Eddie Cantor

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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, New Jersey station WDY and the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 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. [11]

Cantor (right) with Bert Gordon, AKA "the Mad Russian" Bert Gordon Eddie Cantor NBC.JPG
Cantor (right) with Bert Gordon, AKA "the Mad Russian"

Cantor's appearance with Rudy Vallee on Vallee's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour on February 5, 1931, led to a four-week tryout with The Chase and Sanborn Hour . Replacing Maurice Chevalier, who was returning to Paris, Cantor joined Chase and Sanborn 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". Freedman's team included, among others, Samuel "Doc" Kurtzman, who also wrote for song-and-dance man, Al Jolson, and the comedian Jack Benny. 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 in vaudeville, when the audience chanted to chase off an 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". His radio sidekicks included Bert Gordon, (comic Barney Gorodetsky, AKA The Mad Russian) and Harry Parke (better known as Parkyakarkus). Cantor also discovered and helped guide the career of singer Dinah Shore, first featuring her on his radio show in 1940, as well as other performers, including Deanna Durbin, Bobby Breen in 1936, and Eddie Fisher in 1949.

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 Comin' 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. [12]

His NBC radio show Time to Smile was broadcast from 1940 to 1946,[ citation needed ] followed by his Pabst Blue Ribbon Show from 1946 through 1949. The Pabst program ended when the sponsor wanted Cantor to add a weekly television program. Cantor refused to take on the additional broadcast. The trade publication Billboard reported that Cantor and Pabst "parted friends" after "several months of negotiation." [13] He also served as emcee of Take It or Leave It during 1949–1950, and hosted a weekly disc jockey program for Philip Morris during the 1952–1953 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.

In the early 1960s, he syndicated the short radio segment "Ask Eddie Cantor". [14]

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. At the 1939 New York World's Fair, Cantor publicly denounced antisemitic radio personality Father Charles Coughlin and then was dropped by his radio sponsor Camel cigarettes. A year and a half later, Cantor was able to return to the air because of help from his friend Jack Benny.


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.

Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor 1945.JPG
Cantor in 1945
Isidore Itzkowitz

(1892-01-31)January 31, 1892
DiedOctober 10, 1964(1964-10-10) (aged 72)
Resting place Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • dancer
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • film producer
  • screenwriter
  • author
Years active1907–1962
Ida Tobias
(m. 1914;died 1962)
2nd President of the Screen Actors Guild
In office

Cantor also made numerous film appearances. He had previously appeared in a number of short films, performing his Follies songs and comedy routines, and two silent features (Special Delivery and Kid Boots) in the 1920s. He was offered the lead in The Jazz Singer after it was turned down by George Jessel. Cantor also turned the role down (so it went to Al Jolson), but he became a leading Hollywood star in 1930 with the film version of Whoopee!, shot in two-color Technicolor. He continued making films over the next two decades until his last starring role in If You Knew Susie (1948). From 1950 to 1954, Cantor was a regular guest host on the television variety series The Colgate Comedy Hour .

Cantor as host of The Colgate Comedy Hour, 1952 Eddie cantor television 1952.JPG
Cantor as host of The Colgate Comedy Hour, 1952

On May 25, 1944, pioneer television station WPTZ (now KYW-TV) in Philadelphia presented a special, all-star telecast which was also seen in New York over WNBT (now WNBC) and featured cut-ins from their Rockefeller Center studios. 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 New York 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. [17]

In 1950, he became the first of several hosts alternating on the NBC television variety show The Colgate Comedy Hour , in which he would introduce musical acts, stage and film stars and play comic characters such as "Maxie the Taxi". In the spring of 1952, Cantor landed 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. When worried sponsors led NBC to threaten cancellation of the show, Cantor's response was to book Davis for two more weeks. Cantor suffered a heart attack following a September 1952 Colgate broadcast, and thereafter, curtailed his appearances until his final program in 1954. In 1955, he appeared in a filmed series for syndication and a year later, appeared in two dramatic roles ("George Has A Birthday", on NBC's Matinee Theatre broadcast in color, and "Size.man and Son" on CBS's Playhouse 90). He continued to appear as a guest on several shows, and was last seen on the NBC color broadcast of The Future Lies Ahead on January 22, 1960, which also featured Mort Sahl.


Cantor appears in caricature form in numerous Looney Tunes cartoons produced for Warner Bros., although he was often voiced by an imitator. Beginning with I Like Mountain Music (1933), other animated Cantor cameos include Shuffle Off to Buffalo (Harman-Ising, 1933) and Billboard Frolics (Friz Freleng, 1935). Eddie Cantor is one of the four "down on their luck" stars (along with Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, and Jack Benny) snubbed by Elmer Fudd in What’s Up, Doc? (Bob McKimson, 1950). In Farm Frolics (Bob Clampett, 1941), a horse, asked by the narrator to "do a canter", promptly launches into a singing, dancing, eye-rolling impression. The Cantor gag that got the most mileage, however, was his oft-repeated wish for a son after five famous daughters. Slap-Happy Pappy (Clampett, 1940) features an "Eddie Cackler" rooster that wants a boy, to little avail. Other references can be found in Baby Bottleneck (Clampett, 1946) and Circus Today (Tex Avery, 1940). In Merrie Melodies, The Coo-Coo Nut Grove Cantor's many daughters are referenced by a group of singing quintuplet girls. In Porky’s Naughty Nephew (Clampett, 1938) a swimming Cantor gleefully adopts a "buoy". [18] An animated Cantor also appears prominently in Walt Disney's "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood" (Wilfred Jackson, 1938) as Little Jack Horner, who sings "Sing a Song of Sixpence".

