Arriving in Korea, September 1950
Arriving in Korea, September 1950

So tremendous was the success of The Jolson Story, that it was followed by another picture, Jolson Sings Again.

It was based on Al's career during the war. His health fails. During a performance abroad he sinks unconscious on the stage. He is flown to an Army hospital in the United States, and a beautiful nurse, Ellen Clark, takes care of him. Al recovers and goes on a tour that ends in army hospitals. Finally he comes to the hospital in Arkansas where Ellen is.

 

Later, in Los Angeles, he collapses. An operation is performed,
and his condition is critical. Steve telephones Ellen, and Al suddenly finds her at his side. He recovers and marries this young girl that he loves.

Al's love for the stage causes him to refuse an opportunity for going into pictures. He makes a smash hit in a benefit performance, and meets Colonel Bryant, who is a motion picture producer. Byrant persuades Al to consent to a picture where another actor was to play the part of Al Jolson with Al's actual voice dubbed in.

There follows the filming of The Jolson Story which is such a hit that Al obtains a radio program. His father, Rabbi Yoelson, suggests a sequel to the picture. That became Jolson Sings Again.

This film also, was successful, and Al was planning a third picture when the nation was shocked by the outbreak of the Korean war. To my brother it was like touching powder with a match. He volunteered as an
entertainer, and was accepted.

The Eighth Army Headquarters in Korea released the following dispatch on September 17, 1950 : "Al Jolson, the first top-flight entertainer
to reach the war front, landed here today by plane from Los Angeles."

It is interesting to know that Al was paying his own expenses.

Sixty-five years of age, with one lung almost entirely cut away, Al was attempting a task that proved too great for his strength. In sixteen days he gave forty- four shows. He and his accompanist traveled in a helicopter to different sections of the war front.

When he returned to Hollywood, the newspapers reported that he was in splendid health. A few of those close to him knew that he was not.

The first time I met Al after his return, I looked at him with astonishment.

"Al," I said, "you will have to take better care of yourself. Stop worrying. Stop working. Stop thinking. Relax! You have a home, you
know, and I believe you will enjoy staying in it if you give it a trial."

I was half joking and half serious, for I could see that Al was not as well as when he departed for Korea. He was not joking when he answered.

"There's a little business I must attend to. Then I'm taking your advice. I had a hard time, and I don't feel so hot. Thanks, Harry, for the way you have handled things for me."

That was the last time that I saw my brother. He dashed to San Francisco to appear on the radio with Bing Crosby. He was in the hotel playing cards with friends when he complained of a pain in his chest.

Knowing Al's heart condition they called a specialist. Al tried to pass the whole thing off as a joke, but the grim reaper was in no mood for joking.

Al talked of his trip to Korea.

"Do you know Doc," he said with a faint smile, "that President Truman had only one hour with General Mac Arthur? Well, let me tell you something. I had two!"

A few minutes later the word flamed out on the wires to nearly every part of the globe.

Al Jolson was dead!

The news reached me quickly, and I was asked for a statement. What could I say? What can anyone say at such a time?

 

Excerpt from Mistah Jolson (1951) by Harry Jolson