The Jolson Story

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The Jolson Story
The Jolson Story - 1946 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlfred E. Green
Written byStephen Longstreet (screenplay)
Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Harry Chandlee (adaptation)
Andrew Solt (adaptation)
Produced bySidney Skolsky
StarringLarry Parks
Evelyn Keyes
William Demarest
Bill Goodwin
CinematographyJoseph Walker
Edited byWilliam A. Lyon
Music byMorris Stoloff
Color processTechnicolor
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 10, 1946 (1946-10-10)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$7.6 million (US/Canada rentals)[2]

The Jolson Story is a 1946 American biographical musical film, a fictionalized account of the life of singer Al Jolson. It stars Larry Parks as Jolson, Evelyn Keyes as Julie Benson (approximating Jolson's wife, Ruby Keeler), William Demarest as his manager, Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne as his parents, and Scotty Beckett as the young Jolson. Many of the film's episodes are based on fact but the story is simplified, with some people disguised or combined into single characters.

The Columbia Pictures production was written by Sidney Buchman (uncredited), Harry Chandlee, Stephen Longstreet, and Andrew Solt. The dramatic scenes were directed by Alfred E. Green, with the musical sequences directed by Joseph H. Lewis.


Stage-struck Asa Yoelson wants to sing in burlesque performer Steve Martin's act. Cantor Yoelson, his father, refuses to consider it. After Asa runs away but is found in Baltimore, the Yoelsons grudgingly consent. Martin gives him billing, under a new name: Al Jolson. Jolson receives a job offer from minstrel-show master Lew Dockstader, and Martin releases Jolson.

Al succeeds with the minstrel troupe and is invited to join a Broadway show (thanks to Martin, behind the scenes). Al becomes the leading player and takes the show on tour. Al hires his old mentor Martin, now unemployed, to be his manager. (In real life there was no "Steve Martin"; the character is a composite of Jolson's three managers.)

Al, always too busy for girls, meets up-and-coming dancer Julie Benson. It is love at first sight for Al, who proposes to her that night. (Al Jolson was actually married four times. The character Julie Benson is modeled on his third wife, Ruby Keeler.) Al will not take no for an answer, and they marry. Al electrifies the show world with his first feature film, The Jazz Singer, and eagerly signs for more movies. His wife wants to quit show business and settle down, but Al persuades her to continue with her career. Julie becomes a movie star, but can't stand any more of Al's nonstop, show-biz lifestyle. Al realizes that the only way to keep Julie is to quit show business.

Al refuses all job offers and absolutely will not sing, even for family and friends. Papa Yoelson persuades his son to join him in a song – the music he and Mama Yoelson danced to at their wedding – and Al gets caught up in it. They adjourn to a nightclub, where the audience demands a song. Al agrees to a single number but the crowd yells for more. Julie, seeing Al happier than he's been in years, leaves while he's performing. She walks out of the nightclub and out of his life, leaving Al to his first love: singing.


Plot accuracy[edit]

Some of the plot details were fictionalized. There is no evidence that Jolson ever appeared as a child singer, and he was brought up by his sister, not his mother (who had died). Jolson actually had three managers, who were combined into the William Demarest character "Steve Martin". Ruby Keeler refused to allow her name to be used, so the writers used an alias, "Julie Benson".[3]


Larry Parks' vocals were recorded by Al Jolson; Scotty Beckett's songs were recorded by Rudy Wissler. Al Jolson, determined to appear on screen somehow, persuaded the producer to film him instead of Larry Parks for the blackface "Swanee" number. Jolson is seen entirely in long shot; he performs on a theater runway.

Filming was already under way as a black-and-white feature when studio chief Harry Cohn, encouraged by the scenes already filmed, decided to start the project all over as a Technicolor production. Cohn was impressed by director Joseph H. Lewis's handling of the musical numbers in the 1944 PRC feature Minstrel Man, and hired Lewis to stage the musical sequences for the Jolson project.

Jolson had a 50% share of the profits.[4]


The film was a tremendous financial success, and won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Morris Stoloff), and Best Sound Recording (John Livadary). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Larry Parks), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (William Demarest), Best Cinematography, Color (Joseph Walker) and Best Film Editing (William A. Lyon).[5] The film was also entered into the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.[6]

Larry Parks became a full-fledged star in major productions. His sudden rise to prominence was considered an "overnight success," though he had been featured in Columbia's low-budget features for five years. Parks continued playing character leads, but was most associated with his interpretation of Jolson. Columbia cast him in a successful sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949).

The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in these lists:

Radio adaptation[edit]

Lux Radio Theatre presented The Jolson Story on February 16, 1948. Jolson starred as himself in the one-hour adaptation.[8] Jolson also starred in a Lux adaptation of his first feature The Jazz Singer, supported by Jolson Story actors Ludwig Donath and Tamara Shayne.


  • "I heard some music tonight. Something they call 'jazz.' The fellows just make it up as they go along. They pick it out of the air." (Jolson to Dockstader)
  • "[I'm] trying to make songs out of music I picked up. Music nobody ever heard of before, but the only kind I want to sing." (Jolson, explaining what he's been doing)
  • "That's an audience that never saw a live show. People in small towns who can afford a movie, where they can't afford anything else. Audience of millions. I'd be singing to every one of them at the same time. That's really something!" (Jolson, discussing the new talking picture)
  • "Tonight, folks, I'm only going to sing two thousand songs. One to a customer." (Jolson)
  • "Broadway? What a street! You know something, baby? It belongs to me. You know something else? If you want, I'll give it to you." (Jolson)

Songs in the film[edit]


  1. ^ "Al Jolson Sequel", Variety, 16 July 1947, p. 1
  2. ^ Finler, Joel Waldo (2003). The Hollywood Story. Wallflower Press. pp. 356–357. ISBN 978-1-903364-66-6.
  3. ^ Natale, Richard (1993-03-01). "Legendary Keeler dies of cancer". Variety. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  4. ^ "Inside Stuff-Pictures". Variety. February 5, 1947. p. 18.
  5. ^ "The 19th Academy Awards (1947) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-19.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Jolson Story". Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  7. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.
  8. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 43, no. 4. Autumn 2017. p. 32.

External links[edit]