Suggested Reading and Links
Compiled by John Kenrick
This photo from a publicity flyer for Bombo shows Jolson as Gus, eying two ladies of the ensemble. As Jolson's fame grew, he insisted that his supporting casts be as unremarkable as possible. He could not bear the thought of any competion. This is a thumbnail image; click on it to see a larger version.
There are a number of good books on Jolson and his era, and new sites appear in the web every year. Here are some of the best sources of info that I am aware of.
Freedland, Michael. Jolson: The Story of Al Jolson. W.H. Allen & Co., New York, 1972. (Paperback reprint - London: Virgin Publishing, 1995.) A well researched and enjoyable bio. While Goldman's work is superior, those really interested in Jolson will enjoy reading both works.
Goldman, Howard. Jolson: The Legend Comes To Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. The best written and most thoroughly researched work on Jolson, this is one of the best theatrical bios I've ever read. The appendix covering Jolson's performance history is astounding.
Hirsch, Foster. The Boys From Syracuse: The Shuberts' Theatrical Empire. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. A frank and exhaustively researched chronicle of the most powerful and hated dynasty in the American theater. Far more extensive and revealing than previous efforts.
Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. An examination of cultural/political role played by minstrel show in the 1800s. Too many good ideas and a few ill-founded ones too are mired in academic persiflage. (" . . . disarticulations of hegemony accompany periods of extreme capitalist crisis, generating fresh repertoires of domination.")
Samuels, Charles and Louise. Once Upon a Stage: The Merry World of Vaudeville. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1974. A casual, nostalgic look at vaudeville by two veteran journalists. Some factual errors, but dozens of great anecdotes.
Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. A landmark work in vaudeville scholarship, with hundreds of detailed biographies and explanations of key vaudeville terms.
Slide, Anthony. The Vaudevillians. Westport, CT: Arlington House, 1981. Predecessor to the encyclopedia mentioned above, it features hundreds of profiles and photos.
Stagg, Jerry. The Shubert Brothers. New York: Random House, 1968. An entertaining and informative look at the men who built America's largest and most hated theatrical empire. Not as frank about the Shubert's private lives as Foster Hirsch's later effort, but a must-read for those seriously interested in the subject matter.
Al Jolson Society - A loving tribute to a theatrical legend, with photos, facts, sound and film clips of the incomparable "Jolie." Definitely a musical theatre landmark on the web. Don't miss it!
An Annotated Bibliography of Commedia dell'Arte, Music Hall, Panto, and Other Diversions - This is an excellent bibliography, with some great suggestions on books relating to music halls, vaudeville and burlesque.
Museum of the City of NY, Theatre Collection - With files on over 20,000 Broadway productions, this is one of the largest theatrical archives in the world. It includes programs and other materials for all of Jolson's NY productions. The collection is accessible to qualified researchers for a nominal fee.
NYC Library for the Performing Arts - The Lincoln Center Branch of the NY Public Library has a massive collection of playbills, photos and other paper items, available to researchers free of charge. There are extensive online search options at their website.