The Museum of Family History 
 Great Artists Series

 The Immortal
  Al Jolson  

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Jolson on Stage!

Below is a display of photographs and descriptions of some of the many live shows Al Jolson appeared in.


  "The Serenaders" "Boo-Hoo Land"  

Lew Dockstader's Minstrels company
cir 1908-9

Al Jolson appeared in Lew Dockstader's Minstrels show from 1908 to 1909.  He had been blacklisted on the vaudeville circuit for two years and felt that this was a way around it. He was given a solo in the show (the only one besides that of Dockstader) , and he felt that this would give him an opportunity to best showcase his talents for any booking agents that might be in the audience.  During the 1908-9 season, Dockstader decided to try something new and presented a "musical comedy in blackface." He played a "Professor Hightower" and Jolson played his assistant named "Acie."

The life of a minstrel was not an easy one, involving as it did a lot of one-nighters in small towns all across the United States.  Jolson left Dockstader’s Minstrels for another opportunity, but later returned to work with them for a time.


Winter Garden Theatre
New York, New York


In Mar 1911, a new theatre on Broadway opened, called the Winter Garden. This would be the New York theatre that Jolson would most readily be identified with. Jolson was cast in the first show ever performed at the Winter Garden ("La Belle Paree"), and this would launch one of the greatest careers ever in the history of Broadway. In "La Belle Paree," though Jolson was only tenth in importance in the cast, by the third performance he began to become a legend. "La Belle Paree" (with music by Jerome Kern), was a "jumble of jollity in two acts and eleven scenes," and ran from Mar 20-Jun 10, 1911. In this show, Jolson sang "Paris Is a Paradise for Coons," and "That Lovin' Traumerei."

Winter Garden Theatre
New York, New York



First New York Times display ad for show (top) from Jan 26, 1912; a second ad from Feb 18 of the same year.

From the New York Times, November 21, 1911:

"Lively Operetta at Winter Garden":

"There was Al Jolson, in the role of a colored waiter who succeeded in rousing the audience into its first enthusiasm in the early part of the evening, and kept them enthusiastic much of the time afterwards..."

right: Cast of "Vera Violetta", Nov 21, 1911, New York Times

Winter Garden Theatre
New York, New York


"The Whirl of Society" was part of a "twin bill," preceded by "A Night With The Pierrots." "The Whirl of Society" was a "musical satire of up-t0-date society." It was a two-act satire about a recent visit of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught.

In this production, Jolson played Gus, the blackfaced butler. "Gus" was a character that Jolson often played during his stage career. Jolson sang "Snap Your Fingers," "Row, Row, Row" and "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." The show was first performed in Albany, N.Y. for two days, followed by an almost three month stay at the Winter Garden; the last show was at the end of June. The show then went on the road from Sep 1, 1912 and played through Christmas.

"The Whirl of Society" was the first time that Jolson used a runway that extended from the stage along the theatre's center aisle.


Winter Garden Theatre
New York, New York

"The Honeymoon Express," after a two-day run at the Hyperion in New Haven, CT, played at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City from Feb-Jun 1913.

The show then went on the road in Sept 1913 for six months, closing in Minneapolis in Mar 1914.

In this "spectacular farce with music," Jolson sang, among other songs, "The Spaniard That Blighted My Life," "You Made Me Love You," and "Who Paid the Rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle?"

  To hear Jolson sing "Who Paid the Rent for Mrs. Rip Van Winkle?" as sung cir 1913-4, click on the earphones icon.


Winter Garden Theatre
New York, New York


"Dancing Around" was the first show in which Al Jolson received top billing from the start. Saying that, the show was considered to be weak, even with a score written by Sigmund Romberg.

During the show Jolson sang an English novelty song named "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers" (a tongue twister), and he offered anybody in the audience ten dollars if they could sing a chorus of the song without stopping.

From New York Times, October 11, 1914:
"Mr. Jolson is in fine form and as droll as ever, whether he is a butler wearing a "gol-dum-yuh" in his buttonhole, the entire staff of the Hotel Lavender, or a gondolier in distant Venice. For once, this ebony trifler washes his face and appears as a mincing man dressmaker ...He sings with great gusto and success, even if the songs provided do not quite match some of his earlier favorites..."

Right, top: Display ad, New York Times, Oct. 12, 1914.  Right, bottom: Cast listing, New York Times, Oct. 11, 1914.

