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Jolson And My Dad

Al Jolson (l.) and George Schwartz, our author's father, about the time they met.


My father was a World War II veteran who took part in the invasion of North Africa, the invasion of Sicily, D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge. But his safety was pre-assured by his brother Murray.

My dad wanted to enlist, but since he was under 21 he needed a parent’s signature. My grandmother refused to allow her youngest child to go to war. So my Uncle Murray intervened. “Ma, you have to sign. They are taking everyone. He is going to be drafted the minute he hits 21 and they will put him right into the infantry. But if he enlists, he can choose where he wants to be placed.” So she reluctantly agreed, and dad joined the Quartermaster Corps, as he'd requested -- which probably saved his life. Being stationed with the supplies, he entered every major battle a day later. That likely ensured his eventual safe return home -- and it also gave my father the most popular story of his entire war experience.

One night a major entered the supply hut with an older gentleman and asked, “Sergeant, can you get a jacket for Mr. Jolson?” My surprised father then gave an Army jacket to none other than Al Jolson himself, and actually got a “Thanks, kid” in return. Even though my dad was involved with every major battle in the European Theater, for years to come it was the story of meeting Jolson that everyone wanted to hear.

This wartime incident made watching The Jolson Story a family event in my house growing up. My father’s devotion to his family, friends, and community made him a special person, but knowing he once got a “Thanks, kid” from the subject of the movie was just as heartwarming.

Rory Lance is the stage and pen name of Player Rory Schwartz. He is an accomplished character actor on both the musical and dramatic stages and in numerous film and television projects. He has also spent much of his career teaching and introducing young people to the joys and challenges of the theatre.


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