"THE SOLAR SYSTEM'S GREATEST PERFORMER"
-Johnston's unofficial title, often used in advertising
Hal Johnston (b. Hvalimir Jonkovic) was a Frenkish singer and actor, active from 2101 up until his death in 2143. Originally from Mechanocratic Serbia, Johnston fled to the European Federation in his teenage years, later moving to the New Frenco Empire to pursue a singing career, changing his name and dropping his accent. Despite humble beginnings, Johnston was an extremely well-known performer by the mid-2110s, notable for his energetic performances, charisma, and legacyist style. By the 2120s, Johnston was being called "The Solar System's Greatest Performer", and was among the highest paid of Hollywoodland. He made over a thousand recordings, starred in over a hundred films, and performed countless live shows for the duration of his long career in show business. Johnston was also known for his "rotface" performances ("Rotface" being the crude makeup used by non-ghoul performers to imitate ghouls. Typically in a comedic manner, though early Frenkish actors donned rotface to portray ghouls in media of all forms before ghoul actors became common). Despite the offensive nature of these performances, Johnston was often noted as a friend to ghouls of all sorts, being one of the few early Hollywoodland figures to tolerate and even aid the discriminated ghoul performers, often by demanding producers to include them in his acts. He was also notable for being the first human entertainer to perform in the Empty ghoul ghetto, which soon became one of his favorite venues.
Hal Johnston was born around 2085 to a Serbian father and Russian mother in the city of Belgrade in Mechanocratic-ruled Serbia. the youngest of ten siblings. He supposedly became interested in music after seeing old recordings of Al Jolson on the (heavily-censored) Western Media Network, and began singing on street corners for bits of New Rouble. His mother, a former populist, noting his talent when he was around fifteen, suggested he enlist in the MAF, perhaps joining the Red Army Choir. Johnston reportedly said "why sing praise to the state over here when I can sing my heart's desires in Frenk Land?" This caused a rift between them, and it eventually led to Johnston running away from home, crossing the border into the European Federation. Riding on a refugee status, he eventually traveled to the New Frenco Empire, arriving in World City in 2101. Seeking to distance himself from his past, he changed his name (from Hvalimir Jonkovic to "Hal Johnston") and worked to drop his distinctive accent.
Discovery and Career
Throughout his early years, Johnston worked as a waiter and robot handyman, among other things. His charm often bought him free housing, and he always seemed to have a lady friend willing to share her accommodations. Not knowing how he would get a career started, he often frequented karaoke establishments. Johnston caught his big break in 2108, when a Broadway producer happened upon him in a karaoke bar when she got the hankering for a specific drink that bar specialized in. Noting that this young performer exerted great energy and charm in his performance (with the bar's other patrons refusing to take part, instead preferring to watch and hear Johnston), she offered him a part in an upcoming production.
It went uphill from there. After starring in a myriad of plays, his growing popularity got him a lucrative recording deal. His intimate performances of timeless classics contributed greatly to his soaring popularity, and soon attracted the eyes of Hollywoodland. Johnston starred in his first movie, the holofilm musical The Moonlighter, in 2112, playing a character who, by day, is an introverted civil servant, but at night, a charming jazz musician. The Moonlighter is notable for being the first A-list Imperial film to feature an actual ghoul; actress Serena Sans, who appears as the manager of the undercity club Johnston performs at. After hearing about her being kicked out of a restaurant a few months before due to her appearance, Johnston threatened the film's producers with his resignation unless they gave her an audition. In her 2153 biography, Sans notes that Johnston was the first Hollywoodland figure to ever stick up for her, which went against her original perceptions of the man, considering his fondness for rotface. She claims that Johnston was the sole reason she enjoyed current success as Hollywoodland's "go-to" ghoul actress.
Other popular films staring Johnston include The Brakes (2114), Death by Dreamlight (2117), Allen (2121), Beautiful Dreamer (2129), Canal Town (2138), and About A Quarter To Nine (2140). His last film appearance was a cameo appearance in the 2143 masterpiece Comrade Pavlov, being the first person the main protagonist, a disillusioned Mecharussian Political Commissar, sees and hears when tuning into Frenkish holovision for the first time.
He toured all around the globe (and even off, frequently enough, noted for holding New Cydonia's first proper concert in 2120), Imperial venues or not. He signed on with the USO shortly after the beginning of the Canal War in 2123, and toured on-and-off from then until the war's end in 2126. He was also among the honored Frenkish entertainers to enjoy (limited, but relevant) success in hostile powers, and was the first Imperial citizen allowed to perform in Sunikagrad in 2130.
Ten Years' War and Death
With the outbreak of the Ten Years' War, Johnston was among the first to offer his services to the USO to entertain the troops fighting for the Empire's defense in Northwatch, Taiwan and Japan. Touring across the various battlefields, Johnston was a favorite act of the soldiers. He was known for concluding every performance with his own cover of The Rose of No Man's Land, often bringing tears. He even entertained on the Hokkaido Front for a brief time, eventually leaving because, as he joked during an interview, he "didn't think the commander there liked me too much."
By early 2143, UDAP forces were pushed back to the fringes of Korea, and troops stationed at Fort Julianne in Pyongyang were fighting tooth and nail to secure the victory needed to end the overdrawn conflict. By this time, Johnston was touring full-time, ending his frequent trips back to the Empire by 2142. After hearing of the success on that front, he demanded to be given permission to perform for the soldiers there. He was warned that the area was still an active combat zone, and ran an actual risk of becoming a casualty should the fort have been attacked while he was there. He waved them off, saying he would take the risk if it meant he could bring smiles to their weary faces.
However, the warnings given to him turned out to be true. February 17th of 2143, in the middle of a performance (still singing a full hour after the scheduled end, more than happy to satisfy the troops' demands for encores), Asian artillery fired onto the fort, one shell directly hitting Johnston's stage, mortally wounding him. According to the medics who saw to him, his last words were reportedly "Don't shed tears. I went out on stage!" Johnston was mourned across the Empire, with moments of silence being observed everywhere from South Africa to Taiwan. Tens of thousands showed up to a memorial service in World City. His remains were interred in Arlington National Cemetery, an honor usually only reserved for war heroes. In 2149, a ten-foot-tall statue of Johnston was unveiled at Dionysus Park in World City. In 2152, another large statue of Johnston was created, this time at his beloved Empty, and also featuring ghoul bandleader Cab Charlie; an old friend of Johnston's, with Johnston often being credited for "paving" Charlie's way past Hollywoodland's bigotry into stardom. Cab Charlie was also killed while performing with the USO in Asia.
- Hal Johnston is an obvious reference to early-twentieth century entertainer Al Jolson, who was arguably the most notable performer of his time until his death in 1950. Like Jolson, Johnston is an immigrant from an Eastern European nation, was dubbed the "greatest performer", was known for an offensive practice (Jolson's blackface to Johnston's rotface) while still championing the respective minority's rights to the bigoted majority, both were fiercely patriotic, and both died because of their touring of the battlefield during wars to entertain the troops (Jolson to WWII and the Korean War, Johnston to the Canal War and the Ten Years' War. It should be noted that Jolson wasn't killed directly because of the war, instead dying due to illness attributed to his failing health brought on by the tours). Hal Johnston's singing is mostly based upon Jolson's, too, with two of Jolson's songs being used as examples of Johnston's work.