The Jazz Singer
Cast & Crew
Korean War veteran Jerry Golding returns to his home in Philadelphia in time to celebrate the Jewish New Year with his parents, Ruth and David, and other family members. Jerry's arrival coincides with David's announcement that he will be retiring as cantor at Temple Sinai. Later, at a nightclub, Jerry is reunited with Judy Lane, a U.S.O. singer he met while in Korea, and meets her producer, George Miller. Miller is impressed with Jerry's talents as a performer and offers him a spot in Judy's show, but David, without consulting his son, makes preparations for Jerry to take over as cantor. Jerry painfully breaks the news to his father that he does not want to be a cantor, and then goes to New York to begin rehearsing for the musical show "Top of the Town." The show opens to poor reviews and closes the same day, but critics praise Jerry's performance. Judy is given another assignment by her producer, but Jerry is left in New York without work. A theatrical booking agency books Jerry for one night at a bar in Hoboken, but cannot provide him with steady work. Judy tries to persuade her recording producer, Ray Mullins, to allow Jerry to accompany her on her next record, but he refuses, calling Jerry an "unknown." Jerry, meanwhile, takes a job as a disc jockey, but is soon fired for being the wrong "type." One day, Jerry's uncle Louie visits him and sees that he has fallen on hard times. Louie delivers a prayer book from his father and urges him to return home to Philadelphia for Passover. Jerry makes one more attempt to break into show business in New York and gets an audition for the lead in Judy's new show. Uncle Louie, who has gone into a partnership with the show's backers, is forced out before things get started, though, and Jerry finds himself back where he began. Dejected, Jerry returns to Philadelphia with Louie, and Judy, who is in love with Jerry, quits the show to join him. Jerry decides to turn his back on show business for good and resume his studies, but Judy returns to New York unconvinced that Jerry truly wants to be a cantor. However, David is overjoyed by his son's decision, and immediately arranges to have him take over the choir. Time passes, and Jerry's increasing unhappiness leads him to leave the congregation. David, furious at his son's decision, strikes Jerry and throws him out of the house. Back in New York, Jerry resumes his romance with Judy and starts his show business career all over again. Jerry soon becomes a big hit and tours the country with his musical and comedy act. Miller later casts Jerry in the lead role of his next show, "Step This Way." Hours before the show is set to open, Jerry gets a telephone call from Louie, who summons him home to be with his ailing father. From his sickbed, David asks Jerry to forgive him for his stubbornness and then gives his son his blessing. To his father's delight, Jerry sings the "Kol Nidre" at the synagogue. David eventually makes a full recovery, and Jerry returns to Broadway and continues his successful rise to stardom with Judy at his side.
Rabbi Morton A. Bauman
Alan Crosland Jr.
B. G. Desylva
Louis F. Edelman
George James Hopkins
Mitchell G. Kovaleski
Leo K. Kuter
L. P. Maschmeyer
C. A. Riggs
The Jazz Singer (1953)
A tenth-anniversary remake of The Jazz Singer was envisioned in 1936, with plans for Jolson to reprise his role alongside Jean Hersholt or Lionel Barrymore as the cantor and Ruby Keeler as Mary. A revised story was written, musical arrangements made and a starting date of October 15 was set - but the production never happened. It was yet another decade before the project was seriously discussed again, by which time Jolson was close to 60 years old and past the point of playing the young singer. But it was a good time for musical dramas and biographies including A Song to Remember and Rhapsody in Blue (both 1945), and the plight of European Jews during World War II had created a climate of sympathy for Jewish subjects.
So, on January 30, 1945, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Warners would be filming a "modernized" version of The Jazz Singer. Paul Muni was mentioned for the leading role. But eight months later a follow-up story indicated that Michael Curtiz would direct two up-and-comers on the Warners lot, Dane Clark and Eleanor Parker, in the film. Later it was suggested that John Garfield might take over the lead from Clark. By the end of 1945, however, the project was again shelved, presumably because Columbia Pictures was about to release The Jolson Story (1946), which covered some of the same ground.
