On the night of the 23rd October 1950 they turned out the lights on Broadway and the traffic that normally thunders in and out of Times Square was brought to an abrupt halt.

 

It was a touching tribute to a man who for almost two decades had been the King of Broadway before going to Hollywood to star in the first commercially successful talking picture. An entertainer who had led the way in taking Broadway shows on the road and having Sunday night concerts so actors and show people could see him perform. He also entertained the troops in three wars.  

 

His name was Al Jolson : he was billed as the World's Greatest Entertainer and nobody argued. Many of his contemporaries disliked him as a person and he certainly appeared to have a huge ego.

 

Herbert Goldman in his biography The Legend Comes To Life suggests his yearning for applause stemmed from insecurity deriving from the loss of his mother when he was only 8 years old. He certainly wanted to be loved by an audience of that there is no doubt. His big hit, You Made Me Love You simply stated the truth, he made love to an audience and they adored him in return. Applause became his lifeblood, he only seemed happy when he had a song to sing and an audience to see and hear him singing it.   

Jolson's life story is really a love story between him and his audiences. It was too much competition for three wives who would cite the adoring customers in a theatre as Jolie's other woman.

 

He wasn't a very tall man or conventionally handsome but when he went onstage he became a giant.

 

Movies in the main failed to show the true depth of his personality. He did better on radio and at the recording studio though he was undeniably successful in every medium.

 

In movies he not only changed talking pictures from a mere novelty to a permanent part of cinema but in The Singing Fool (1928) had a box office hit unmatched till Gone with the Wind (1939).    

The Jolson Story (1946) was another big success in the top 50 box office hits in the UK since the arrival of sound measured according to cinema admissions.

 

This film the best he was ever associated with despite taking some liberties with the facts of his life was true to its spirit.

 

 

The 60 year old Jolson was also in great voice recording the soundtrack, arguably sounding better than he ever had before. The film revived his career and Al died more popular than ever.

What comes across in many memories of Jolson is talk of his extraordinary energy and "electricity". As one grey haired old-timer put it : "Jolson..it's been a long time but I still miss him."