Radio stars (June 1933)

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RADIO STARS The true story of why JOLSON QUIT (Right) As he looked when he appeared on the stage some years ago in "Big Boy." (Opposite page) At the microphone and in comfortable shorts he wears on the beach at Miami. Good tan, that! By CURTIS MITCHELL THE startling news spread like a prairie fire that Al Jolson was going off the air. Rumors flashed the length and breadth of Radio Row. He's walking out on his contract . . . he's flopped ... he wants more money . . . he's fed up with interference ... he hates broadcast- ing . . . he's been taken to a hospital suffering from a nervous collapse. Al Jolson had come to the air waves with the biggest ballyhoo ever given a personality. Chevrolet's Big Six program introduced him to America as a super-super- super sort of entertainer. Ranked everywhere as the greatest single attraction in the world, he was Broadway's miracle man. For his services, motion picture cathedrals had paid him as much as $20,000 a week. For one half- hour performance Chevrolet was paying $5,000. And now he was quitting. Broadway's Big Boy was tossing away his throne. Why? Why? WHY? Excited questions popped like bombs in every broadcaster's office. Before the day was done, a dozen different answers were printed in a dozen different newspapers. Was it money-trouble? Listen to this: Al Jolson has enough money salted away to keep him and his wife, Ruby Keeler (you've seen her recently as the tap dancer in the movie, "Forty- second Street"), for the rest of their lives. Was he flopping ? If he was. it's the strangest flop in history. Not many entertainers quitting a job that brings them $5,000 a week are immediately offered another engagement at twice as much. That happened to Al; another advertiser wanted him badly enough to offer $10,000 a week. And Jolson refused. Did he walk out on his contact? Was he fed up with interference? Was he sick? Sure, he was sick. Influenza. But who wasn't, last winter? That wasn't the reason.' But he did quit. He did walk out on a $5,000-a-week job. Why? James Can- non, the New York World-Telegram's invariably accurate radio editor, interviewed Al just before his last broadcast and published the story in his column. "I couldn't stand it," Cannon quoted Al. "They wouldn't let me alone. I will never come back to radio unless I have a contract which absolutely forbids inter- ference by sponsors. "I was all set to fly to the Coast this week. I wasn't going to say a word, but just to run out. I have done it before, and I was all fed up. But my friend, Lou Holtz, pleaded with me. He said it would look bad. We argued all night. Finally, I agreed to make this farewell broadcast. "All they wanted was the name of Jolson and nothing else. I wanted to do great things on the radio. I wanted to dramatize 'The Jazz Singer.' There's nothing more beautiful than that. But they wanted me just to sing songs. "I wanted to dramatize incidents in my life . . . my courtship and other things. It would make grand radio material. But they wouldn't let me. I offered them jokes. They edited them and said they weren't funny. I paid J. P. Medbury and Julius Tannen each a thousand dollars in advance. But they didn't like them. They had me so every time I did come to a punch line, it went blah. I'm only a human being. What more could I do? "I'm in love with my wife. Ruby Keeler. I've got more money than I'll ever spend. Why should I let some more money come between us? I'm going out to the Coast and then 111 take a trip around the world with Ruby." And that, believe you me, is one of the answers. But there is more to it—much, much more! You see, I was acquainted with Al Jolson in the old days before he found fame and fortune as a Yitaphone star. I knew him as a brilliant {Continued on page 4S) 9