Al Jolson Ole!
As a tribute on the 50th anniversary of the passing of Al Jolson, Dr. Saul Drajer appeared on the Buenos Aires radio show called Di Naye Yiddishe Sho (The New Yiddish Show). On the October 29, 2000, episode, he took to the air with this 13 minute segment devoted to Al Jolson.
Now, since many of our visitors don't speak or understand Spanish, Dr. Drajer supplies the following translation of his segment of the program.
Al Jolson was born as Asa Yoelson in Seredzius, Lithuania on May 26, 1885 and immigrated with his family to the United States. His father, a Khazn (ceremonial singer) took him to sing at the synagogue, but early escaped form his home to join a circus and the show business life. Around 1906 he sang, as a burned cork-painted face minstrel, in cafes and burlesques. In 1909 made his debut in the New York professional theater where he succeeded for two decades as the greatest showman of his time.
He was a pioneer in many ways: The first in touring along USA with the best Broadway musicals. The first in filming a "talkie" (The Jazz Singer - 1926) where he made world famous his "you ainīt heard nothing yet". The first in entertaining fighting soldiers in three wars. And the first in doing two movies about his own life.
What is the secret behind that terrible egomaniac, arrogant and even disgusting fellow, a real "shvitzer", which was and is so adored by the fans? Some critics insist that the "funny" negro impersonation is sheer racism. The list of Jolsonīs mistakes, reproaches and errors grows every year. But they melt like snow under the sun.
What really persist are love, admiration and the magic of his voice. For our generation (at least in Argentina), Jolson is Larry Parks singing like Jolson, with Jolsonīs voice, watched over and over from noon-time till late night at a second class cinema of Corrientes or Lavalle street in Buenos Aires, where both movies were projected together. On second thoughts, this was the first antecedent of "cult movies" in Argentina, the kind of cinema that was popularized in USA universities in the 60īs, where youngsters use to loudly recite lines and dialogues in overcrowded theaters. The one of my age who has not sung with Larry Parks - Jolson at the Catalonia Cinema during the projection of his films, had lived all his life under a carpet!
After his biographic films in 1946 and 1949 Jolson experienced an explosive rebirth of his career. In 1950, during the Korean War, he traveled to Asia to entertain soldiers. Shortly after his return to San Francisco, in the evening of October 23 of that year, Jolson had a heart attack that took him away. On that night, Broadway lights turned off and traffic stopped at Times Square. A new star appeared in the sky. The beloved son of the American show business, the one who delighted three generations became a legend.
He is buried in an imposing mausoleum at the Hillside Memorial Park, south of Los Angeles. The impressive monument with a Greek temple on is top, has a human size statue of Jolson with his right knee on earth and wide open arms as if he would sing "Swanee" to the thousands of car-drivers who pass unnoticed through the nearby 405 freeway.
According to the Jewish calendar, Al Jolson died on Jeshvan 13. This year 2000 it is Saturday, November the 11th. The International Al Jolson Fans Club asks all his Jewish fans to pray a Kadish on his memory next Friday 10 and light for him a candle. Amen.
Our sincere thanks to Dr. Saul Drajer for producing this program, and for sharing it with us!