Hear Jolson sing "When the Grown Up Ladies Act Like Babies," which he sang in the show.



"Robinson Crusoe, Jr." (1916) was a "musical extravaganza in two acts and ten scenes." The music was by Sigmund Bromberg and James F. Hanley. It opened in New Haven for three days of performance before going to the Winter Garden in New York City, where it opened on Feb 17, 1916.  It ran there for nearly four months before going on the road for another three.

In this show, Al Jolson sang "Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow."

Here a later version of this song sung by Jolson by clicking on the earphones icon.

left: Jolson in 1916, probably in "Robinson Crusoe, Jr."


"Sinbad" (1918), a "spectacular extravaganza in two acts and fourteen scenes," music by Sigmund Romberg and Al Jolson, after a tryout in New Haven, Connecticut, opened at the Winter Garden on Feb 14, 1918 and ran for nearly six months. One of the songs that Jolson sang in this show was his popular "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody."

The show went on the road for nearly two years. Along the way, Jolson was given more songs to sing, e.g. "Avalon"  and "My Mammy."

"Sinbad" had its last performance in St. Paul, Minnesota on May 25, 1921.

left and above: Publicity photo for "Sinbad", 1918, and Winter Garden Theatre marquee for the show.

  To listen to "Swanee" as song by Jolson in 1918, please click on the earphones icon.



"Bombo,"  a "musical extravaganza in two acts and fourteen scenes," played its first performance at the Globe in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Sept 28, 1921. It opened at Jolson's 59th Street Theatre (the theatre had been named after Jolson.) a week later. Again, Jolson played Gus once again and sang some memorable songs, e.g. "April Showers," "Toot, Toot, Tootsie!" (in the second production of "Bombo," which opened Sep 15, 1922), and "California, Here I Come," included in the third production that opened Oct 15, 1923.

  To listen to Al Jolson sing "California, Here I Come, " as recorded cir 1922-3, please click on the earphones icon.


"Big Boy" played at the New Winter Garden Theatre, beginning Jan 7, 1925. The show ran here from Jan 7 till the 24th, followed by a lay-off, and then restarted at the same theater on Feb 9 and ran until Mar 14. Presented here is part of the program from the troupe's performance at the Winter Garden. During this time, Jolson sang "Keep Smiling at Trouble" and "If You Knew Susie."

Above, right: This photo is from their performance at the Forty-fourth Street Theatre, where they played later that year, from Aug 24 - Dec 5, 1925. This was part of a second run of "Big Boy." Here, Jolson sang "Miami" and "Nobody But Fanny."

  To hear Jolson sing "Miami," as recorded in 1925, click on the earphones icon.

The second production of "Big Boy" ran from mid-Aug 1925 till the end of Jan 1926. A third run began on the road in Wilmington, Delaware on Sep 10, 1926 and ended in Syracuse, New York on Dec 3, 1926.


"A Continental Novelty of European Night Life in Two Sections..."

One of the songs Jolson sang in this production was "Good Evening Friends," the song he later used to introduce his shows during his radio broadcasts called "The Shell Chateau" between 1935 and 1936.

  To hear Jolson sing "The Cantor" (also known as "Cantor on the Sabbath" and ""A Chazen auf Shabbos,") click on the earphones icon.
In the bio pic "The Jolson Story," the scene where Jolson (Larry Parks) sings this song, was cut out of the final version of the film released to the public.

The photo (left) was taken from the1934 film version of the same name.



Over his long and illustrious stage career, Al Jolson appeared in burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, legitimate stage productions, as well as many live appearances.

Jolson also entertained our troops in many wars, i.e. the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean War.

The last stage production he appeared in was "Hold On To Your Hats," a musical comedy in two acts and thirteen scenes. His fellow actors included Bert Gordon and Martha Raye, who had appeared with Jolson on his CBS Lifebuoy radio program in the mid to late 1930s. The first production of "Hold On To Your Hats" played from Jun 1940 until Feb 1941. The first cast of this show had featured Jolson's third (ex-) wife Ruby Keeler, but she left the show at the end of July 1940.

The show was recast and played once again, this time from Aug to Oct 1941.

To hear Jolson sing "Don't Let it Get You Down" from "Hold Onto Your Hats," just click on the earphones icon.


above: Jolson in group photo, date, production unknown










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This exhibition was made possible in part with the cooperation of the International Al Jolson Society.


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