In the early 1950s it seemed that the remake was finally about to happen, and Eddie Fisher was mentioned as a possible star. (Fisher would later say in his autobiography that he felt he was too young for the role at the time.) Finally, in 1952, production began on the new version, directed by Curtiz and starring Danny Thomas, a popular entertainer and radio actor who had enjoyed a success at Warner Bros. in I'll See You in My Dreams (1951), which costarred Doris Day and was directed by Curtiz. Day, a protégée of Curtiz since her earliest days at Warners, was also announced as Thomas's partner in The Jazz Singer. Thomas had adored working with Day and enthused to the press, "I wouldn't care of they re-titled it Mrs. Jazz Singer, just as long as they put Doris in it!" At the last minute, however, Day's name was removed from the remake and Peggy Lee, another top blonde songstress of the day, was tapped for the female lead.
Lee wrote in her autobiography that she was surprised and "elated" when Curtiz came to hear her sing at Ciro's nightclub in Hollywood and afterwards asked if she'd like to star in a film for him. She suspected that this might be "just another Hollywood conversation" but soon found herself sitting in studio head Jack Warner's office with Curtiz to discuss making The Jazz Singer. She had known Danny Thomas slightly through various show-biz connections and soon found him a "dream" to work with. "We established a friendship that will last forever," she wrote. "We laughed and sang and had a marvelous time while we worked like there was no tomorrow."
If Thomas had been disappointed with the loss of Doris Day as costar, he was equally thrilled to be working with Peggy Lee. He said in an interview for Lee's book that "Peggy's stage presence is so sweet, there's no cockiness about her. She's sure. There's a big difference between ego and assurance. Peggy has no ego, but she certainly has assurance. I mean, she takes the stage... She conducts an audience the way a conductor conducts a symphony orchestra. She gets anything she wants from them."
Thomas did allow that Lee was not an "actress actress" in the same sense that he was not an "actor actor." He noted that while she had "tremendous inner spirit," she didn't know "how to bring out these things that were in her mind as an actress -- the sadness, the inner sadness." Lee, who had never before had a real acting role in films, got on well with Curtiz but seemed uncomfortable with some of his efforts to direct her. "I don't know, Michael," she told him. "The way you talk and what you want... suddenly a door closes between us."
The Hungarian-born director, noted for his awkward use of English, persevered. Before filming one crucial sequence he said to Lee, "Now, Peggy, this time we are going to have a great scene, and we don't talk about no goddamn doors." Thomas recalled that "We all busted up laughing. She did too. But he got it out of her. He got it out of all of us." Thomas mentioned one scene in particular -- a telephone conversation in which Lee's character "was just a little high" and encourages Thomas's character to return to Broadway. "It was very sweet. There wasn't much dialogue but she had it in her face. And when she sang, forget it. The sun and the moon came out at the same time."
The screenplay by Frank Davis, Leonard Stern and Lewis Meltzer resets the story in a 1950s milieu, and the hero -- now called Jerry Golding -- is presented as a serviceman who has returned home to Philadelphia after seeing action in Korea. (In the original, Jolson had hailed from a Lower East Side ghetto in New York City.) But the basic conflict remains the same: the charismatic young entertainer whose plans for his future clash with those of his devout father. The remake has a more upbeat ending than the original, with the reconciliation of father and son after Jerry returns to the synagogue to sing "Kol Nidre" in the absence of his ailing dad.
In an afterthought late in the film, Lee's character, now named Judy Lane, is revealed to be Jewish by a dubbed bit of dialogue in which she says, "I haven't been to a Seder since I was a little girl." The line was added at the insistence of an influential rabbi who believed that the question of intermarriage had no place in the story. Thomas, annoyed by this addition, remarked, "Leave it alone, for God's sake. What's the matter with this guy being in love with a non-Jewish girl?" Lee recalled confused audiences at the New York opening responding to the line with "a wave of 'whatdidshesay, whatdidshesay?' "
Eduard Franz and Mildred Dunnock turn in sympathetic performances as the anguished parents, as does Alex Gerry as a concerned uncle. Also prominent in the cast are Allyn Joslyn, Tom Tully and Harold Gordon. Peggy Lee was especially pleased with costume designer Howard Shoup and his "lovely clothes, so beautifully made and fitting so perfectly." Cinematographer Carl E. Guthrie's Technicolor cinematography offers now-nostalgic views of New York City. The film was shot primarily in Hollywood during August and September of 1952. The imposing temple where key scenes occur is actually the Sinai Temple of Los Angeles.
