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EddieCantor

Eddie Cantor on NBC television in 1952.

Eddie Cantor (January 31, 1892 – October 10, 1964) was an American comedian, dancer. singer, actor, and songwriter. Familiar to Broadway, radio and early television audiences, this "Apostle of Pep" was regarded almost as a family member by millions because his top-rated radio shows revealed intimate stories and amusing anecdotes about his wife Ida and five daughters. His eye-rolling song-and-dance routines eventually led to his nickname, Banjo Eyes, and in 1933, the artist Frederick J. Garner caricatured Cantor with large round and white eyes resembling the drum-like pot of a banjo. Cantor's eyes became his trademark, often exaggerated in illustrations, and leading to his appearance on Broadway in the musical Banjo Eyes (1941).

Early lifeEdit

Cantor was born Edward Israel Iskowitz[1] in New York City, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Meta and Mechel Iskowitz. His mother died in childbirth one year after his birth, and his father died of pneumonia when Eddie was two, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, Esther Kantrowitz.[2] As a child, he attended Surprise Lake Camp. [3] A misunderstanding when signing her grandson for school gave him her last name of Kantrowitz (shortened by the clerk to Kanter).

By his early teens Cantor began winning talent contests at local theaters and started appearing on stage. One of his earliest paying jobs was doubling as a waiter and performer, singing for tips at Carey Walsh's Coney Island saloon where a young Jimmy Durante accompanied him on piano. Cantor married Ida Tobias in 1914 and had 5 daughters; Ida died in August 1962. [4] [2] He had adopted the first name Eddie when he met his future wife, Ida, in 1903, because she felt that Izzy wasn't the right name for an actor.

In 1907, Cantor became a billed name in vaudeville. In 1912 he was the only performer over the age of 20 to appear in Gus Edwards's Kid Kabaret, where he created his first blackface character, Jefferson. Critical praise from that show got the attention of Broadway's top producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, who gave Cantor a spot in the Ziegfeld rooftop post-show, Midnight Frolic (1917). [2]

Broadway and recordingsEdit

A year later, Cantor made his Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917. He continued in the Ziegfeld Follies until 1927[5], a period considered the best years of the long-running revue. For several years Cantor co-starred in an act with pioneer African-American comedian Bert Williams, both appearing in blackface; Cantor played Williams's fresh-talking son. Other co-stars with Cantor during his time in the Follies included Will Rogers, Marilyn Miller, and W.C. Fields. [6] He moved on to stardom in book musicals, starting with Kid Boots (1923), Whoopee! (1928) and Banjo Eyes (1941)[5]. Cantor began making phonograph records in 1917, recording both comedy songs and routines and popular songs of the day, first for Victor, then for Aeoleon-Vocalion, Pathé and Emerson. From 1921 through 1925 he had an exclusive contract with Columbia Records, returning to Victor for the remainder of the decade.

Cantor was one of the era's most successful entertainers, but the 1929 stock market crash took away his multi-millionaire status and left him deeply in debt. However, Cantor's relentless attention to his own earnings in order to avoid the poverty he knew growing up caused him to use his writing talent, quickly building a new bank account with his highly popular, bestselling books of humor and cartoons about his experience, Caught Short! A Saga of Wailing Wall Street[7] in "1929 A.C. (After Crash)" and "Yoo Hoo Prosperity."

FilmsEdit

Cantor also bounced back in movies and on radio. He had previously appeared in a number of short films (recording him performing his Follies songs and comedy routines) and two silent features (Special Delivery and Kid Boots) in the 1920s, and was offered the lead in The Jazz Singer when that was turned down by George Jessel (Cantor also turned it down, so it went to Al Jolson), but he became a leading Hollywood star in 1930 with the film version of Whoopee! in two-strip Technicolor. Over the next two decades, he continued making films: Palmy Days (1931), The Kid from Spain (1932), Roman Scandals (1933), Kid Millions (1934), Strike Me Pink (1936), Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), Forty Little Mothers (1940), Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Show Business (1944) until 1948, with his last film, If You Knew Susie.

RadioEdit

Cantor appeared on radio as early as February 3, 1922, as indicated by this news item from Connecticut's Bridgeport Telegram:

Local radio operators listened to one of the finest programs yet produced over the radiophone last night. The program of entertainment which included some of the stars of Broadway musical comedy and vaudeville was broadcast from the Newark, N. J. station WDY and the Pittsburgh station KDKA, both of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing company. The Newark entertainment started at 7 o'clock: a children's half-hour of music and fairy stories; 7:[35?], Hawaiian airs and violin solo; 8:00, news of the day; and at 8:20 a radio party with nationally known comedians participating; 9:55, Arlington time signals and 10:01, a government weather report. G. E. Nothnagle, who conducts a radiophone station at his home 176 Waldemere Avenue said last night that he was delighted with the program, especially with the numbers sung by Eddie Cantor. The weather conditions are excellent for receiving, he continued, the tone and the quality of the messages was fine. [8]

