her voice conveys naughty meanings and we understand, laugh at it, and eat it up.
     If West can’t help you throw off you inhibitions, no one can. Her songs, you will notice, bear titles in the manner in which Mae herself talks: I Like A Man Who Takes His Time, He’s A Ban Man But He Loves Me So Good, How’m I Doin’? Mae is doing very well, thank you, so well that we sing her songs to see if we can’t do a little better ourselves!
     Why has practically every song Rudy Vallee introduced gone into the hit class? The answer is easy. Vallee gave the public something new. He coined the word “crooner” for us and then said it didn’t apply to him—but that was after his style was getting imitators.
     Our ears, attuned to the none too gentle voices of blues singers, were duly grateful. We found we could take the cotton out of them and still not have them jarred. Here was a suave, young man; casual, soft and gentlemanly in his singing.
     Poise and culture lay behind the tones. He sometimes sang more slowly than his orchestra—sometimes more quickly—but we knew he would come out right in the end and we liked this new rhythm.
     To Bing Crosby goes the honor of having more men in showers trying to sing like him than any other singer in the country. Walk along the corridors of your apartment house any morning at seven-thirty (Sundays 9 to 12). There’ll be dozens of boo-boo-boo-boos accompanying the splashing.
     Bing Crosby is to song what our futuristic painters are to art. Bing is a 1935 pleader. Take me, he says, or to hell with you. It’s all very casual and sophisticated.
     It it remarkable, isn’t it, how these men and women have managed to convey so much of their personalities to their voices and how this personality made hits emerge from Tin-Pan-Alley? The people who make some darned tune run around in our heads are the little tin gods of the songwriters. What shall we do with them—kiss ’em or kill ’em?

Personalities makes hits!