Al Jolson Home Page|The IAJS|Palm Springs 2013 Jolson Festival

International Al Jolson Society
63rd Anniversary Jolson Festival
Thursday, May 16, 2013 through Sunday, May 19, 2013
Spa Resort Casino Hotel
Palm Springs, California

Report by Paul Bowers:

This year's Palm Springs festival was certainly a bold, smart, colorful and purely pleasurable experience. From the onset, an extensive lineup of incredibly well researched and informative presentations highlighting Al Jolson's awesome trek through the history of the 20th century right through the late 1940s was fully detailed. The planned offerings went off without a hitch.

David McCarthy dug deeply to unearth fantastic and little known material and photos to compliment his compelling story of Jolson's career from film to radio...right up through the Kraft Music Hall years. My own offering, drawn from my recent article in Shubert's The Passing Show, detailed Al's rise to stardom on Broadway and featured several pieces of rare film and audio that have seldom been seen or heard. The documentary style presentation covered Al's association with the supporting cast of characters who fortified his Broadway success. Earlier in the day we heard from Kirk Estee and Marv Freeman, featuring their USO project focusing on Jolson's wartime experiences. Later that afternoon Doug Galloway offered an intriguing story detailing Mrs. Jolson's journey through life as Al's bride. Erle's life with Al unfolded on the screen with many personal and enchanting family photos that fascinated the audience. The events of the day were enormous and quite fulfilling. David Miller documented his relationship with the General George Patton Museum and the recent honor they bestowed on Al. We saw filmed out-takes of Al Jolson at the Warner Bros. studio climaxing with a unique glimpse of Al's ability to crank up or shut down his performance style. Also featured was a rare film detailing the Jack Dempsey/Georges Carpentier 1921 heavyweight championship (highlighted on HBO's Broadway Empire) featuring Al Jolson. Thanks to Ed Greenbaum and Herb Goldman for making that rare piece of film available. It was a splendid and informative addition to the afternoon's activities. Later, I followed with a video production exploring Al's relationship with Oscar Levant, Lou Bring and the Kraft show, spotlighting music and additional patter from the new Jolson On Kraft CD. Let me take a breath...that was only the first day and we were still looking forward to Barbara Hale and the evenings outstanding entertainment provided by Tony Babino, David Gross, Bill Campbell, Nigel Dreiner...and a host of surprise entertainers enlisted by David Miller.

The big event with Miss Hale was terrific! This memorable moment was the highlight of the weekend. Complimenting Jan Hernstat for his exhaustive background research, Barbara noted..."Some men are smart as pigs!" Fortunately, that exchange was recorded as well as Tony Babino's splendid serenading of Miss Hale. Tony and Dave Gross went on to provide a night of rollicking entertainment.

Day two began with a screening of Go Into Your Dance, hosted by Jon Sonneborn. Jon provided a full account of the films fascinating backstory and offered further insights into Jolson's remaining cinematic canon. A lively discussion of the productions development followed the film. Next on the exceptional program was an absorbing presentation by comedian, author and raconteur Larry Wilde. Larry passionately described his love for Al Jolson through his many interviews with the elite of the comedic world. After a short lunch break, Jon Sonneborn led a spirited discussion exploring Al Jolson's role as an actor. Jon's assessment of Jolson's acting prowess was accompanied by early Warner Bros. film clips. The presentation examined a number of instances that focused on Al's acting potential.

Finally it was time to close the daytime event with Jan's enthusiastic and profitable IAJS auction. Accompanied by sidekick Dave Greim, the delightful, jocular duo successfully added mucho dinero to the society's coffers. Several auction participants managed lucky bids and walked away with highly prized items.

The lineup for Saturday's show in the Canyon Conference Center Ballroom was huge. Fortunately, the tag line at the bottom of the bill did not read "and many others." Everyone received due credit. The daughter of Louis Prima and Keely Smith was present to kick off the festivities. Jan honored Toni Prima's father with a DVD presentation of her dad's performance in Rose of Washington Square. She was deeply moved and appreciative of this special acknowledgement from the IAJS. That was quickly followed by Bill Campbell's lovely rendition of Al Jolson's popular radio tunes. Later, Dean Mora provided the spirited accompaniment to a pivotal scene from The Jazz Singer. Nigel Dreiner took us back to the times of Charlie Chaplin and Lew Dockstader with "Those Charlie Chaplin Feet" and "Everybody Works But Father." The team of Sharon Evans and Rick Rodgers brought back memories of what Vaudeville must have been like in its glory days. The detail in their performance was delightful. Sharon later sang a moving rendition of "You Made Me Love You," especially dedicated to Al Jolson. Afterward, Rick Rogers joined Richard Halpern in several bouncy Cantor/Jolson duets. The lively, fun-loving performances brought down the house. Richard Halpern closed the show with a sensational act that traced Al Jolson's journey to California to partake in the production of The Jolson Story. Dean Mora added his musical talent to the telling of the tale. It was quite lively and included a surprise performance by John Carter as Larry Parks. The cast of Richard Halpern's production closed the night in an exuberant and high-spirited fashion.

I didn't take any notes and I'm rehashing this story as I recall it. I'm very sorry if I left anyone out. The daytime presenters were excellent and on top of their game...and the evenings entertainment was brilliant.

Thank you David and Susie Miller for hosting a wonderful weekend filled with informative presentations and lively entertainment. Thank you Jan Hernstat for providing the energetic stuff that gave this event its bubbly pep and pizzazz.

Be sure to contact the IAJS Video Department for the DVD of this, and other, Jolson Festivals.

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This listing and material Copyright © 1995-2014 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
Updated 16 Feb 14