“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.”
Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer
In light of (the mostly silent) film The Artist moving forward during the award season, it’s a fitting time to look backward on the film industry.
Imagine being thirty something and going to the movie theater in 1927 to see The Jazz Singer. Every movie that you’ve seen up to that point has been a silent film. In the larger cities a group of musicans may have played music along with the picture, and smaller cities would have a pianist. The beginning of sync sound coupled with The Great Depression of 1928 had a devestating effect on working muscians.
But the talkies were a cash crop for the studios as movie audiences grew throughout the 1930s.
The Jazz Singer was based on the short story The Day of Atonement by Samson Raphaelson which he tuned in his play The Jazz Singer. The play was a major hit on Broadway for the 1925-26 season (303 performances). And as big a year as 1927 turned out for Raphaelson, his biggest successes were still more than a decade away. The Ernst Lubitsch directed film The Shop Around the Corner (1941) was written by Raphaelson as was the 1941 Hitchcock directed film Suspicion.
Later in his life he returned to his early New York roots and wrote the book The Human Nature of Playwriting (1949) and taught screenwriting at Columbua University from 1976 until 1982. The book Three Screen Comedies by Samson Raphaelson: Trouble in Paradise, The Shop Around the Corner, Heaven Can Wait (with an introduction by Pauline Kael) was published in 1983—the same year he died at the age of 89.
“I am a better craftsman than Eugene O’Neill, no comparison. Than Tennessee Williams, no comparison. But they’re much better playwrights than I am…Their life, in both cases, feed, marvelously, into their plays. Their tragedies are part of the tragedies that they write. And Tennessee Williams writes one marvelous and [one] bad play after another, which, if he sat down with me for two hours, I could do miracles on. But I’d never be as good as the guy who wrote it.”
Creativity with Bill Moyers
(Pulled from the article Accent on Youth, The Curious Case of Smason Raphaelson by Smith Galtney)
Want a nice Midwest connection to A Jazz Singer? Well, here it is anyway. According to IMDB, Raphaelson graduated from the University of Illinois in 1917 and worked as a journalist and in advertising before his stage and film success. And the writer of the screenplay, Alfred A. Cohn, was born in Freeport, Illinois. And also according to IMDB, he got a newspaper job in Cleveland before eventually moving to Hollywood where he wrote for more than 100 movies. His lone Oscar nomination was for The Jazz Singer.