October, 1927 – Warner Brothers’ rolled the dice with the sound synchronization of both music and dialogue in their film The Jazz Singer and came up winners.
Facing serious financial problems for quite some time, the success of Don Juan, Warner’s first feature film to use their Vitaphone sound-on-disc system motivated the studio to go for broke with their production of The Jazz Singer.
Having successfully used the system for sound effects and musical score, the production of The Jazz Singer became the first motion picture to also synchronize spoken dialogue. The honor went to Al Jolson, thought by many to be the finest entertainer in the world.
Jolson agreed to play the role of Jakie Rabinowitz for $75,000 after the role had previously been offered to both George Jessel and Eddie Cantor. Negotiations with Jessel were not going well and the role was offered to Cantor. Cantor, being a friend of Jessel, politely declined believing that eventually Warner Brothers and George Jessel would come to an agreement.
This opened the door for Al Jolson who was the inspiration for the story that started as a stage drama starring George Jessel. Giving the role to Al Jolson turned out to be the best casting decision Warner Brothers could have possibly made.
Jolson’s rendition of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goodbye,” and his showstopping blackface rendition of “Mammy,” brought cheers from the audience, but it was his improvised declaration of “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” that drove them wild.
While the production and popularity of silent films still dominated Hollywood, clearly the door to the “talkies” was now open. Warner Brothers’ The Jazz Singer had changed the future of the motion picture industry.