His father was a playwright and stage producer. At age nine he began singing professionally; two years later he teamed up with Eddie Cantor in vaudeville. Over the next decade or so he established himself as a major entertainer and songwriter in nightclubs and on Broadway. Jessel appeared sporadically onscreen; his only moderately busy period as a film actor was 1926-30. In 1945 he began producing musical films for Fox. He was known for his charity work, traveling widely and giving lectures and performances to raise funds for various causes; for such activities, in 1969 he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a special Oscar. Jessel often entertained U.S. troops overseas. For a time he was married to actress Norma Talmadge. He authored two volumes of memoirs, So Help Me (1943) and This Way, Miss (1955).