Thursday, July 28, 2011

THE CHILDREN OF AL JOLSON

During his career, Al Jolson was often called "The World's Greatest Entertainer", and often he would be the first person to tell you. Jolson also was one of the busiest men in show business too - from his broadway debut in 1911 until his death in 1950. He had time to get married four times, but only one of the marriages worked. It was surprising that Jolson had time for anything personal, but in addition to his marriages, he adopted three children.


In 1935, Al Jolson and his third wife, Ruby Keeler, adopted a baby boy. This seven week old boy, of Jewish and Irish extraction, was named Al Jolson, Jr., although Al called him "Sonny Boy," and Ruby shortened that into "Sonny." According to Jolson biographers, Al Jr. seemed more attracted to Ruby than Al, as many children seem to prefer one parent over another. Jolson resented this and never really got close to the boy. After divorcing Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler married John Lowe, and at age 14 Sonny Boy became Albert Peter Lowe. After the divorce, Al Jr. never talked to Jolson again. He remained extremely close to his mother Ruby Keeler who died in 1993. Albert Peter Lowe passed away at age 72, in November, 2007.


With Erle Galbraith, Al Jolson's fourth wife, a six month old baby boy was adopted in late 1947. A proud father again, Al told reporters: “We’ll send him to a good school - and a hard one. Want no spoiling of the boy.” They hired a nurse though Erle enjoyed taking care of the baby herself. Naming him Asa Albert Jolson, Jr., Al and Erle became doting parents for the toddler. It was after Asa's adoption that Al bought the perfect home for his new family, buying the home he had built for Ruby and himself back from Don Ameche, it's current owner, at a loss.


In 1950, the Jolsons adopted a second baby, a girl they named Alicia. Not known at the time of adoption, she was later diagnosed as being mentally challenged. Jolson died before this was discovered, and Alicia eventually required institutional placement. Alicia died in 1982, at the age of about 32. She is buried in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills along with Erle, Norman Krasna, and members of the Galbraith family.


Known to his family as "Jolie," Albert Jolson is alive and well, living in Nashville, and pulled the cord to reveal the "Al Jolson Way" sign at the ceremony in New York in August, 2006. Albert Jolson also has owned a music studio for a number of years in Nashville. Albert and his wife Victoria had a daughter in 1983 that they named Kate. Kate Jolson was an all-star athlete in high school and college.


With Al Jolson's huge personality, it is hard to believe he ever had children. As is often the case, none of his children rose to the heights that Jolson did during his career. I also would be interested in knowing if Jolson was the greatest father as much as he was the greatest entertainer. That story is yet to be fully told...

35 comments:

  1. It's puzzling to me that in the Jewish religion, WE do NOT name our children after the "living"! Al Jolson had two sons named after himself, while he was still alive! Has anything ever been written, or discussed why this was done?

    SC

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    1. MAYBE THEY WERE SEPHARDIC JEWS,ALTHOUGH I HIGHLY DOUBT IT. JOLSON NEVER MARRIED A JEW EITHER, SO HIS KIDS WERE NOT JEWISH UNLESS HE HAD THEM CONVERTED.

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  2. I think Jolson named two of his children after himself because he was so vain and full of himself.

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    1. Oh yeah, well, Jolson wasn't the only one who was full of "something". It just so happens that Al Jolson (Asa Yoelson),was named after his maternal grandfather Asa Cantor, who was very much alive at little Asa's birth. I do not know about Ruby Keeler, because I never met her, but I did speak with Erle Jolson Krasna, Al's wife at the time, and she told me she was the one who picked the name Asa Jolson for their baby and she did so to honor Al. In 1985, some thirty-five years after Jolson's death, she told me that Al was the "love of her life."

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    2. Actually, Al's grandfather, Eizer "Asa" Cantor died in Kedainiai, Kovno, Lithuania on February 1, 1883, more than three years before Al Jolson was born. The death record can be found online.

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  3. The name Asa is va very unusual Jewish name. My sense is that it a mispronounciation of the name Asher ( one of the sons of Jacob).In Lithuania, the place of birth of Yoelson, the Jewish people could not distinguish the difference the " s" and "sh" sounds, and everything came out as an "s". Therefore,
    Asher ----->Asser -----> Asa
    the latter sounding like a variation of the others.