Cantor's appearance with Rudy Vallee on Vallee's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour February 5, 1931 led to a four-week tryout with NBC's The Chase and Sanborn Hour. Replacing Maurice Chevalier, who was returning to Paris, Cantor joined The Chase and Sanborn Hour on September 13, 1931. This hour-long Sunday evening variety series teamed Cantor with announcer Jimmy Wallington and violinist Dave Rubinoff. The show established Cantor as a leading comedian, and his scriptwriter, David Freedman, as “the Captain of Comedy.” Cantor soon became the world's highest-paid radio star. His shows began with a crowd chanting, "We want Can-tor, We want Can-tor," a phrase said to have originated when a vaudeville audience chanted to chase off an opening act on the bill before Cantor. Cantor's theme song was his own lyric to the Leo Robin/Richard Whiting song, "One Hour with You."

Indicative of his effect on the mass audience, he agreed in November 1934 to introduce a new song by the songwriters J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie that other well-known artists had rejected as being "silly" and "childish." The song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", immediately had orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day. It sold 400,000 copies by Christmas of that year.

His NBC radio show, Time to Smile, was broadcast from 1940 to 1946, followed by his Pabst Blue Ribbon Show from 1946 through 1949. He also served as emcee of The $64 Question during 1949-'50, and hosted a weekly disc jockey program for Philip Morris during the 1952-'53 season. In addition to film and radio, Cantor recorded for Hit of the Week Records, then again for Columbia, for Banner and Decca and various small labels. His heavy political involvement began early in his career, including his participation in the strike to form Actors Equity in 1919, provoking the anger of father figure and producer, Florenz Ziegfeld. He was the second president of the Screen Actors Guild.

In 1939, at the World's Fair, Cantor publicly denounced hatemonger Father Charles Coughlin and was dropped by his sponsor, Camel cigarettes. A year and a half later it was his friend Jack Benny who was able to get him back on the air.

TelevisionEdit

In the 1950s, he was one of the alternating hosts of the television show The Colgate Comedy Hour, in which he would introduce variety acts and play comic characters like "Maxie the Taxi." However, the show landed Cantor in an unlikely controversy when a young Sammy Davis, Jr. appeared as a guest performer. Cantor embraced Davis and mopped Davis's brow with his handkerchief after his performance. Worried sponsors led NBC to threaten cancellation of the show; Cantor's response was to book Davis for two more weeks.

On May 25, 1944, pioneer television station WPTZ (now KYW-TV) in Philadelphia presented a special telecast featuring Eddie Cantor, which was also fed to the NBC television station in New York City, WNBT (now WNBC). Cantor, one of the first major stars to agree to appear on television, was to sing "We're Havin' A Baby, My Baby And Me". Arriving shortly before airtime at the Philadelphia studios, Cantor was reportedly told to cut the song because the NBC New York censors considered some of the lyrics too risqué. Cantor refused, claiming no time to prepare an alternative number. NBC relented, but the sound was cut and the picture blurred on certain lines in the song. This is considered the first instance of television censorship.

Books and merchandisingEdit

In addition to Caught Short!, Cantor wrote or co-wrote at least seven other books, including booklets released by the then-fledgling firm of Simon & Schuster, with Cantor’s name on the cover. (Some were "as told to" or written with David Freedman). Customers paid a dollar and received the booklet with a penny embedded in the hardcover. They sold well, and H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) asserted that these books did more to pull America out of the Great Depression than all government measures combined.

Cantor's popularity led to merchandising of such products as Eddie Cantor's Tell It to the Judge game from Parker Brothers. In 1933, a set of twelve Eddie Cantor caricatures by Frederick J. Garner were published by Brown & Bigelow. These advertising cards were purchased in bulk as a direct-mail item by such businesses as auto body shops, funeral directors, dental laboratories and vegetable wholesale dealers. With the full set, companies could mail a single Cantor card each month for a year to their selected special customers as an ongoing promotion.

Cantor was often caricatured in magazines and newspapers, and he was occasionally a character in Warner Bros. cartoons, including Billboard Frolics and What's Up Doc? He was the only living person ever to be depicted as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which first occurred in 1940[9].

TributesEdit

Cantor was profiled on the popular program This Is Your Life, in which an unsuspecting person (usually a celebrity) would be surprised on live television with a half-hour tribute. Cantor was the only subject who was told of the surprise in advance; he was recovering from a heart attack and it was felt that the shock might harm him.

In 1953 Warner Bros., in an attempt to duplicate the box-office success of The Jolson Story, filmed a big-budget Technicolor feature film, The Eddie Cantor Story. The film found an audience but might have done better with someone else in the leading role. Actor Keefe Brasselle played Cantor as a caricature with high-pressure dialogue and bulging eyes wide open; the fact that Brasselle was considerably taller than Cantor didn't lend realism either. Eddie and Ida Cantor were seen in a brief prologue and epilogue set in a projection room, where they are watching Brasselle in action; at the end of the film Eddie tells Ida, "I never looked better in my life"... and gives the audience a knowing, incredulous look. George Burns, in his memoir All My Best Friends, claimed that Warner Bros. created a miracle producing the movie in that "it made Eddie Cantor's life boring".