Highlights among the musical numbers include "I'll String Along with You" and "Birth of the Blues" as sung by Thomas and "Just One of Those Things" and "Lover" by Lee, as well as a tune that Lee wrote, "This Is a Very Special Day" performed in a production number by both stars. Ray Heindorf and Max Steiner were Oscar-nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. In recordings, there were two collections of songs from the film. Danny Thomas recorded a 10-inch, eight-selection LP for RCA Victor with Frank De Vol and his orchestra, and Peggy Lee released a Decca EP with Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra. Lee's album featured her Latin-flavored rendition of the Rodgers and Hart standard "Lover," which had become a hit single before the movie was released.
The film was released in February 1953 to largely approving but unenthusiastic reviews. The assessment of Variety was typical: "Warners' remake of Al Jolson's 1927 Vitaphone film hit is still sentimental, sometimes overly so. A drama with songs importantly spotted with beautiful Technicolor coating." Unsurprisingly, the movie did record business in wintertime Miami, although box office results in other areas of the country were sluggish.
Thomas said later that he would have liked to make more films with Peggy Lee, but his focus turned instead to television, where he starred in a long-running sitcom, Make Room for Daddy. Lee would prove her abilities as an actress in Jack Webb's Pete Kelly's Blues (1955), winning an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance as a troubled Jazz-era singer. She continued to excel as a singer in concert and on television and as a songwriter, notably for Disney's animated film Lady and the Tramp (1955), where she also provided vocals. But her potential career as an outstanding leading lady of film musicals in the Doris Day tradition went unrealized.
The Jazz Singer was remade twice more. In 1959, Jerry Lewis starred in a Ford "Startime" series on NBC-TV, with Anna Maria Alberghetti cast as his love interest, Molly Picon as his mother and Eduard Franz repeating his role of the father from the Thomas version. In 1980 a movie version was produced through United Artists with Neil Diamond, Laurence Olivier and Lucie Arnaz in the key roles. For their performances, Diamond and Olivier won "Razzie" awards as Worst Actor and Supporting Actor.
By Roger Fristoe
Sources: The Jazz Singer by Robert L. Carringer, University of Wisconsin Press, 1979; Miss Peggy Lee: An Autobiography by Peggy Lee, Donald I. Fine, Inc., 1989
The Jazz Singer (1953)
Director Michael Curtiz first wanted 'Doris Day' to play the role of Judy Lane, having worked with her before.
This film is a remake of the 1927 Warner Bros.' film The Jazz Singer, which was directed by Alan Crosland and starred Al Jolson, May McAvoy and William Demarest (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). According to a Los Angeles Examiner item, Warner Bros. first announced plans to remake The Jazz Singer in December 1943 with Frank Sinatra as the star. Two years later, executive producer Jack L. Warner announced he had selected actor Dane Clark for the Jolson role. Plans for what became the 1953 version were announced as early as August 1949. According to a July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, The Jazz Singer was one of five films requiring outdoor sets that were delayed due to a Warner Bros. studio fire resulting in an estimated $5,000,000 in damages.
Studio publicity material dated July 31, 1952 indicates that Jim Backus was originally slated for the part played by Allyn Joslyn. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, August and September 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items add Charles Wagenheim, Betty Jane and Anne Lea Ulrich to the cast. According to a contemporary article in Los Angeles Daily News, crew members Herbert "Limey" Plews and Ralph Owen worked on both this film and the 1927 version. As the article also noted, film editor Alan Crosland, Jr. was director Crosland's son. Although an October 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Max Steiner and Ray Heindorf would collaborate on the score, Steiner is not credited onscreen and Heindorf is credited as music director only. However, both men were nominated for an Academy Award for the film in the category of Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Released in United States Winter February 14, 1953
Shown at Toronto Festival of Festivals September 6-15, 1990.
Remake of the 1927 film of the same name, directed by Alan Crosland and starring Al Jolson.
Myrna Loy has a bit part in the film.
Released in United States Winter February 14, 1953