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 The Immortal
  Al Jolson  

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Entertaining our Troops
Jolson at the Front:
the Korean War

 


 


Excerpt from
"Hollywood and the Stars:
The Immortal Jolson"
1963
Narrator: Joseph Cotten

 

Even though Al Jolson was in his sixties and not in the best of health, he thought it his duty to entertain the U.S. troops that were fighting in the Korean War.

  In September 1950, Jolson telephoned Louella Parson's radio program from Korea, imploring other well-known celebrities to come to Korea too to entertain the troops. To hear this phone call,  click on the earphones icon.


From the book by his brother Harry entitled "Mistah Jolson," Harry begins to describe the time after "Jolson Sings Again," the sequel to "The Jolson Story," had been released and found success:

"This film also, was successful, and Al was planning a third picture when the nation was shocked by the outbreak of the Korean war. To my brother it was like touching powder with a match. He volunteered as an entertainer, and was accepted.

The Eighth Army Headquarters in Korea released the following dispatch on September 17, 1950:


'Al Jolson, the first top-flight entertainer
to reach the war front, landed here today by
plane from Los Angeles.'
 

It is interesting to know that Al was paying his own expenses.

Sixty-five years of age, with one lung almost entirely cut away, Al was attempting a task that proved too great for his own strength. In sixteen days he gave forty-four shows. He and his accompanist traveled in a helicopter to different sections of the war front.

When he returned to Hollywood, the newspapers reported that he was in splendid health. A few of those close to him knew that he was not.

The first time I met Al after his return, I looked at him with astonishment.

'Al,' I said, 'you will have to take better care of yourself. Remember what you said to me about Lillian (Harry's wife)? Now I say the same thing to you. Stop worrying. Stop working. Stop thinking. Relax! You have a home, you know, and I believe you will enjoy staying in it if you give it a trial.'

I was half joking and half serious, for I could see that Al was not as well as when he departed for Korea. He was not joking when he answered.

'There's a little business I must attend to. Then I'm taking your advice. I had a hard time, and I don't feel so hot. Thanks, Harry, for the way you have handled things for me.'

That was the last time that I saw my brother. He dashed to San Francisco to appear on the radio with Bing Crosby. He was in the hotel playing cards with friends when he complained of a pain in the chest.

Knowing Al's heart condition they called a specialist. Al tried to pass the whole thing off as a joke, but the grim reaper was in no mood for joking.

Al talked of his trip to Korea.

'Do you know Doc,' he said with a faint smile, 'that President Truman had only one hour with General MacArthur? Well, let me tell you something. I had two!'

A few minutes later the word flamed out on the wires to nearly every part of the globe.

Al Jolson was dead!

The news reached me quickly, and I was asked for a statement. What could I say? What can anyone say at such a time?"

 
  Listen to the radio announcement of Jolson's passing.
 


 

   




 

           
   

 

     


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

 

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