“Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”
THE JAZZ SINGER
Al Jolson loved the short story in Everybody's Magazine. So close to his own life as showbiz star in new-world conflict with his old-world, Jewish cantor father. Jolson asked director DW Griffith to film it. "Too racial," said Griffith, still miffed with Jolson for refusing to finish Mammy's Boy, 1923.
Jolson next aimed for a stage revue version, but author Samson Raphelson refused permission. He wrote his own stage play version - he called it a "simple, corny, well-felt, little melodrama." Yet the Broadway run only closed after 38 weeks when its star, George Jessel, was signed by the three Warner brothers for the film - and quit after squabbles over money (said Jack Warner), script changes (said Jessel).
Jessel was offered $30,000. When hearing the film would be made with Viatphone sound, he wanted $10,000 more. Jack Warner, the youngest and, ultimately, the most powerful of the brothers, agreed. Not good enough for Jessel. He wanted it in writing from the oldest brother, Harry, who had bought the film rights for Jack and his elder brother, Sam, to produce.
“If you can’t take my word,” shouted Jack,
“let’s forget the deal.”
Jessel always insisted it wasn't the money but the new script that made him leave - it changed the ending of Jackie Rabinowitz taking his cantor father's place in the synagogue.
More likely, Jack Warner felt that Jessel (like Harry) was too Jewish for the more assimilated family drama he envisaged as opposed to Harry's dream of "a good picture... for the sake of racial tolerance."
Jack tested more assimilated, all-American Jews.
Buster Collier Jr was his favourite.
Except his test proved flat.
making Eddie Cantor a hot, if reluctant contender.
“Impossible,” said Eddie, “to match Jessel.”
Jolson repeated his interest and signed - for $75,000 - and finally made his story. Raphelson (a future Lubitsch scenarist) admitted that seeing a Jolson concert at college had inspired his story. However, he felt the resulting first talkie was "an ill-felt, silly, maudlin, badly timed thing."
Producer Sam Warner, who got his four, feuding brothers into the movie game in 1905, died the day before the historic premiere of October 6, 1927. The night when Vitaphone allowed Jolson (who had sung on-screen in April Showers, 1926) to actually speak. Indeed, to prophesy. "You ain't heard nothin' yet..."