The other day we mentioned Al Jolson. We also tried looking at that Hollywood and the Stars
episode dedicated to him. We couldn't finish. It wasn't Jolson; though his rep comes greatly from yahaddabethere, even through the day's rotten film and audio technology he communicates his powerful persona. No, it was blackface. The thing about blackface isn't so much that it's racist; the Jews who claimed it from the antediluvian minstrel acts (think also Eddie Cantor) were at worst well meaning and it is extremely unlikely they hated blacks; they were part of their audiences and shared in political persecution. So it's not just the racism even though it's bad enough. No, the thing about blackface is it looks stupid. Jolson and Cantor were great entertainers without it; the greasepaint amplified every undesirable facial tic until the wearer became a cringing, pathetic slob. Blackface should never and will never come back, but with Jolson and Cantor let us never confuse those faces for the talents too well hidden underneath.
As for Jack Benny's eulogy at the dedication of Jolson's memorial: it should have struck us it was probably ghostwritten, but we'd like to think it wasn't, and our comments on the old Hollywood still stand.