Al Jolson Home Page|His Works|Broadway | La Belle Paree

La Belle Paree was the show that opened the Shuberts' new theatre in New York, the Winter Garden. This two act "Cook's Tour Through Vaudeville with a Parisian Landscape" was little more than a series of scenes allowing a variety of entertainers to perform their numbers. Al Jolson, fresh from Vaudeville, and before that Dockstader's Minstrels, was to have a part.

The show's opening was delayed from the original March 11 to March 14, 1911, then to March 16, and finally to March 20, 1911.

New York Times 19 Mar 1911
The New York Times ad promising, as seen above, that the show will "positively open to-morrow night" in this ad run on March 19, 1911. Jolson was not a star, he was not really a featured player. Looking at the ad, his name is the twentieth listed. Before Jolson's name is George White, who would go on to become the producer of the George White Scandals, rivaling Ziegfeld's Follies. But none of them were yet headliners.

Here is a photo of the cast of La Belle Paree. Al Jolson is in blackface, sixth from the right margin, with Stella Mayhew, his foil in the show, standing next to him.

La Belle Paree finale

Stella Mayhew
Stella Mayhew was a popular vaudeville artist who appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. She was born in Waynesburg, Ohio, in about 1874. She made a number of Broadway appearances between 1904 and 1930, appearing with Al Jolson in both La Belle Paree and The Whirl of Society, Jolson's first two appearances at the Winter Garden. She introduced a number of songs, including Vincent Youmans’s song "Hallelujah!" in Hit the Deck at the Belasco Theatre, in 1927. She died in New York on 2 May 1934.

One of the songs she sang in La Belle Paree with Al Jolson was called "De Devilin' Tune." She recorded it in 1911, the year the show was playing, and you can click on her photo or on the title of the song to hear Stella Mayhew sing, "De Devilin' Tune." In that song, you can here her use of dialect, which would work so well with Al Jolson's stage personna at the time.


Stella Mayhew and Al Jolson
Al Jolson did not have a lot of material in this show. In fact, it is well documented that on opening night the show ran long, very long. It was around midnight when Jolson took the stage and, painfully, laid an egg, as they say on the boards.

Despite this, his initial reviews were good. The New York Times review, seen below, said that "[a]mong the very best features were those proveded by the two unctuous ragtime comedians, Miss Stella Mayhew and Mr. Al Jolson, both of whom had good songs and the dialects and the acting ability to deliver every bit of good that was in them."

Encouraged, Al Jolson was able to secure an earlier spot in the program. After a Sunday matinee performance, the evening of Sunday, March 21, 1911, saw the Jolson character break out in true form. He whistled, as only he could whistle, to get the audience's attention. He joked. He broke the fourth wall. And the audience recognized what was before them, they laughed, they cried, and they stood and applauded.

New York Times 21 Mar 1911
Although La Belle Paree nominally had a musical score written by Jerome Kern, Al Jolson continued to sing and interpret songs as he liked them. One of them, based on Robert Schumann's Träumerei, was one of the first songs recorded by Al Jolson.

That Lovin' Traumerei

Click to here Al Jolson sing "That Lovin' Traumerei"

Al Jolson was, indeed, a rising star. After a month, the ad for the show illustrated his change in status. Take a look at this ad, from April 16, 1911:

New York Times 16 Apr 1911
Al Jolson was now up to fourth billing, just a month after he had hit Broadway.

Ultimately, this "jumble of jollity in two acts and eleven scenes" would run from March 20, 1911, through June 10, 1911, at the Winter Garden, then was taken on tour to San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, over the summer, and return to the Winter Garden on September 11, 1911. After a week at its original home theatre, the show toured to Brooklyn; Boston, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; and finally closed after a week in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Through it, Jolson's star would continue to rise. By the time of this ad, from May 21, 1911, the Winter Garden had begun with some other shows added to the bill in anticipation of the June closing, but when they listed the "Regular Winter Garden Company," it was Al Jolson who received top billing.

New York Times 21 May 1911

A year later, Al Jolson would co-star with Stella Mayhew again, in the Whirl of Society. With that show, the Jolson star would be firmly established over Broadway, and later, to become the World's Greatest Entertainer.


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This listing and material Copyright © 1995-2011 Marc I. Leavey, M.D. Baltimore, Maryland
Updated 20 Mar 11
The 100th Anniversary of the opening of La Belle Paree