The Jolson Story (1947)

128 mins | Musical | January 1947

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HISTORY

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 26 May 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). After starring in many successful film musicals during the 1930s, Jolson's popularity began to wane. His career was somewhat revived ... More Less

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 26 May 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). 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 23 Oct 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 Aug 1945, according to pre-production news items in HR , Columbia borrowed Bruce Humberstone from Twentieth Century-Fox to direct The Jolson Story . Subsequent HR 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 Oct 24 start date. The extent of Humberstone's contribution to the final film has not been determined.

       In a 1975 LAHExam 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 (see above entry).

       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 Sep 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 Oct 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 Aug 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 Jan 1947 general release, the picture was booked on a "day and date" basis in various cities around the country.

       In Mar 1947, a HR 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 Jun 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 Feb 1948, according to a HR 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 3 Mar 1948, according to HR , 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 Sep 1948, according to HR , 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 (see above).

       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 16 Feb 1948. The Jolson Story , which had grossed $8,000,000 by Aug 1953, was re-released in 1954 in wide-screen format with stereophonic sound. According to a May 1954 Var news item, four minutes were cut from the original film for the re-release version. On 14 Aug 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 Aug 1975. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Sep 1946.
---
Daily Variety
16 Sep 46
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Sep 46
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 45
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Oct 45
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 45
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 45
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 45
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 45
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 45
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 45
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 46
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 46
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 46
p. 3, 12
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 46
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Feb 47
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 47
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 47
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Feb 48
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 48
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 48
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 48
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 48
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 May 48
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 48
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 48
p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald
15 Mar 1947.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
9 Mar 46
p. 2883.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
21 Sep 46
p. 3209.
New York Times
11 Oct 46
p. 28.
Newsweek
17 Mar 1947.
---
Variety
18 Sep 46
p. 16.
Variety
19 Aug 1953.
---
Variety
21 Apr 1954.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod numbers dir by
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
Mus dir
Vocal arr
Orch arr
VISUAL EFFECTS
Mont dir
Matte paintings cam
DANCE
Dances staged by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstyles
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Research dir
STAND INS
Voice double for Larry Parks
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col dir
SOURCES
SONGS
"Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
"Kol Nidre," traditional Jewish prayer
"On the Banks of the Wabash," music and lyrics by Paul Dresser
+
SONGS
"Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
"Kol Nidre," traditional Jewish prayer
"On the Banks of the Wabash," music and lyrics by Paul Dresser
"Ave Maria," music by Franz Schubert, lyrics, traditional
"When You Were Sweet Sixteen," music and lyrics by James Thornton
"After the Ball," music and lyrics by Charles K. Harris
"By the Light of the Silvery Moon," music by Gus Edwards, lyrics by Edward Madden
"Bluebell," music by Theodore M. Morse, lyrics by Edward Madden and Dolly Morse
"Ma Blushin' Rosie," music by John Stromberg, lyrics by Edgar Smith
"I Want a Girl--Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad," music by Harry Von Tilzer, lyrics by William Dillon
"My Mammy," music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young
"I'm Sittin' on Top of the World," music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young
"You Made Me Love You," music by James V. Monaco, lyrics by Joseph McCarthy
"Swanee," music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Irving Caesar
"Toot, Toot, Tootsie!," music and lyrics by Gus Kahn, Ernie Erdman and Dan Russo
"The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life," music and lyrics by Billy Merson
"April Showers," music by Louis Silvers, lyrics by B. G. DeSylva
"California, Here I Come," music and lyrics by B. G. DeSylva, Al Jolson and Joseph Meyer
"Liza," music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin
"There's a Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," music and lyrics by Al Jolson, Billy Rose and Dave Dreyer
"She's a Latin from Manhattan" and "About a Quarter to Nine," music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin
"Anniversary Song," music by J. Ivanovici, lyrics by Al Jolson and Saul Chaplin
"Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," music by Lewis F. Muir, lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert
"Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody," music by Jean Schwartz, lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Al Jolson Story
The Life of Al Jolson
The Story of Jolson
Release Date:
January 1947
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 10 October 1946
Production Date:
24 October 1945--15 March 1946
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
12 September 1946
Copyright Number:
LP732
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
128
Length(in feet):
11,648
Country:
United States
PCA No:
11154
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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