Something closer to the real Eddie Cantor story is his self-produced 1944 feature Show Business, a valentine to vaudeville and show folks that was RKO's top-grossing film that year. Probably the best summary of Cantor's career is in one of the Colgate Comedy Hour shows. The Colgate hour was a virtual video autobiography, with Cantor recounting his career, singing his familiar hits, and re-creating his singing-waiter days with his old friend Jimmy Durante. This show has been issued on DVD as Eddie Cantor in Person.

As talented as Cantor was, he is an excellent example of the mega star who virtually vanishes with the passing of time. His biographer, Gregory Koseluk, wrote in 1995 that Eddie "is all but forgotten". Eddie Cantor: A Life in Show Business (introduction).

FamilyEdit

Eddie and Ida Cantor had five daughters: Marjorie, Natalie, Edna, Marilyn and Janet. Cantor's autobiographies, My Life is in Your Hands (with David Freedman) and Take My Life (with Jane Kesner Ardmore) were republished in 2000.

Following the death of daughter Marjorie at the age of 44, both Eddie's and Ida's health declined rapidly. Ida died in 1962 of "cardial insufficiency". On October 10, 1964 in Beverly Hills, California, Eddie Cantor suffered another heart attack and died, aged 72. He is buried in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery. Cantor was awarded an honorary Academy Award the year of his death.

FilmographyEdit

  • Widow at the Races (1913)
  • A Few Moments With Eddie Cantor, Star of "Kid Boots" (1923) (DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film short film)
  • Kid Boots (1926)
  • Special Delivery (1927)
  • A Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic (1929) (short)
  • Glorifying the American Girl (1929)
  • That Party in Person (1928) (short)
  • Insurance (1930) (short)
  • Getting a Ticket (1930) (short)
  • Whoopee! (1930)
  • Palmy Days (1931)
  • Talking Screen Snapshots (1932) (short)
  • The Kid from Spain (1932)
  • Roman Scandals (1933)
  • The Hollywood Gad-About (1934) (short)
  • Kid Millions (1934)
  • Strike Me Pink (1936)
  • Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937)
  • The March of Time Volume IV, Issue 5 (1937) (short)
  • Forty Little Mothers (1940)
  • Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
  • Show Business (1944) (also producer)
  • Hollywood Canteen (1944)
  • Screen Snapshots: Radio Shows (1945) (short)
  • American Creed (1946) (short)
  • Meet Mr. Mischief (1947) (short) (appears on poster)
  • If You Knew Susie (1948)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood's Happy Homes (1949) (short)
  • The Story of Will Rogers (1952)
  • Screen Snapshots: Memorial to Al Jolson (1952) (short)
  • The Eddie Cantor Story (1953) (cameo)

BroadwayEdit

  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 (1917) - revue - performer
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 (1918) - revue - performer, co-composer and co-lyricist for "Broadway's Not a Bad Place After All" with Harry Ruby
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 (1919) - revue - performer, lyricist for "(Oh! She's The) Last Rose of Summer"
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1920 (1920) - revue - composer for "Green River", composer and lyricist for "Every Blossom I See Reminds Me of You" and "I Found a Baby on My Door Step"
  • The Midnight Rounders of 1920 (1920) - revue - performer
  • Broadway Brevities of 1920 (1920) - revue - performer
  • Make It Snappy (1922) - revue - performer, co-bookwriter
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 (1923) - revue - sketch-writer
  • Kid Boots (1923) - musical - actor in the role of "Kid Boots" (the caddie master)
  • Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 (1927) - revue - performer, co-bookwriter
  • Whoopee! (1928) - musical - actor in the role of "Henry Williams"
  • Eddie Cantor at the Palace (1931) - solo performance
  • Banjo Eyes (1941) - musical - actor in the role of "Erwin Trowbridge"
  • Nellie Bly (1946) - musical - co-producer

WatchEdit

Listen toEdit

QuoteEdit

"It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice."

SourcesEdit

Goldman, Herbert G. (1997). Banjo Eyes: Eddie Cantor and the Birth of Modern Stardom. New York: Oxford University Press. 

ReferencesEdit

  1. Who's Who in Musicals: Ca-Cl
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Eddie Cantor Dead", The New York Times, October 11, 1964, p. 1
  3. Epstein, Lawrence. "The Haunted Smile" (2002). PublicAffairs. ISBN 1586481622, p.38
  4. "Deaths", The New York Times, August 10, 1962, p. 14
  5. 5.0 5.1 Internet Broadway database listingibdb.com, retrieved December 24, 2009
  6. Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald. "Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers" (2007). Routledge. ISBN 0415938538, p. 193
  7. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Caught_Short
  8. "Radio Operators Hear a Good Concert," Bridgeport Telegram, February 4, 1922.
  9. New York Daily News (2008-11-28). "Floating back in time with Macy's balloons". http://www.nydailynews.com/news/galleries/entertainment/entertainment.html. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 

External linksEdit

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Eddie Cantor. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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