This article was updated on Jan. 13, 2004.
Erle Jolson Krasna, widow of legendary entertainer Al Jolson and Oscar-winning screenwriter Norman Krasna, died Sunday Jan. 11 of cancer in Century City, Calif. She was 81.
Born Erle Chennault Galbraith in Kentucky, she was an X-ray technician at an Army hospital in Hot Springs, Ark., when she caught Jolson’s eye while he entertained wounded servicemen there in June 1944. Jolson called the base commander that night to get her phone number and offered her a Hollywood career.
A raven-haired beauty, Erle arrived in Hollywood later in 1944 to be greeted by Jolson and Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, who signed her to a studio contract. She had bit parts in several Columbia films including “A Thousand and One Nights.”
While working at Columbia, she dated Jolson, who by then was thrice married and divorced, and was 36 years her senior. Nonetheless they married in March, 1945, shortly before principal photography began on “The Jolson Story,” which went on to be one of the blockbuster hits of 1946, giving Jolson one of showbiz’s biggest comebacks.
Jolson’s renaissance was so complete that Columbia filmed a sequel, “Jolson Sings Again,” with Barbara Hale portraying Erle. It went on to become the box office champ of 1949.
Jolson died in October 1950 after a strenuous three-week tour of Korea to entertain U.S. troops. Three days before his death, Jolson signed a contract with RKO Pictures to play himself in a film about his USO tours. (A publicity photo of Jolson was taken with the two heads of the studio, Jerry Wald and Krasna, Erle’s future husband.)
Two months later, Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall presented to Erle a posthumous Medal of Merit awarded to her late husband by President Truman for entertaining troops during the Korean War.
In 1951, Jack Benny introduced Erle to Krasna. They were wed that December and later moved to Switzerland for 20 years to raise their family. They remained married until Krasna’s death in Los Angeles in 1984.
She is survived by two sons, Albert Jolson Jr., who owns and operates a recording studio in Nashville, and David Krasna; two daughters, Beth and Emily; three grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Services will be 1 p.m. Friday Jan. 16 at All Saints Parish, 504 N. Camden Dr., in BevHills.
Memorial donations can be sent to charity of giver’s choice.