Jolson : The Legend Comes to Life

3.89 (19 ratings by Goodreads)
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Al Jolson was a famous American entertainer in the first thirty years of this century and his career is a familiar rags to riches story. But beneath his popular exterior lay a man who treated women badly, hogged the spotlight, and thought nothing of betraying most of his closest friends. The author explores both sides of this extraordinary man and his book, the result of fourteen years of research, offers insights into the early days of Broadway.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 423 pages
  • 160.02 x 236.22 x 27.94mm | 839.14g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • 0195055055
  • 9780195055054

About Herbert G. Goldman

About the Author: Herbert G. Goldman is a free-lance writer who lives in New York City. He is currently at work on a biography of Fanny Brice.
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Review Text

Once billed as "The World's Greatest Entertainment," Al Jolson fell into neglect following his death in 1951 - and has yet to rise again. In his preface, Goldman laments that his book was two or three times its present size before cutting. But this pruning brings life to what must have been an overburdened work. A rabbi's son, Asa Joelson was born in Lithuania. In 1894, with his mother, brother, and two sisters, he followed his father to Washington, D.C. The next year his ailing mother died and his vision of her, round-eyed and screaming, influenced his most famous song, "My Mammy," into which he mixed his own beseeching lyrics to the dying woman. Jolson held back in his early stage work until a fellow performer told him to work in blackface. He found himself not only released by burnt cork but energized. His rise in vaudeville was tremendous, to be capped by his singing in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer ("You ain't heard nothin' yet!"). Its story, about a cantor's son who goes on the stage but stays unpraised by his father, is not unlike Jolson's own. His fame leveled off in so-so films during the 30's. His wives include song-and-dance star Ruby Keeler; his fourth and last wife was about 37 years his junior. And his greatest comeback was the postwar smash movie The Jolson Story, a vastly fictionalized bio-pic in which Larry Parks mimed to Jolson's singing voice, followed by a second Parks-Jolson smash, Jolson Sings Again (in which his voice hits a sustained amber richness unreached before). Unlike that of the richly documented Judy Garland, his only stage rival this century, Jolson's electric tie to a live audience, his torrential zip in blackface, was never caught fully by phonograph record, film, recorded TV, or radio program. Often childishly egoistic, he sighed that he would be forgotten. . . Jolson struts, sings, and dances - and argues and boasts, is cynical, giving, a boor and a wit, and inspiring and magical. This is grounds for a Jolson Story remake. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Rating details

19 ratings
3.89 out of 5 stars
5 26% (5)
4 42% (8)
3 26% (5)
2 5% (1)
1 0% (0)
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