The Theater: By Georgie

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For 36 of his 45 years George Jessel has entertained in vaudeville, legit, radio, cinema, banquet halls, brothels. He has swung high & low, never quite ranking with the Cantors, Durantes, Wynns. One reason: he is more wisecracker than zany. Another may be: with his marital mishaps, he has had too much publicity in the wrong section of the papers. But for two things he is famed: as the Jazz Singer and as Momma Jessel's son Georgie.

Last week appeared Georgie's autobiography (So Help Me—Random House; $2.50)—or what William Saroyan, in a rather sniffy introduction, suspects is just the first of Georgie 's autobiographies. Though any future ones should have no trouble excelling So Help Me in literary merit, none can hope to outdo it for frankness and questionable taste. Jessel shoots the works, Rousseaus his wild oats, touts his triumphs, flaunts his flops, underscores his drinking, italicizes his debts, is sometimes hard to take, occasionally hard to resist, always human.

At ten, Manhattan-born Georgie was singing in a movie theater with Walter Winchell; at eleven he was part of Gus Edwards' kid troupe; as an adolescent he teamed with Eddie Cantor, his lifelong friend and butt. A big laugh-getter in his early 20s, in his late 20s he proved an even bigger tear-jerker in The Jazz Singer. His biggest success since then came this season on Broadway in Show Time.

Jessel's first marriage, to Actress Florence Courtney, broke up when she got religion and he got restless. His second marriage, also to Florence Courtney, broke up after Jessel met "the one great love that you never find a second time"—Cinemactress Norma Talmadge. After an ecstatic beginning, that marriage foundered too. Concerning his fourth unsuccessful marriage, to 16-year-old Lois Andrew, Jessel quotes a remark attributed to the lady: "He's not too old for me, but I'm too young for him."

A cavalcade of show business, So Help Me is much longer on names than faces. Jimmy Walker, John Barrymore, George M. Cohan and many another flit through the book as mere bit players; even Jessel's wives remain blurred as individuals. His mother, his mainstay on the stage, draws a blank. Next to Jessel in importance are Jessel's gags. The best are none too brilliant. Of a decrepit theater he played in: "I was sure there were wild deer in the balcony." Of quarters in a crowded hotel: "We were finally given a room overlooking a coat hanger." As a final gag, Jessel reviewed his own book in Variety last week, described it as "rather daring."