Monday, December 7, 2015


Child actor Davey Lee (1924 - 2008)

DAVEY LEE starred as a child actor with AL JOLSON in two of the first talking pictures: THE SINGING FOOL (1928) and SAY IT WITH SONGS (1929). In the SINGING FOOL, Jolson sang a song to little Davey Lee that might very well be the first million selling record ever: SONNY BOY.

After a stroke, Davey Lee lived in a nursing home in Los Angeles, California until he passed away on June 17, 2008.

Enouraged by someone from the INTERNATIONAL AL JOLSON SOCIETY, we wrote a letter to Davey Lee in 2007 to let him know that he has not been forgotten.

Our message sent to Davey Lee (2007):

We are two film students from Germany, and we got your address from members of the International Al Jolson Society. One year ago we started to work on a documentary about Al Jolson, and since we found out that there is still a possibility to contact you, we wanted to do that. Unlike most Jolson enthusiasts, we did not hear of Jolson because of the film "The Jolson Story". In 2005 we attended a course at our university that mentioned "The Jazz Singer" as the first talking picture. We bought the movie, watched it, and got captured by Al Jolson. Because of our growing interest, we wanted to watch the Jolson films in the chronological order. So, the second movie we watched was "The Singing Fool", the third one was "Say it with Songs". It was difficult to obtain this movies but we were able to get them through the IAJS of which we are also members now.

We both were born in the 1970s and 1980s, so it was a unique experience for us to watch that kind of films - important films because they are among the first talking pictures. And it's an even more unique experience for us to be able to get in touch with you. You may not know that "The Singing Fool" had run in German cinemas before "The Jazz Singer" was shown. It might have something to do with the fact that people back then had not expected that talkies would be successful. We know that "The Singing Fool" was even a bigger success than the first talkie "The Jazz Singer". Because of its big success, its actual forerunner "The Jazz Singer" was later also shown in German cinemas.

We just wanted to let you know that there are still people out there who discover these films and get a thrill out of it - even if (or just because) they come from a completely different time. We can "t think of any other medium that is able to have such a sensuous influence even almost 80 years after its creation than film.

When we decided to make a documentary about Al Jolson, we were very happy that he had made several films and that there are still people around that deal with this era. Without these people and without these films, we couldn't do what we want to do. For us, it's great to work with material that belongs to the roots of the first medium that was able to evoke a global impact because of its transportation of image and sound, satisfying two of the most important senses of the human being: the eye and the ear.

We love the scene with you on Al Jolson's knees when Jolson tells you a bed time story and later sings "Sonny Boy" to you. We think it's also a very modern scene because it's a father who rocks the baby to sleep. And it's also a reproduced and quoted scene, at least in the German film history. Maybe you have heard of the film "Wenn der Vater mit dem Sohne" ("Father and Son") with Heinz Ruehmann from 1955. The father here also rocks the baby to sleep, a very famous scene - we now know that it wasn't a new idea. And in both cases the role of the protagonist is the one of a broken clown.

After having watched "The Singing Fool" and "Say it with Songs", we wanted to contact you. We've heard that you suffered a stroke and that you are still not in the best of health. We want to send you all of our best wishes and let you know that we are very happy about the opportunity to write you!


  1. It seems many people who have a connection to Jolson are quite special. Davey was one of those. Even as an aging adult, he had the air of a boy. He was so willing to give any information, no matter how accurate, to any of us who would listen. I first met Davey in New York at the 1985 Festival. There is a whole story behind that too. However, as our friendship progressed, he ended up staying at my home for a couple of days before the 1995 Philadelphia Festival. He was a wonderful guy, with a great Irish tenor voice by the way, and he is dearly missed.

  2. Thank you for sharing that story, Bruce. I envy you for having known him. Would have loved to meet him, but he was not in good health anymore when we started with our documentary. We need to talk with you about Davey next time we are in the US. Would like to cover him for the film.