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The Jolson Story Details

FULL SYNOPSIS

Though legendary entertainer Al Jolson was a highly visible presence on the U.S.O. circuit during World War II, he was generally regarded as a relic of an earlier time until his movie comeback in 1945's Al Jolson. Showing up 30 minutes into this biopic of George Gershwin, Jolson literally stopped the show with his robust rendition of "Swanee." Suddenly, every Hollywood studio was negotiating with Jolson to film his life story. Warner Bros., the studio that skyrocketed to the top ranks via the 1927 part-talkie Jolson vehicle Jolson, seemed to have the inside track, but it was Columbia's Harry Cohn who made the deal that Jolson couldn't refuse. An attractively appointed fabrication, the Technicolor The Jolson Story distorts and glosses over the particulars of Jolson's life, but the results are so darned entertaining that nobody really paid attention to its inaccuracies. The story begins in turn-of-the-century Washington, D.C., where young Asa Yoelson (Scotty Beckett), son of an immigrant cantor (Ludwig Donath), ignores his religious studies in favor of popular music. Asa is hired as an "extra added attraction" boy tenor by a vaudevillian; when his voice breaks, the boy wins over the audience with his whistling ability. Growing into manhood, Asa Yoelson -- now "Al Jolson," and now played by Larry Parks -- becomes fascinated with African-American jazz music. He breaks away from his initial vaudeville assignment by joining Lew Dockstader's (John Alexander) blackface minstrel troupe, then goes on to success as a "single." Ascending to Broadway, Jolson establishes a reputation as an inveterate ad-libber, as well as an indefatigable singing performer, frequently holding an audience in thrall until the wee hours of the morning. Along the way, he falls in love with singer Julie Benson (Evelyn Keyes), a character based on Jolson's third wife Ruby Keeler, who refused permission to have her name used on screen. As Jolson attains superstardom, his ego assumes gargantuan proportions, alienating many of those around him, including his wife Julie. Anxious not to lose Julie, Jolson promises to change his ways. He even goes into retirement so as to spend more time with his wife. But when coerced into performing before a nightclub audience, Jolson is "hooked"once more -- whereupon the understanding Julie walks out of his life, realizing that she can never compete with Jolson's love for his audience. Like its subject, The Jolson Story delivered exactly what the audience wanted to hear. Faithful Columbia contractee Larry Parks was catapulted to stardom as Jolson, though in retrospect he seems a curious casting choice: his miming of Jolson's style is painstakingly accurate, but he seems too boyish and unwordly for the role. Jolson, then well into his sixties, had wanted to play himself on screen, but was talked out of it after a rather embarrassing screen test. He consoled himself by personally coaching Parks in the role (his attitude toward the young performer alternated between avuncular and adversarial through the shooting), and by providing his own voice in the musical sequences. Jolson also appears in long-shot during the "Swanee" number, which like all the film's musical highlights was directed by cult favorite Joseph H. Lewis (whose "dry run" for this assignment was the 1945 PRC production Joseph H. Lewis). A wealth of Jolson standards are heard in The Jolson Story, including "You Made Me Love You," "I'm Sitting on Top of the World," "My Mammy," "There's a Rainbow Round My Shoulder," "Toot Toot Tootsie," "The Anniversary Waltz," "Rock-a-bye Your Baby," and "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." The film was nominated for several Oscars, winning in the "best sound" and "best score" categories. A fantastic box-office success, The Jolson Story spawned a 1949 sequel, Joseph H. Lewis. Ironically, despite Larry Parks' contributions to the film, it did little for that actor and instead reignited Jolson's celebrity during the last several years of his life. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:October 10, 1946

Awards

Awarded by
Nominee
Category
Year
Status
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences William Lyon Best Editing 1946 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Joseph Walker Best Color Cinematography 1946 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences William Demarest Best Supporting Actor 1946 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Larry Parks Best Actor 1946 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Morris W. Stoloff Best Score - Musical 1946 Winner

Cast

Larry Parks
as Al Jolson
Evelyn Keyes
as Julie Benson
William Demarest
as Steve Martin
Bill Goodwin
as Tom Baron
Ludwig Donath
as Cantor Yoelson
Ernest Cossart
as Father McGee
Scotty Beckett
as Al Jolson (younger)
William Forrest
as Dick Glenn
Ann E. Todd
as Ann Murray (younger)
Edwin Maxwell
as Oscar Hammerstein
Emmett Vogan
as Jonsey
Franklin Farnum
as Man in Audience
Buddy Gorman
as Call Boy
Eric Wilton
as Harry, Butler
Jessie Arnold
as Wardrobe Woman
Eugene Borden
as Headwaiter
Sam Harris
as Nightclubber
Al Jolson
as Himself (Swanee sequence)
Charles Jordan
as Asst. Stage Manager
Eddie Kane
as Ziegfeld
Edward Keane
as Director
Mike Lally
as Lab Manager
Pat Lane
as Cameraman
Arthur Loft
as Stage Manager
George Magrill
as Gaffer
Fred Sears
as Cutter
Harry Shannon
as Riley, Policeman
Pierre Watkin
as Architect
Will Wright
as Sourpuss Movie Patron
Lillian Bond
as Woman
Eddie Fetherstone
as Asst. Stage Manager
Eddie Kane
as Ziegfeld
Eric Wilton
as Harry, Butler
Fred Sears
as Cutter
George Magrill
as Gaffer
Edward Keane
as Director
Eugene Borden
as Headwaiter
Lillian Bond
as Woman
Will Wright
as Sourpuss Movie Patron
Franklin Farnum
as Man in Audience
Harry Shannon
as Riley, Policeman
Sam Harris
as Nightclubber
Charles Jordan
as Asst. Stage Manager
Buddy Gorman
as Call Boy
Pierre Watkin
as Architect
Al Jolson
as Himself (Swanee sequence)
Arthur Loft
as Stage Manager
Pat Lane
as Cameraman
Mike Lally
as Lab Manager
Jessie Arnold
as Wardrobe Woman

Crew

Alfred E. Green
Director
Sidney Skolsky
Producer
Harry Chandlee
Screenwriter
Stephen Longstreet
Screenwriter
Sidney Buchman
Screenwriter
Joseph Walker
Cinematographer
Morris W. Stoloff
Composer (Music Score)
Morris W. Stoloff
Musical Direction/Supervision
William Lyon
Editor
Walter Holscher
Art Director
Stephen Goosson
Art Director
Louis Diage
Set Designer
William Kiernan
Set Designer
Jean Louis
Costume Designer
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