Wednesday, May 24, 2017


This great rememberance of Al Jolson was written by his long time friend Eddie Cantor. It was published shortly after Jolson's death on this day - October 23rd in 1950...

I was in Mobile, Alabama, when I first got the shocking news from an NBC official in New York that Al Jolson was dead of a heart attack. The telephone operator who put the call through to me was sobbing hysterically. The elevator operator who took me downstairs couldn’t control his tears. The taxi driver who drove me to the NBC studios to do a special memorial broadcast kept mumbling to himself, “Why did he have to go?”

The attendants and technicians at the studio were all red-eyed from weeping. None of these people had ever met Al Jolson personally. Yet, because Jolie was a man of the people, because he seemed to know and love everyone who had ever heard the sound of his voice, the grief over his passing was universal.

Jolie had human frailties, just as any other man. I say this in all sincerity and with my heart full of love for the man we all knew as “The King.” Jolie’s great heart, his wonderful, almost child-like spirit, and his overflowing love of humanity overshadowed everything else.

He never forgot his nearness to the people and his nearness to his God. Those of us who kidded him the most loved him the most. Whenever the gang – Jack Benny, George Jessel, George Burns and Jolie – used to gather at my house, there was never a night when we didn’t get together to sing “Mammy.” But there was never anybody who could sing “Mammy” like Jolson could.

We all looked upon him with envy because we could never hope to reach his stature, but he was also an inspiration to all his contemporaries. He was six acts of top billing rolled into one and for anyone to compete with him was like watching a midget in a sideshow trying to touch the giant’s head. To call him the biggest hunk of entertainer in show business was an understatement. He was the only entertainer who was his own lighting and his own scenery.

Jolie always loved to play jokes and get ‘em to laugh. I remember one time when I was playing opposite him in Chicago. We both lived in the Belmont Hotel in Chicago’s North Side and we used to meet after our shows and kid each other and lie to one another about the take at the box-office that night. We spent hours with each other every night for five months and I never had so much fun in all my life. The newspapers kept trying to cook up a phony feud between us but neither one of us took it seriously.

Then one day, I came down with pleurisy and my doctor advised me to close my show and take a rest.

“I can’t, Doc,” I told him. “Then all the newspapers will say, ‘Jolson drives Cantor out of town!’ ”

Sick as I was, I kept on going night after night. But then finally, I got so weak I couldn’t even walk out on the stage and so I closed the show and left for New York. Imagine my amazement when I got off the train, picked up the New York Times and read this headline on the theatrical page: “Jolson closes his show immediately after Cantor closes his show!” It turned out that Jolie had been sicker than I was, but he’d kept going only because he didn’t want the newspapers to say: “Cantor drives Jolson out of town!”

Jolie brought joy to more people than any other man alive. He was more than an actor or a singer or an entertainer – he was an experience. We kidded him about his age but he was ageless. I still cannot believe and refuse to accept the fact that he is gone. He has left his footprints on the sands of time and he will be alive to all of us just as long as we can turn on a record and hear his God-given voice that never fails to bring a strangely comforting catch in the throat, and a feeling of goodness to the heart.

from “The Real Story of Al Jolson” 1950, Spectrolux Corp.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I am always interested in the cooking styles of classic Hollywood. One of the most beautiful Hollywood leading ladies was Claudette Colbert (1903-1996). Here is an interesting recipe from the beautiful actress...


2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
2 (10-ounce) jars of pimento-stuffed green olives, drained and blotted dry

Add cheese and butter to bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Add flour, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce to form dough. Wrap each olive in a small amount of dough, completely covering the olive and forming a ball. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer to a plastic bag and store in freezer until ready to use. To cook, place on a baking sheet and bake at 400˚ F for 12 minutes, or until crust is golden. Serve hot....

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


I have always wanted to learn more about Ethel Merman's appearance in Hello, Dolly on Broadway, and I found an interesting website which gives a complete history. You can see the full article HERE...