Books and merchandising

Cantor and three of his daughters strike a pose in 1926 to promote his first film, Kid Boots, and children's shoes. Eddie Cantor and daughters ad postcard 1926.JPG
Cantor and three of his daughters strike a pose in 1926 to promote his first film, Kid Boots, and children's shoes.

Cantor's popularity led to merchandising of such products as Eddie Cantor's Tell It to the Judge game from Parker Brothers. In 1933, Brown and Bigelow published a set of 12 Eddie Cantor caricatures by Frederick J. Garner. The 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 on the covers of sheet music and in magazines and newspapers. Cantor was depicted as a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, [19] one of the very few balloons based on a real person.

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 asserted that the books did more to pull America out of the Great Depression than all government measures combined.

Activism and philanthropy

Cantor was the second president of the Screen Actors Guild, serving from 1933 to 1935.

He invented the title "The March of Dimes" for the donation campaigns of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which was organized to combat polio. It was a play on The March of Time newsreels popular at the time. He began the first campaign on his radio show in January 1938, asking listeners to mail a dime to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At that time, Roosevelt was the most notable American victim of polio. Other entertainers joined in the appeal via their own shows, and the White House mail room was deluged with 2,680,000 dimes—a large sum at the time.

Cantor also recorded a spoken introduction on a 1938 Decca recording of Alexander's Ragtime Band by Bing Crosby and Connee Boswell in which he thanks the listener for buying the record, which supported the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. That record hit No. 1 on the charts, though Cantor did not sing on it. A lifelong Democrat, Cantor supported Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 presidential election. [20]


Cantor was profiled on This Is Your Life , a program in which an unsuspecting person (usually a celebrity) would be surprised on live television by host Ralph Edwards, 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.[ citation needed ]

In 1951 he received an honorary doctorate from Temple University. [21]

On October 29, 1995, as part of a nationwide celebration of the 75th anniversary of radio, Cantor was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame at Chicago's Museum of Broadcasting Communication.[ citation needed ]

There was an Eddie Cantor caricature featured in Comedy Store, and flashing lights on it marked the end of auditions for comedians. [22]

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 (1953). 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 did not lend realism. 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.[ citation needed ] 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". [23]

Something closer to the real Eddie Cantor story is his self-produced feature Show Business (1944), a valentine to vaudeville and show folks, which was RKO's top-grossing film that year.[ citation needed ]

Probably the best summary of Cantor's career is on one of the Colgate Comedy Hour shows. [24] Re-issued on DVD as Eddie Cantor in Person, the hour-long episode is a virtual video autobiography, with Eddie recounting his career, singing his greatest hits, and recreating his singing-waiter days with another vaudeville legend, his old pal Jimmy Durante.

Cantor appears as a recurring character, played by Stephen DeRosa, on the series Boardwalk Empire .

Personal life and family

The Cantors in 1952 Eddie and Ida Cantor 1952.JPG
The Cantors in 1952

Cantor adopted the first name "Eddie" when he met his future wife Ida Tobias in 1913, because she felt that "Izzy" was not the right name for an actor. Cantor and Ida (1892–1962) were married on June 6, 1914. They had five daughters – Marjorie (1915–1959), [25] [26] [27] Natalie (1916–1997), Edna June (1919–2003), Marilyn (1921–2010), and Janet (1927–2018). The girls provided comic fodder for Cantor's longtime running gag, especially on radio, about his five unmarriageable daughters. [25] Several radio historians, including Gerald Nachman (Raised on Radio), have said that this gag did not always sit well with the girls.

Natalie's first husband was Joseph Louis Metzger, [28] a businessman from Boston; they married in 1937. [29] Her second husband was the French-born American actor Robert Clary, who was best known for his role as Corporal Louis LeBeau on Hogan's Heroes . [30] Edna married James Francis McHugh, Jr., in 1938. McHugh Sr. was a somgwriter who was close friends with Eddie Cantor. [29] [31] Janet married the actor Roberto Gari. [32] Marilyn married a Canadian, Michael Baker, in 1960. She was the only child in the family to follow her father into show business.

Following the death of their daughter Marjorie at the age of 44, Eddie's and Ida's health declined rapidly. She had been her father's secretary and a magazine writer. [33] Ida died on August 9, 1962, at age 70 of "cardiac insufficiency", [5] [34] and Eddie died on October 10, 1964, in Beverly Hills, California, after suffering his second heart attack at age 72. [35] He is interred in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Culver City, California.

Cantor was a Freemason via Munn Lodge No. 190 in New York City. [36] [37]



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Further reading