Al and one of his biggest fans Jack Warner
Al and one of his biggest fans Jack Warner

As we have seen The Jazz Singer (1927) wasn't Jolson's first experience with film. The original Broadway play though didn't star him but George Jessel who seemed like the obvious choice to star in the movie.

 

 

 

 

Samson Raphaelson wrote the play about a cantor's son who becomes a big showbiz star but then returns to the synagogue to sing Kol Nidre while his father lies dying.

 

George Jessel was under contract to Warner Brothers and looked likely to do the movie but Jack Warner was a Jolson fan. Also Jessel wasn't keen when the brothers insisted they wanted to use Vitaphone on the film, a new sound on disc process.   

The Warner brothers used Jessel's difficult attitude as an excuse to approach Jolson. Al certainly seemed to have a knack of breaking new ground of doing things first that became the established practice of all who followed him.

 

Initially though The Jazz Singer (1927) was conceived as a silent film with just Al's singing and an occasional snatch of the background music, nobody thought of using sound to tell a story in dialogue. 

 

 

 

In the first scene to be shot though 41 year old Al improvised dialogue : "Wait a minute, wait a minute,"he said "You ain't heard nothing yet! Do you wanna here Toot Toot Tootsie." Those improvised words changed sound from a mere novelty into a permanent part of cinema.   

The King of Broadway now became the Emperor of Hollywood when The Singing Fool (1928) was an even bigger hit than The Jazz Singer (1927) in fact breaking all box office records. It wouldn't be overtaken until Gone with the Wind (1939) a decade later.

 

The big hit song of the movie Sonny Boy was written as a joke by DeSylva, Brown and Henderson who were ashamed of it. When Jolson cried in the movie singing the song as his sonny boy lies dying many cried with him and it became the first million selling record of the talkie era.

Al with third wife Ruby Keeler
Al with third wife Ruby Keeler

In 1928 42 year old Al married 19 year old dancer Ruby Keeler. Ruby was to appear in lavish Florenz Ziegfeld show with a score by the Gershwins, Show Girl but Al upstaged her on opening night by getting up out of his seat to sing Liza for what appeared no real reason. Possibly it was an agreement between Al and Ziegfeld to boost ticket sales.

 

 

Back in Hollywood Al starred in Say It with Songs (1929) which featured a mournful dirge called Little Pal an attempt to repeat the success of Sonny Boy. The film though was a flop, the first of Al Jolson's incredible career.