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Al Jolson Scott Wallace I

t might be difficult for today's younger music au- dience to fathom, but back in his day Al Jolson was the biggest entertainer in show business, on a par with Elvis Presley or – dare we say it? – Justin Bieber.

During the early part of the 20th century, the name Al Jolson – or Jolie, as he was affectionately known by friends and fans – guaranteed huge, sold-out crowds wherever he played. Not only was he a huge celebrity, he also commanded a huge salary. Jolson might not have been a great singer, but he truly was a stylist, and Jolson’s renditions of Rock-a-Bye your Baby with a Dixie Melody, Swanee, April Showers and My Mammy were among the most popular songs of the era and never failed to bring down the house when he per- formed them on stage.

Audience liked the emotion

He performed with zest and zeal – or sadness and schmaltz. His emotion rang through with every song he sang, and his audience responded. Jolson began his career in burlesque and vaudeville, but by 1911 he was headlining at New York's Winter Garden Theater. Within a month of his debut, Al Jol- son was a certified star. By the age of 35, Jolson was the youngest entertainer in American history to have a theatre named after him: Jolson's 59th Street Theater. The highlight of Jolson's career came in 1927 when

he performed in the Warner Brothers film The Jazz Singer. It was a role intended for George Jessel, who originated the part on Broadway. But it was Jolson who secured the role and the film became a sensation. While heralded as the movies' first "talkie", The Jazz Singer was still predominantly a silent film, with on-

" I just sing a few little songs. But this man could really galvanize an audience into a frenzy. He could really tear them apart.” –Bing Crosby’s take on Al Jolson.

Jazz Singer was eclipsed by Jolson's follow-up film, The Singing Fool. Jolson's career had peaked. His sub- sequent films did not do as well and his career suffered a decline. By the late 1930s he was playing support to the reigning box office champions, such as Tyrone Power and Don Ameche. While he still had a loyal radio audience, by the 1940s his film career was virtu- ally over.

A slump in any show biz personality's career is dif-

ficult, but for a man of Jolson's tremendous ego, the effect was devastating. His personal life was also in a tailspin as he was divorced by third wife Ruby Keeler in 1939. The separation was apparently acrimonious, as Keeler was later to refer to Jolson as: "the ego that walks like a man."

Popularity revives Jolson did manage to keep busy, entertaining troops

In his day, Jolson led the field, selling to sell-out crowds and raking in big bucks. Supplied photo.

screen titles and a few Jolson musical numbers, such as Toot Toot Tootsie, incorporated into the photoplay, courtesy of the Vitaphone sound system. But in an enthusiastic moment Jolson blurted out some impro- vised dialogue. So impressed was Sam Warner that he asked for other talking segments that appear sporadi- cally throughout the film.

While a huge success for the Warners studio, The

Local arts popular at St. Boniface Museum Take the kids to the community Christmas event Dec. 5 and Dec. 6.


t Boniface Museum – Le Musée de Saint-Bon- iface – is nestled behind lovely large oak trees at 494 Taché Ave. Housed within the walls of

the original Grey Nuns’ convent, it has the special distinction of occupying Winnipeg’s oldest building. Inside, too, one finds a vibrant level of activity. The doors are open year-round and the museum serves as a place for learning, a place where people can connect with Manitoba history and with one another, and in recent times a place where artisan work is created and valued. The museum’s attractive boutique offers prod- ucts from local artists, artisans, crafters, publishing companies, authors and local producers of special- ty foods. In December, the entire museum will be transformed into an artisan market for the popular Christmas event “C’est Noel à Saint Boniface”. You’re invited to stop in for kids’ ac- tivities and crafts, photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus and of course some shopping. The presence of art, crafts and abundance of culture

is a staple of the museum’s special programming. In the past, the museum has been a gathering place for those interested in reviving some aspects of arts and artisan work such as traditional finger weaving and capote making. New since the fall of 2015, Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum began offering 10-session workshops that teach the technique of traditional mé- tis beadwork as well as provide glimpses into other indigenous styles or beading practices. Participants are mentored by community artist Ms. Julie Desro- chers and receive added insight, knowledge and in-

struction from guest artists such as Jennine Krauchi, Jocelyne Pambrun and Evonne Bernier. If you have ever wanted to learn Métis beadwork, to be accompanied and guided in the creation of your own beautiful beaded leather bag or pair of moccasins, this is the perfect opportunity for you! Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum is now tak- ing registrations for the upcoming winter session of “Beadwork at Le Musée” – a relaxed, friendly and re- warding learning opportunity. The program will run from January 14th to March 24th, 2016 (no session on February 18th due to Festival du Voyageur). Set- up starts at 6pm for those who are available or would like some extra help, with instruction and work ses- sions beginning at 7 p.m. and running until 9 p.m. This program is designed to allow enough time for participants who may need to miss a few sessions – because life happens despite our best efforts to keep a schedule! Register yourself or offer the experience as a special gift to a loved one this holiday season. Cost: $120/participant ($100 for MSBM mem-


Register a friend and each receive $10 off your re- spective registration fees.

*This program is intended for ages 16 and up. Space is limited so call or email to register! 204- 986-8496 or This proj- ect is made possible with support from the Province of Manitoba. MSBM also recognizes the ongoing support of the City of Winnipeg.

during the Second World War. And finally, he did en- joy a career comeback of sorts when, following the success of the George M. Cohan biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy, Columbia chief Harry Cohn decided to pro- duce a film based on Jolson's life. A B-contract player named Larry Parks was selected to play Jolson. The Jolson Story proved to be an enormous hit, calling for a sequel, Jolson Sings Again. While both films veered far from the facts of Jolson's life, they brought a renewed interest to the legendary entertainer, especially among the younger generation, including a young comedian about to make his mark named Jerry Lewis. Jolson capitalized on this later popularity by performing for servicemen during the Korean conflict. But he also suffered from ill health and on Oct. 23, 1950, Al Jolson succumbed to a fatal coronary. The entertainment world had lost its first true su- perstar.

Scott Wallace is a Winnipeg writer.

Enjoy a safe and happy holiday season

• Alcoholic beverages are often an enjoyable part of special occasions and celebrations. • Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries provides infor- mation to their customers to support informed choices about drinking so that everyone can en- joy special occasions. • When you’re hosting a special occasion, keep the following tips in mind as you plan your event: - Offer non-alcoholic options such as soft drinks, coffee and water.

- Offer mocktails so that non-drinking guests such as designated drivers can enjoy special beverages and feel part of the celebra- tion.

- Serve food throughout the evening so guests don’t drink on an empty stomach. - As a host, you want family and friends to relax and have a good time but you also want them to arrive home safely. Think ahead about options: for example, taxis or designated driv- ers. If taxis are an option in your community, you may want to keep cab fare on hand in case it’s needed.

- Serve drinks yourself or designate a bar- tender instead of having an open bar, as guests may drink more when they serve themselves. No matter who’s pouring, it’s a good idea to measure drinks to avoid serving or drinking more than you intended.

• A little planning for your special occasions during the holiday season will help ensure that you and all of your guests have a great time.

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