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The Silver Screen: The Film Career of Al Jolson

     
   
This short ten-minute film was released by Warner Brothers on October 7, 1926. It was one of the first short films that Vitaphone made; it was the first film that Al Jolson starred in. The film is set on a plantation and Jolson is in blackface. In this short he sings three songs that he made very popular: "April Showers," "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody," and "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along."

This ten-minute short essentially served as a screen test for Jolson, as he starred in "The Jazz Singer" the very next year.
     
        A PLANTATION ACT, 1926  
   
"A Plantation Act" was produced at the Manhattan Opera House, just one month before it would premiere at the Colony Theatre in New York.

On August 26, 1926, Jolson, along with George Jessel et al signed contracts with Vitaphone to appear in short films. Jolson reported to the Manhattan Opera House in midtown Manhattan and filmed his short, in blackface, seemingly in a Southern plantation, clad in a checkered shirt, striped pants held up by suspenders, and a straw hat.

The short was composed of little action besides singing. Jolson tosses away his hat, speaks a little bit, and sings three songs.

The song "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along" turned out to be one of Jolson's big hits. It was written in 1926 by Tin Pan Alley lyricist Harry Woods, who also wrote "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover" and "Side by Side."

  Click on the earphones icon to hear Jolie sing "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along" during "A Plantation Act."
The song "April Showers" was written by Buddy De Sylva with the orchestra leader of the Jolson Theatre Lou Silvers. De  Sylva first found success as a songwriter when Al Jolson sang his songs on Broadway in the 1918 production of "Sinbad." Such songs included "I'll Say She Does, " "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet," "Look For the Silver Lining," "Avalon," "California, Here I Come," "Sonny Boy," "Somebody Loves Me," "If You Knew Susie," and many, many more.

After meeting Jolson and moving to New York, De Sylva then began working as a songwriter in Tin Pan Alley, and in 1925 teamed up with lyricist Lew Brown and composer Ray Henderson, who was one of the more successful Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the time. He also wrote songs for such Jolson productions as "The Singing Fool," "Bombo," and also wrote for many years for the George White Scandals.

De Sylva later became a producer of stage and screen musicals.

  Click on the earphones icon to hear Jolie sing "April Showers" during "A Plantation Act."
"Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" was written by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young. It was also sung in the Broadway show "Sinbad" in 1918.

Lewis was a New York City native, born in 1885. He began his career singing in cafes, but between 1912 and 1916, began writing songs. His principal collaborator with the song lyrics was the aforementioned Joe Young.  Lewis would eventually also work on Jolson's film "The Singing Fool." He also wrote such Jolson tunes as "Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on a Saturday Night?", "Why Do They All Take the Night Boat to Albany?", "How 'Ya Gonna Keep Them Down on the Farm?", "Dinah," and a Jolson favorite, "My Mammy."

Joe Young also collaborated on most of the songs mentioned above, and wrote "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" as well as "I'm Sitting on Top of The World." Over a fourteen-year period, Lewis and Young  collaborated with such composers as Walter Donaldson, Jean Schwartz, Ray Henderson, Harry Akst (who often served as Jolson's accompanist) and Harry Warren.

  Click on the earphones icon to hear Jolie sing "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" during "A Plantation Act."
     
     
       
               
               
     

 

       
 

 

   

 

       

     
 

 

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

 

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