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At the very first Academy Awards ceremony on May 16, 1929, Douglas Fairbanks presented a special Oscar to Warner Bros. production head Darryl F. Zanuck, who accepted on behalf of his studio for "producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry." Zanuck dedicated the award to Sam Warner, the brother who had served as the studio's chief executive and who had died the day before The Jazz Singer opened. Zanuck described the late executive as "the man responsible for the successful usage of the medium." The ceremonies ended on a lighter note as Al Jolson, the movie's star, entertained with patter and song. "I noticed they gave The Jazz Singer a statuette," he said. "But they didn't give me one; For the life of me, I can't see what Jack Warner can do with one of them. It can't say yes."
Experiments in sound film had been occurring almost since the birth of silent pictures, but Warner Bros. - until then considered a second-string studio - took the initiative in creating sound feature films after setting up its own radio station in 1927. Using its newly developed Vitaphone process, the studio added a score and sound effects to Don Juan (1926), a John Barrymore silent already in production. The success of this film, plus a series of musical shorts, inspired the creation of the first real "talkie" feature, The Jazz Singer.
Although Jolson had been the model for the central character in the Broadway play that became the basis for The Jazz Singer, the role of a young cantor who defies family tradition to become a pop singer had been played onstage by George Jessel. Warners bought the film rights for $50,000 and also signed Jessel, who balked when he learned the film would include sound and demanded an additional $10,000 to perform the songs. Instead, Warners turned to Jolson, and film history was made. The Jazz Singer proved a sensation at the box office, earning $3.5 million in profits on an investment of $500,000. As its special Oscar indicated, the film sparked the sound revolution and helped turn Warner Bros. into a major studio. Jolson's next film for Warners, The Singing Fool, was an even bigger hit and grossed more than any other movie of the 1920s.
Director: Alan Crosland
Screenplay: Alfred A. Cohn, Jack Jarmuth (titles), from Samson Raphaelson play Day of Atonement
Cinematography: Hal Mohr
Editing: Harold McCord
Original Music: Louis Silvers, Irving Berlin (song "Blue Skies," uncredited), James V. Monaco (song "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face")
Cast: Al Jolson (Jakie Rabinowitz/Jack Robin), May McAvoy (Mary Dale), Warner Oland (Cantor Rabinowitz), Eugenie Besserer (Sara Rabinowitz), Otto Lederer (Moisha Yudelson), Bobby Gordon (Jakie, age 13).
BW-89m. Descriptive Video.
by Roger Fristoe