The Ethel Merman Dolly dynasty reigned from March 28, 1970 – December 27, 1970. On November 30th, The New York Times announced that she was closing on December 26–then, the Sunday matinee was added!

Merman had signed for three months and after two months, Mr. Merrick said, “Look: if you play it into the middle of December 1970-at that time-we will have established being the longest running show on Broadway.” She later said, “What can I say? He was a nice man!”

The role of Dolly Levi in the musical was originally written for Ethel Merman, but Merman turned it down; as did Mary Martin (although both eventually played it). Merrick then decided to audition Nancy Walker. Eventually, he hired Carol Channing, who ultimately created Dolly her signature role. Director Gower Champion was not the producer’s first choice, as Hal Prince and others (among them Jerome Robbins and Joe Layton) all turned down the job of directing the musical.

Merman retired from Broadway in 1970, when she appeared as the last Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! In Brian Kellow’s biography of Ethel Merman, A Life, he states that Herman made a study of all of Merman’s recordings, concluding that the role of Dolly was perfectly tailored to her talents. Herman was in Merrick’s office the day the producer made the call pitching the show to Ethel. Jerry saw Merrick go completely ashen.

When Merrick hung up, he told Jerry that Merman said she would never do another Broadway show because she had spent her life in dressing rooms.

She was tired of doing Broadway and wanted to focus on film and television. If Merrick thought he could persuade her, he was wrong. Ethel never regretted her decision.

In late 1968 and 1969, Ethel concentrated on television appearances, with guest shots on The Hollywood Palace, The Carol Burnett Show, and several of the then popular talk shows.

Try as she might to persuade the press and the public that she had “had it” with Broadway, Ethel’s level of activity in the late 1960s was not sufficient to keep her fully engaged; she had too much vitality, too much drive, and she needed a more demanding outlet than the occasional guest spot on television.

In Howard Kissel’s biography of David Merrick, David Merrick – The Abominable Showman: The Unauthorized Biography(Applause Books), he states that Ethel’s original concerns about not wanting to be compared with Ruth Gordon, creator of the role of Dolly in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, now seemed a moot point. When Carol Channing left the show in August 1965, a long line of actresses had come in as replacements: Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey, and Phyllis Diller. All had something individual to bring to the part, and Merrick reveled in the publicity value that came from announcing the next star to assume the role.

Josh Ellis, a theatrical press agent for thirty years during which he represented over 100 shows and numerous individuals, was at Ethel Merman’s opening night on March 30th, 1969. That night, local New York television critic Stewart Klein offered: “Ethel Merman in HELLO, DOLLY! is a marvel and should be seen by everybody.” The role of Dolly Levi was originally written for Ethel Merman. Josh said that night was the most enthusiastic audience that ever, ever, ever was! The cart rolled in, the newspaper was up, and the audience was screaming because they knew who was behind the newspaper. When she put the newspaper down, the audience was on its feet cheering and would not let her talk for two minutes. She finally got out the first part of “Doll…” and they cheered even more. She got a standing ovation after World, Take Me Back. She got another standing ovation after Before the Parade Passes By. It was breathless. Everything worked that night. 

For the title number, the curtain at the top of the stairs revealed Ethel Merman and the entire audience stands up. The number continues but the audience does not sit down. When she sang her solos, she sang solo. When the chorus came back in, the entire audience sang along with them. When the “waiters” put their hands behind them and swayed with her, so did the entire audience. When Ethel sang, the audience shut up and listened; they knew when to join in. By the time the show was over, the audience was drenched. On top of the two additional songs that were put back in for Ethel, because of the audience’s enthusiasm, the show went an additional seven minutes. There was no question in Josh’s mind that everyone in that audience had already seen Hello, Dolly! at least once prior to that night; probably many times before, and everyone loved it. The fact that everyone was hearing two songs they had never heard before sung by Ethel superseded any other quibbles that anyone may have had. It didn’t matter. It was such an overwhelming experience that nothing else really mattered except that it was a night to remember that would last your whole life; and that’s exactly what it did. Josh’s account is verified in Brian Kellow’s biography of Ethel Merman, A Life.

