Al Jolson - Movies - The Jolson Story

The Jolson Story

After the success of the George M. Cohan film biography, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky believed that a similar film could be made about Al Jolson—and he knew just where to pitch the project. Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, loved the music of Al Jolson.

Skolsky pitched the idea of an Al Jolson biopic and Cohn agreed. It was directed by Alfred E. Green, best remembered for the pre-Code Baby Face (1933), with musical numbers staged by Joseph H. Lewis. With Jolson providing almost all the vocals, and Columbia contract player Larry Parks playing Jolson, The Jolson Story (1946) became one of the biggest box-office hits of the year.

Larry Parks wrote, in a personal tribute to Jolson:

"Stepping into his shoes was, for me, a matter of endless study, observation, energetic concentration to obtain, perfectly if possible, a simulation of the kind of man he was. It is not surprising, therefore, that while making The Jolson Story, I spent 107 days before the cameras and lost eighteen pounds in weight."

From a review in Variety:

"But the real star of the production is that Jolson voice and that Jolson medley. It was good showmanship to cast this film with lesser people, particularly Larry Parks as the mammy kid... As for Jolson's voice, it has never been better. Thus the magic of science has produced a composite whole to eclipse the original at his most youthful best."

Parks received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Although Jolson was too old to play himself in the film, he persuaded the studio to let him appear in one musical sequence, "Swanee", shot entirely in long shot, with Jolson in blackface singing and dancing onto the runway leading into the middle of the theater. In the wake of the film's success, Jolson became a top singer among the American public once more. Decca Records signed Jolson and he recorded for Decca until his death.

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