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Turner Classic Movies

TCM Celebrates the 70th Anniversary of THE JAZZ SINGER and the Birth of Talking Pictures

On October 6, 1927, THE JAZZ SINGER made history when it premiered as the first talking motion picture. On October 6, 1997 at 8 p.m. (ET), the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable network celebrates this landmark in movie history with an anniversary screening of this historic film.

THE JAZZ SINGER was the film that triggered the talking-picture revolution. Starring Al Jolson as a Jewish boy who becomes a Broadway star in defiance of his father's wish that he become a cantor, the film caused Hollywood and the world to race to convert to the new medium, triggering massive changes in film styles and genres.

THE JAZZ SINGER was far from the first film with synchronized sound; Thomas Edison had experimented with sound film during the earliest days of the motion picture. Initially, however, the development of sound was slowed by problems with amplification. By the time more advanced speaker systems became available in the 1920s, silent filmmaking had developed such a high level of sophistication that most studio heads felt sound unnecessary.

Fortunately, executives at Warner Bros., which was struggling at the time, thought differently. Initially, they developed sound as a means of providing synchronized orchestral scores for theaters too small to hire more than a pianist to accompany their films. In 1926, Warners released Don Juan, the first film with a synchronized score. Although the film did well, the real hit of that program was a series of musical shorts featuring top classical artists. A second set of shorts, this time with more popular music and including a performance by Jolson, was an even bigger hit.

As a result, Warners decided to make its next sound feature a musical, adding songs and a few lines of dialogue to an otherwise silent film. Vaudeville star George Jessel had already agreed to star, but when he demanded more money to record the film's songs, Warners replaced him with Jolson, then considered the world's greatest entertainer. Ironically, the play on which THE JAZZ SINGER was based had been inspired by Jolson's life.

The combination of Jolson and THE JAZZ SINGER was box-office dynamite, producing a profit of $3.5 million and helping Warner Bros. enter the ranks of Hollywood's top studios. When the studio's next few sound films scored with audiences, the rest of Hollywood switched to sound with startling speed. A year later, Hollywood honored the film with a special Academy Awardr as "the outstanding pioneer talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry."

Turner Classic Movies, a 24-hour cable entertainment network from Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., presents the greatest motion pictures of all time, from the 1920s through the 1980s, commercial-free and without interruption. For more information, visit the TCM website at ( Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., is a major producer of news and entertainment product around the world and the leading provider of programming for the basic cable industry.


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This listing and material Copyright © 2000 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
Updated 08 Jun 00