    As a note, I am a member of the Jolson family as my grandmother Fanny Jolson was born in Srednik, Lithuania and was a cousin of Al's stepmother ,who was also a family member

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    1. Hello, I,m Kevin Ford ,I was friends with both Ruby and Al Jr.when they resided in Rancho Mirage California in 1990. A girl named Alice was Al's girlfriend and our neighbor.My girlfriend Jody (Nancy Jo) Burgess was friends with Alice. One day we started going over Ruby's Home in Rancho Mirage on Sunday's playing cards all day then after the game we would all go to the Black Angus for dinner,I enjoyed and admired Ruby over time we had become friends and I found her a classy fine woman of kind character,I miss all of them very much,I have one secret about Al Jr.'s relationship with his mother Ruby, that not many people know and never will,God Bless them all and I am the last one still alive from the Sunday Card Party,I'll be around for at least 25 years more,at least that's what my Doctor say's. Kevin Ford,West Burlington Iowa.

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    2. Those were nice comments but I wonder what your motive is in stating you know a secret about them.

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    3. I am wondering to the anonymous who wrote that they were related via your grandmother being Fanny...I also am a Jolson my great grandparents were Phillip and for the life of me I cant remember my great grandmothers name...do you know how we would be related?

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  4. gotta love any new information on jolson. a unique character with the good and bad we all have. he must have been during his time what sinatra was during his time. i saw sinatra about 20 times. pure electric. the difference is in my opinion the adulation for sinatra is not only his singing but also his history. with jolson it was all his electricty on stage. he was the one in a million we have heard often of. joe materek. lifelong jolson cantor and sinatra fan.

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  5. Mr. Sinatra and his BIG body guard and driver would occasionally stop over Ruby's home and visit her,they were friends for many years, and I had the pleasure of meeting him on one Sunday while we played our weekly card games with Ruby, Al Jr., Alice, Jody and myself.Al Jr. had his landscape business and would maintain the half dozen Homes on their private street.I miss them all and thinking of them puts a smile on my face.

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  6. I also was a friend of Al Jolson Jr. in Rancho Mirage and I think it is wrong to say you know a secret of both Ruby and Al Jr.
    It has a distasteful meaning.. I also knew Al's lady friend and she loved her Volkswagon...
    Mel Johnson

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    1. You are anonymous for a reason,you can't even recall the name of Al Jrs. Girlfriend who owned the volkswagon,the truth is distasteful to all frauds like you and people like you know nothing. My neighbor owned the VW Bug and we all got together every Sunday to play cards.It was common knowledge Al Jr. slept in his mom's walk in closet,Ruby preferred to have him close in case she needed help during the night, she had a bunch of health problems, you should take your mind out of the gutter you pervert. Big Daddy.

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    2. I don't do this, so I only signed my name? Well, I had coffee with Al Jr. most mornings at Teddy's Donuts on Washington St and Country Club . Some times Alice would come in with Al. GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER IT COULD MEAN MANY OTHER THINGS----THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE SOMETHING THAT COULD BE A NEGATIVE MEANING. Al always thought of his Mother first. Al and Alice would take care of Ms. Keeler daily.
      Mj

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    3. First.. this is not a chat room. You played a kids game I got a secret. I called you on it and you are mad at yourself and taking it out on me.

      Al Jr. told many stories of how his Dad would take him for a walk and when passing fire stations. His Dad would just sing for the firemen. Al Jolson was a great entertainer and did not do it just for the money.

      Mel Johnson

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  7. Not sure I know what you are talking about a secret? Can you elaborate? The article doesn't say anything like that.

    What are some of your memories of Al Jr?

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  8. I loved Al Jr. was always very nice to me, I worked at the local grocery store he came in quite frequently and we became friends, years ago he even presented me with a signed and numbered poster of his Mom Ruby, which I treasure to this day. He said a biographer use to take him to Wally's Desert Turtle for lunch, I don't believe the book was ever written, Iam so heart sick of his passing which I did not know till now.

