With General Patton
With General Patton

In 1942 troops stationed in Alaska were excited by the news that a big star was coming to entertain them.

 

Rumours went around the camp that it was Lana Turner, counter rumours suggested Dorothy Lamour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When 56 year old Al Jolson was announced the disappointment could be measured in decibels but he bounced on the stage with plenty of enthusiasm. "I sing fellas, if you don't believe me write and ask your grand mothers." For the first time in years Jolson had found an audience and more importantly an audience had discovered Al Jolson. It was an audience Al was to adore.

 

He did tours in many combat zones. When a prominent Hollywood personality wouldn't go overseas unless he was commissioned somebody said "If that is the basis on which commissions are granted Al Jolson should be commissioned as a fort."

 

Al took the contact details of many soldiers and between tours would phone their families he would recall all the names perfectly. Al even took one GI's wife to dinner and a Broadway show.

 

He was preparing for another tour in October 1943 when Al collapsed in the lobby of a hotel in New York. The 57 year old trooper had picked up malaria overseas and it developed into pneumonia.

 

He eventually recovered and was well enough to tour military hospitals. At the Eastman Annexe at Hot Springs, Arkansas he met an X ray technician called Erle Galbraith.    

With fourth wife Erle Galbraith
With fourth wife Erle Galbraith

Jolson was now under contract to Columbia where he was employed as a producer though it seemed mainly a cosmetic title. Once after weeks of idleness he was excited when the phone went : "Is that Shapiro the plumber?" said the caller.

 

Still Al used his position as producer to suggest to Erle that she was a natural for the movies. She certainly had the looks though she also had a deep Southern accent. Al used his influence to get her a few non speaking parts and then popped the question : "Sure I'm old enough to be your father but I love yer."

 

Suddennly the 58 year old Jolson's health took a serious turn for the worse. The Warner Brothers arranged a plane to fly out a specialist to save Jolson's life. Part of Al's left lung had to be removed.

 

On 23rd March 1945 Al Jolson married Erle Galbraith. He was 58, she was 21.