By Jim Heffernan
“Forgotten Duluthians,” that triggered a lot of memories. The book is by David Ouse who runs the reference department at the Duluth Public Library, so it’s pretty well researched.
Somehow “Forgotten Duluthians” came out in 2010 without reaching my radar screen. But it’s just as good a read in 2011, and will be on into the future, forever clearing up myths about some past Duluthians, and introducing some of today’s readers to past residents of the Zenith City they didn’t know about who went on to make something of themselves while leading fascinating lives.
I’d heard of the majority of the subjects, both famous – Lorenzo Music, the voice of the Garfield cartoons, was pretty well known – and not so well known today. One of these was Sidney Buchman, a Hollywood producer whom I recall hearing about when I was a child, but haven’t thought of since.
Buchman was born here in 1901, was graduated from Central High School and ended up in Hollywood in the early 1930s, starting out as a writer for Paramount studios, later becoming a producer. He died in 1975.
What jogged my memory about him was his involvement in the production of the movie “Jolson Sings Again,” a sequel to “The Jolson Story” that had come out a couple of years before. These hagiographical biopics told an idealized version of the life of singer Al Jolson, a performer nearly forgotten today but who was a huge Broadway star in his prime in the 1920s and 1930s. He performed in blackface, singing songs like “Mammy” and “Sonny Boy,” anathema for any artist today. Jolson is credited with being the star of the first sound movie, “The Jazz Singer,” in 1927.
Reading about Buchman, I recalled a scene in “Jolson Sings Again,” which I saw with my parents when I was about 10, in which Jolson, portrayed by actor Larry Parks, chats with Buchman, the producer of the movie, about Jolson’s memory of performing in Duluth at “the old Lyceum Theater.”
At the time, Duluth was abuzz with this scene, and, according to “Forgotten Duluthians,” producer Buchman was honored with “Sidney Buchman Day” in 1950. He made several appearances here, including at Central High School, still at the downtown site.
This is just one of 39 brief profiles making up Ouse’s book, each one fascinating in its own way. Yes, Dorothy Olson is in there. She had a brief screen career as Dorothy Arnold but is best known as the first wife of Joe DiMaggio and the mother of his only son. Hers is another story, though, best read in this interesting book, only available for sale through the Duluth Public Library with proceeds going to the library.
For information about how to purchase this book, Forgotten Duluthians, click HERE at the Duluth Public Library gift shop web site for the book.