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  9. Al Jr. was a wonderful man so sorry to hear of his passing. He even presented me with a signed poster of his Mom Ruby, years ago which I still cherish to this day. He told me he use to go to Wally's Desert Turtle for lunch with a biographer, I don't believe the book was ever written. I worked locally in Palm Desert and all you wrote brought back memories for me, I miss Al Jr.

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  10. Yes, there was to be a book written about Sonny Boy and his Family. I AM Sorry it was never published, Al spent a lot of time working on it. There was to be a chapter telling about Sonny Boys time they lived in Newport Beach. Al loved talking about his Ocean Racing Boat, I am sure there would have some great stories in the book. Al said they were collecting meaningful times/stories about other celebrity kids he ran around with.

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  11. thank-you Mel for your reply, it really meant alot

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  12. I babysat for Ruby's granddaughter. I always wondered what happened to Al Jr. Thanks for the information.

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  13. I think it's just great that really old people are using the internet! Hope you guys also text! Anyway, I ended up here because my daughter discovered Eddie Cantor's music via Boardwalk Empire. We ended up seeing some performances of his in black face on YouTube and well, it's just not funny. So I ended up doing some internet research which led me to Al Jolson. Great stories you all have of people who are no longer with us. Please don't get into fights here. It's just great hearing the stories.

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  14. Sherri - really old people? I am 39.

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  15. No offense meant. Just thought that when someone says they are the last one alive from the Sunday Card party that they might be up there in age. That's all.

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  16. My grandmother, Dorothy, was married to Al Jolson Jr although I don't have many details because she passed away before I was born. Does anyone here that knew the Jolson's happen to have any information or any personal stories if you knew them together? I think they were married in 65 and divorced in 68. Thanks!

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  17. I've been researching on the web about Al Jolson & his family & friends. Al Jolson was quite a man! I was wondering if it was true that Al Jr. never talked to his father after his mom divorced. That's sad. We all need to forgive each other. Life is too short.

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    1. Hello Pat,Al Jr. was never really accepted by the Lowe's,we spoke about it a few times and it hurt his feelings,you are right Pat,life is way too short.I knew Al Jr.,Ruby,and Alice(our neighbor) very well and miss them very much. I see you are an early bird too:) take care.

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  18. I would love to do a follow up story to this article. Is anyone willing to tell me stories about AL Jr and Ruby? If you are interested, please email me at dlobo74@gmail.com.

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  19. Hello for what it is worth my name is robert asa jolson my brothers name is joley mark jolson my fathers name is harrison robert jolson...from what my father told me he was born out of wedlock so al never clamed my father. I do remember him talking about ruby keyler when i was little...my father never persued the fact that he was als son becase he was embaresed.. and figured nobody would beleve him...my father passed about five years ago....my grandmother from my moms side is still alive today and she nows alot about the hole deal....i am not trying to prove i am als great grand son but i think i am ..i have my dads dna...if somebody could help me find sompthing of als with dna i could probilly prove my dads story...my e mail is welderjolson@yahoo.com..

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  20. Shalom, I am looking up my family tree. from my Mother's side I was always told that we are related to Al Joelson, My maternal Great-grandfather Max Rosenbloom was "related" to the father Moses Reuben Yoelson. Do you guys have a clue ????

    BTW I am sephardic - ashkenaz mix, recently we named my son after my Ashkenazi Father in law, relying on my Sephardic custom.

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  21. There was a director/stage manager who I recall was Ruby Keeler's son...and I vaguely remember the story of him never speaking to Jolson after the divorce. Did the Lowe's have other children or was this Al Jr.?
    He directed "Pippin" in Oklahoma City and I think was the Broadway stage manager.

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  22. Several years back I had the opportunity to go to Nashville. While there I saw an ad fir the Al Jolson studio. Being an extreme Jolson fan, I had to go and see if there was any memorabilia. I met Al Jolson Jr. there and Sorry to say there was no memories there, but My wife got mad when I returned because I sat and talked to Jr. about his did for about two hours.
    I told him things he never knew about his dad, because his Mother led him into such a secluded life style.
    Sidney MKyers

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  23. Let's face it, Jolson apparently could not have children and there were none left behind, no matter how you spin it. Bottom line.

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