Merman ended the original run of Dolly on December 27th, 1970. It had played 2,844 performances.

Merman’s last night on a stage anywhere was at the Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach, Florida. Merman’s last scheduled song became Before The Parade Passes By. She had two encores of There’s No Business Like Show Business and What I Did For Love. Hello Dolly marked the end of the Merman era on broadway...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Guest reviewer Bruce Kogan is back with his usual in-depth look at his favorite cinematic gems. Here he is reviewing Bing Crosby's first feature film, The Big Broadcast (1932)...

Paramount made the first of its Big Broadcast films, the first and best of them. This first one gave Bing Crosby his first role in a feature film, previously he had done guest appearances and also short subjects for Mack Sennett. Not wanting to mislead anyone about who was numero uno in this film, Paramount had him play a radio crooner named Bing Crosby. Eleven years later Frank Sinatra would make his feature film debut as Frank Sinatra.

Bing's the star attraction of this one horse town radio station, appearing for Griptight Girdles on the Griptight Girdle Hour. That is when he can get to the studio. His job is being threatened and he's also coming between Stu Erwin who buys the station and Leila Hyams who's manager George Burns's secretary.

It's a thin plot, but nicely done and it's to show off some of radio's greatest talents of that year. In addition to Bing Crosby, appearing are Kate Smith, Arthur Tracy, the Boswell Sisters, Burns and Allen, Cab Calloway and Vincent Lopez with their respective orchestras, the Mills Brothers and tenor Donald Novis.

Bing gets to sing three numbers, Please and Here Lies Love which were written for this film and Dinah. Crosby made a classic recording of Dinah with the Mills Brothers and I wish they'd reprised that for the movie. Instead it's done with a black shoeshine boy giving him a beat with the rag while Bing is scatting like Ella Fitzgerald. Bing was great, but the staging is something that black people would find offensive. Please became a great early hit for him.

Here Lies Love is sung by Crosby, but he reprises it after it's been introduced by Arthur Tracy. Tracy, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, was billed as the Street Singer and had an almost operatic quality to his voice. He rivaled Crosby, Russ Columbo, Rudy Vallee, and Morton Downey in popularity as a radio singer, but American movie audiences didn't take to him. He went to Great Britain in the mid-30s and there he became a movie star. He went back to the US after World War II and only appeared sporadically after that. Tracy was fabulously wealthy due to good investments and lived to the age of 97. He did a cameo appearance in Crossing Delancey, you'll see him briefly discussing issues of the day over the pickle barrel there.

For Kate Smith, radio was a godsend. That beautiful and powerful voice was also trapped in an elephantine body like a Wagnerian opera soprano. She was never going to be a film star. But she was radio's most popular female vocalist, no one else was ever even close and she sings a great rendition of It Was So Beautiful in The Big Broadcast.

Burns and Allen did surreal comedy that was probably only equaled by Monty Python years later. Gracie Allen was in her own world and the ever patient George gave up trying to deal with her reasoning. They did some great guest bits in films like this one and two more with Bing Crosby. But they never really carried a film by themselves with the exception of Here Comes Cookie. I did a review of that and it's the best example of their work.

Donald Novis was a popular radio tenor, totally forgotten now. He also was on the Broadway stage and in Rodgers & Hart's Jumbo introduced their classic, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. They give him Trees to sing, Joyce Kilmer's poem put to music. I wish he'd sung something more popular.

With all these radio stars it's hard to remember that the nominal star of the film is Stu Erwin. Erwin did a fabulous job in creating some great milquetoast characters from the early talkies. The climax of the film involves a long running gag with him trying to get a recording of Bing singing Please to the studio to substitute for Crosby who's AWOL. It's done almost without dialog and it is interspersed with several of the stars previously mentioned. It's a hilarious bit of slapstick.

The Big Broadcast
is enjoyable nostalgic fun and a piece of history since it's the feature film debut of America's greatest entertainer, Bing Crosby...