SABR

LETTERS: Al Jolson?

By Charles Alexander

This article was published in the Fall 2009 Baseball Research Journal.

The cover photo on the summer 2009 issue (volume 38, number 1) of The Baseball Research Journal is fascinating. The image of Landis throwing out the first ball has appeared in cropped form many times, but what’s fascinating is what you see if you open out both front and back covers. I don’t know who the distinguished-looking man sitting next to Landis is, but behind the man is New York City mayor Jimmy Walker. And next to Walker is a guy in a cap and in blackface!

I’m 95 percent certain that this is either the third game of the 1927 World Series, played in Yankee Stadium, or opening day 1927. Why 1927? Because the movie The Jazz Singer, with a sound sequence but otherwise a silent, was released in 1927. The guy in blackface has to be Al Jolson, who starred in the movie as a Jewish boy whose father, a cantor, wanted him to give up his career on the popular stage and succeed him. Jolson’s famous sound sequence has him singing “Mammy” in blackface (with whitened lips and white gloves).

So here’s Jolson, who hobnobbed with the rich and famous, showing up at Yankee Stadium in blackface, presumably to advertise himself and his movie. However incredible that may seem from our perspective, it was probably taken as a neat stunt in 1927.

— Charles Alexander
Hamilton, Ohio

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