- George Jessel (actor)
bgcolour = silver
name = George Jessel
imagesize = 200px
caption = George Jessel in the film "
Stage Door Canteen" (1943)
birthname = George E. Jessel
birthdate = birth date|1898|4|3
Bronx, New York, United States
deathdate = death date and age|1981|5|23|1898|4|3
Los Angeles, California, United States
spouse = Florence Courtney (1923-1932)
Norma Talmadge(1934-1939) Lois Andrews(1940 - 1943)
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
Walk of Fame- Motion Picture
1751 Vine Street
George Jessel (
April 3, 1898– May 23, 1981) was an American actor, singer, songwriter, and Academy Award-winning movie producer. He was famous in his lifetime as a multitalented comedic entertainer, achieving a level of recognition that transcended his limited roles in movies. He was widely known by his nickname, the " ToastmasterGeneral of the United States" (a parody of Postmaster General) for his frequent role as the master of ceremoniesat political and entertainment gatherings.
Jessel was born in
the Bronx. By age 10, he was appearing in vaudevilleand on Broadway to support his family after his father's death. His mother, who worked as a ticket seller at the Imperial Theater, helped him form The Imperial Trio, a harmony group of ushers to entertain patrons of the theater, with Walter Winchelland Jack Wiener, using the stage names Leonard, Lawrence and McKinley, in their early teens (such usher-singer groups were common). At age 11, he was a partner of Eddie Cantorin a kid sketch and performed with him on stage until he outgrew the role at age 16. He later partnered with Lou Edwardsand then began a solo performer.Cullen, Frank and Hackman, Florence (2006). "Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America", pp. 566-68. Routledge. ISBN 0415938538.]
His most famous comedy skit was called "Hello Mama" or "Phone Call from Mama", which portrayed a one-sided
telephoneconversation. In 1919 he produced his own solo show, "George Jessel's Troubles" and appeared in his first motion picture, the silent movie " The Other Man's Wife". He co-wrote the lyrics for a hit tune, "Oh How I Laugh When I Think How I Cried About You", and performed in several successful comedy stage shows in the early 1920s. In 1921 he recorded a hit single, "The Toastmaster". He sometimes appeared in blackfacein his vaudeville shows.
Broadway and personal life
In 1925 he emerged as one of the most popular leading men on Broadway with the starring role in the stage production of "
The Jazz Singer". The success of the show prompted Warner Bros.to adapt the show as the first " talkie" and to cast Jessel in the lead role. When the studio refused his salary demands, however, he turned down the movie role, which was eventually played by Al Jolson. According to Jessel during an interview around 1980, Warners still owed Jessel money for earlier roles and lacked enough funds to produce this movie with a leading star. Jolson, the biographical inspiration for the movie, became the movie's main financial backer. [http://wms26.streamhoster.com/mike101/Jolson/Videos/Other/Jessel_interview.wmv Watch interview]
His second movie role was in 1926 in "
Private Izzy Murphy". Whereas Jolson's career skyrocketed after the 1927 release of "The Jazz Singer", Jessel remained in smaller movie roles, often intended for Jewish audiences.
In the 1930s, his personal life kept him in the public eye as much as his movies. He had notorious affairs with actresses
Pola Negri, Helen Morganand Lupe Vélez(all detailed in his 1975 autobiography "The World I Lived In"). It was around this time, while emceeing a vaudeville show in Chicago, he decided to introduce a sister act, The Gumm Sisters, to laughs from the audience. When he reintroduced the singing trio as The Garland Sisters (after Carole Lombard's character in the film "Twentieth Century") the name stuck. Youngest sister Frances named herself Judy after a popular Rudy Valleesong and went onto become one of the most legendary film and recording stars of the last century. In 1934 Jessel married silent movie star Norma Talmadge, causing a scandal because Talmadge was married at the time that they started their affair. After their divorcein 1939, he caused further scandal by breaking into her house with a pistol and firing shots at her current lover.
Movies and broadcasting
In the middle 1940s, he began producing musicals for
20th Century Fox, producing 24 films in all in a career that lasted through the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time he became known as a host on the banquet circuit, famous for his good-natured wit aimed at his fellow celebrities. In 1946 he was one of the founding members of the Californiabranch of the Friars Club. (A recording exists of an example of his "blue" work in front of a stag audience, although it was actually recorded at a roast hosted by the Friars' rival, the Masquers Club.) He also traveled widely overseas with the USOentertaining troops. As he grew older, he wrote eulogies for many of his contemporaries in Hollywood. He wrote three volumes of memoirs, "So Help Me" in 1943, "This Way, Miss" (1955), and "The World I Lived In" (1975).
In the early 1950s he performed on the radio in "
The George Jessel Show", which became a television showof the same name from 1953 to 1954. In 1968 he starred in "Here Come The Stars," a syndicated variety show. Jessel also appeared as himself in " Valley of the Dolls" in 1968. His attempt to extend his career was undermined, however, by a perception that his style of comedy was outdated, as well as by his outspoken support of the Vietnam Warand of conservative political causes.
On the other hand, he often crossed the era's stereotypical political lines with his support for the
Civil Rightsmovement and criticism of racismand anti-Semitism. His outspokenness regarding his political opinions could sometimes get him into trouble. In 1971, while being interviewed by Edwin Newmanon "The Today Show" on NBC, he repeatedly referred to " The New York Times" as " Pravda", the house organ of the Communist Partyin the Soviet Union, and was ejected from the show.
Famous in his youth for his affairs with
starlets, he also became known for keeping company with a wide assortment of younger show girls, even into his old age. By the late 1960s he had gained a reputation as being overly self-indulgent in reminiscing about former companions who were little known by younger audiences. Walter Winchell once said of him, "That son of a bitch started to reminisce when he was eight years old". In response, Jessel stated that "I have a funeral speech ready for Winchell. I hope it starts in fifteen minutes." He had achieved a somewhat iconic status, representing a Hollywood of yore, such that he extended his career by playing himself, rather than characters, as in the 1967 camp classic "Valley of the Dolls".
His last movie role was in "
Diary of a Young Comic" in 1979. He also appeared as himself as an interviewed witness in the 1981 movie "Reds".
In 1969 the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scienceshonored him for his charity work by awarding him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a Special Academy Award. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, George Jessel has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fameat 1777 Vine Street, Los Angeles, California.
* [http://www.comedystars.com/Bios/jessel_george.shtml Encyclopedia Commedia: George Jessel]
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
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