The Mammy singer was truly born on 31st January 1921 when 34 year old Jolson first sang a song called My Mammy. It led to dozens of other similar songs he would sing in the next three decades including Give Me My Mammy, Coal Black Mammy, To My Mammy and Mammy I'll Sing About You.

 

Away from Broadway and his adoring audiences Jolson enjoyed going to the races. He was known to cancel a matinee and treat all of the cast to free bets at the same time.

 

For his new show Bombo Jolson wasn't only the star but it opened in a theatre that was named after him : Jolson's 59th Street Theatre on 6th October 1921. During its run and tours Al introduced April Showers, California Here I Come and Toot Toot Tootsie.  

 

Ethel Delmar whose real name was Alma Osbourne became the second Mrs Jolson on 22nd July 1922. Ethel though didn't bear up well due to Al's neglect and started drinking heavily, the marriage was to last just 4 years.

Jolson with Calvin Coolidge
Jolson with Calvin Coolidge

Ralph Reader later a respected British theatrical producer but then just starting in the business saw Jolson in Bombo on 9th June 1923.

 

He got a seat for the matinee but to his astonishment found it had been cancelled for the races. He was disgusted but did get a ticket for the evening performance.

 

 

 

He recalled : "I walked into that theatre absolutely hating the very name of Jolson. I took my seat, the place was jammed, and the show started. After about 20 minutes of the show, the tempo seemed to heat up. And within minutes after that on the stage came a blackface personality. Well being the favourite that he was, the whole house cracked with applause. He hadn't opened his mouth but there was nobody in that theatre applauding more than I was. I sat through that whole performance ; I still regard it as the most moving night of my whole life. When the performance ended I couldn't go home. All I could see was a wonderful magic man who hadn't been singing to anybody in the theatre but me. I didn't know there was another person sitting next to me." 

In 1923 37 year old Al was involved in a film project with pioneer director D.W. Griffith but he discovered he couldn't make love to an empty camera lens in the same way he could make love to an audience. Of course in silent films he couldn't sing or tell jokes either. Al decided to abandon the film when Ethel described the rushes as "the worst thing I ever saw."

 

Jolson was soon back on Broadway. He opened in Big Boy there on 7th January 1925. The reviews were ecstatic, the best ever for a musical comedy star.