Al Jolson Home Page|His Works|Broadway | Whirl of Society
On March 2, 1912, the New York Times published a little article about a new play, about to open at the Winter Garden Theatre. Actually two plays in one, the production was called "Whirl of Society" and "A Night With The Pierrots." Starring Stella Mayhew, it featured Al Jolson, fresh from his turn in "Vera Violetta." Al Jolson was not the star when the play opened. But within a short time during of the run of this play, that was all to change.

A look at the advertisement for the show, shown below and run on March 3, 1912, shows that Al Jolson was listed behind Stella Mayhew, who was, herself, billed after several foreign artists in the show.

It was during the run of this production that several of the enduring aspects of Al Jolson's career came to be. "A Night With The Pierrots" featured Al Jolson in whiteface, clown makeup, playing a hunchback. The play featured a burlesque of "Sumurun," a Max Reinhardt mime then running at the Casino, another Shubert theatre, which play sported a runway down through the audience. It was this runway which was later adopted by Jolson as a means of connecting with his audience.

At right, you can see Al Jolson in full costume, along with Stella Mayhew, from the show. This is a close up of the cover of the sheet music of "My Sumurun Girl," a song from the show that Al Jolson, unfortunately, never recorded. It was recorded, though, by Walter Van Brunt, a contemporary of Jolson, on May 3, 1912, and if you click on the sheet music cover, you can hear that recording.

The other great Jolson property came from the second part of the evening, "Whirl of Society." In that segment, Al Jolson introduced a character called "Gus," a blackfaced fellow who seemed to be enjoying a private joke with the audience. Included in many future Jolson shows, in many roles, Gus became, for all intents and purposes, the stage persona of Al Jolson.

Gilber Seldes, a writer and cultural critic of the day, is quoted in Herb Goldman's Jolson - The Legend Comes to Life as saying, "Al created a 'way of being' for Gus, whose 'wit and bathos' were singularly creditable characteristics of Gus and 'not Jolson.' Reproached by Columbus after a long absence [in "Bombo"], Bombo's 'lips began to quiver, his chin to tremble. The tears are approaching, when his human independence softly asserts itself and he wails, 'We all have our moments!''"

By the second week of the run of the play, the power of Al Jolson had asserted itself, and was reflected by a revised advertisement running in the New York Times:

Al Jolson was now listed first in the list of performers. He was the star.

In "Whirl of Society," Al Jolson was credited as performing three songs. One of them, " Row, Row, Row," was described by Seldes: "[Jolson] would bounce up on the runway, propel himself by imaginary oars over the heads of the audience, draw equally imaginary slivers from the seat of his trousers, and infuse into the song something wild and roaring and insanely funny." Unfortunately, this is another song that Jolson never recorded.

Al Jolson did record "Snap Your Fingers," from the show, on March 15, 1912, on the Victor label, shortly after the opening of the show. Click to listen to that recording.

While Al Jolson introduced the song "Waiting For The Robert E. Lee" during the show, he did not record it until much later, on the Decca label. Here is the June 18, 1947, recording of this Jolson classic.
Here is the review of the show, from the New York Times of March 6, 1912:

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This listing and material Copyright © 1995-2017 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
Updated 02 Mar 08
Updated 05 Mar 17