b. 3 April 1898, New York City, New York, USA, d. 24 May 1981, Los Angeles, California, USA. Born into a showbusiness family, Jessel sang professionally from early childhood and at the age of 11 was in vaudeville with 17-year old Eddie Cantor. He played on Broadway, including starring in The Jazz Singer (1925, revived 1927) but turned down an offer from Warner Brothers to make the film version, a part-talkie, when agreement could not be reached on the money. The film went instead to Al Jolson and, to Jessel’s chagrin, was not only a popular success but also became a landmark in film history. Jessel did make some film appearances from 1911-81, often in cameos. More important were his Hollywood credits as a producer of several films from the mid-40s to the early 50s. Some of these were musicals, including The Dolly Sisters (1945, with Betty Grable and June Haver), I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (1947, a biopic of songwriter Joseph E. Howard starring Mark Stevens and Haver), Oh, You Beautiful Doll (Stevens and Haver again) and Dancing In The Dark (with William Powell) (both 1949). The latter film was based upon The Band Wagon, a 1931 Broadway play by George S. Kaufman. Jessel’s 50s productions include Meet Me After The Show (with Grable) and Golden Girl (a biopic of singer Lotta Crabtree) (both 1951), Wait ’Til The Sun Shines, Nellie (1952) and Tonight We Sing (1953, a biopic of classical music impresario Sol Hurok). Although these musical film productions of Jessel’s were worthy, his considerable reputation lies in his work in the theatre, nightclubs and on radio and television; in all of these forms his wit and astonishing fund of jokes constantly sparkled. Jessel was also an in-demand public speaker, was hailed as America’s Toastmaster General, and was a tireless worker for charitable causes, winning for the latter activity the 1969 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He wrote several songs, among them being ‘You May Not Remember’, in collaboration with Ben Oakland.
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