Cantor, Eddie

views updated May 29 2018


Nationality: American. Born: Edward Israel Iskowitch in New York City, 31 January 1892. Family: Married Ida Tobias, 1914, five daughters. Career: 1907—debut at the Clinton Music Hall; later joined Gus Edwards's "Kid Kabaret"; 1914–15—with Lily Lee, performed as Cantor and Lee; 1916—moved to the West Coast, performed with the "Canary Cottage" company; 1917–19—in the Ziegfeld "Follies"; 1920—debut as star in The Midnight Rounders; 1926—film debut in filmed version of stage success, Kid Boots; 1930s—president of Jewish Theatrical Guild of America, and of the American Federation of Radio Artists (1937); 1950–54—host of The Colgate Comedy Hour; 1955—host of Eddie Cantor Comedy Theatre. Awards: Honorary Oscar, for "distinguished service to the film industry," 1956. Died: 10 October 1964.

Films as Actor:


Kid Boots (Tuttle) (title role)


The Speed Hound (short); Follies; Special Delivery (Goodrich) (as Eddie, the mail carrier, + story)


Glorifying the American Girl (Webb) (as himself, performing in revue); That Party in Person (short); Getting a Ticket (Blumenstock—short) (as himself)


Whoopee! (Freeland) (as Henry Williams); Insurance (short) (as Sidney B. Sweiback)


Mr. Lemon of Orange (co-sc only); Palmy Days (A. Edward Sutherland) (as Eddy Simpson, + co-story, co-sc)


The Kid from Spain (McCarey) (as Eddie Williams)


Roman Scandals (Tuttle) (as Eddie)


Kid Millions (del Ruth) (as Eddie Wilson Jr.); Hollywood Cavalcade (short); Screen Snapshots No. 11 (short)


Strike Me Pink (Taurog) (as Eddie Pink)


Ali Baba Goes to Town (David Butler) (title role)


Forty Little Mothers (Berkeley) (as Gilbert J. Thompson)


Thank Your Lucky Stars (David Butler) (as Joe Sampson/himself)


Hollywood Canteen (Daves) (as himself); Show Business (Marin) (as Eddie Martin, + pr)


Rhapsody in Blue (Rapper)


If You Knew Susie (Gordon Douglas) (as Sam Parker, + pr)


The Story of Will Rogers (Curtiz) (as himself)


The Eddie Cantor Story (Alfred E. Green) (appearance)


Seidman and Son (for TV)


By CANTOR: books—

My Life Is in Your Hands, as told to David Freedman, New York, 1928.

Caught Short: A Saga of Wailing Wall Street, New York, 1929.

World's Book of Best Jokes, editor, Cleveland and New York, 1943.

Take My Life, with Jane Kesner, New York, 1957.

The Way I See It, edited by Phyllis Rosenteur, New York, 1959.

As I Remember Them, New York, 1963.

By CANTOR: articles—

Photoplay (New York), November 1926.

Film Weekly (London), 8 December 1933.

On CANTOR: books—

Altman, Rick, The American Film Musical, Bloomington, Indiana, 1989.

Koseluk, Gregory, Eddie Cantor: A Life in Show Business, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995.

Fisher, James, Eddie Cantor: A Bio-Bibliography, Westport, Connecticut, 1997.

Goldman, Herbert G., Banjo Eyes: Eddie Cantor and the Birth of Modern Stardom, New York, 1997.

On CANTOR: articles—

Belfrage, Cedric, in Film Weekly (London), 25 October 1930.

Forde, Walter, in Film Weekly (London), 2 January 1932.

Current Biography 1954, New York, 1954.

Obituary in New York Times, 11 October 1964.

Obituary in Hollywood Reporter, 12 October 1964.

Films in Review (New York), November and December 1971; also January 1972 and January 1973.

Weinraub, G. "Political Scandals": Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals (1933)," Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), no. 246, December 1995.

On CANTOR: film—

The Eddie Cantor Story, musical biography directed by Alfred E. Green, 1955.

* * *

With the exception of the Marx Brothers team no other comedian has brought from the stage to the screen so much of the vigor of vaudeville and the musical comedy as Eddie Cantor. A stand-up comic with the skills of a song and dance man, he possessed the charisma to dominate a theater or film skit. During the transition to sound in 1929 and 1930 his one-reel films such as Getting a Ticket were refurbished vaudeville sketches. As an actor who obviously had developed a kinetic comic style that matched the lively pace of the musical comedy, Cantor then starred in a series of films in the early 1930s that equalled such well-known musicals as Forty-Second Street and Footlight Parade. His Roman Scandals, produced the same year as these works, remains one of the best examples of his contribution. One of the achievements in this film is a manic portrait that bursts with energy; consequently, when his character switches from straight dialogue to a musical number, it seems quite logical. Cantor also developed a working method similar to that of Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He created a persona who exists on the edge of society, a tramp-child character, who nevertheless possesses a mind which works differently than those of his social superiors, creating the anomalous "wise fool." Comic ingenuity reigns as his oddball mind produces a tactic to escape the wrath of his enemies.

In Roman Scandals many facets of Cantor's skill evolved. He exhibits comic cowardice, a con man's ability to bilk authority, and a childlike spirit of play when faced with each new situation. Visually, the actor becomes as adroit as he does verbally. Many of his reactions, the rolling of his large eyes, the gaiety of movement, the charming smile, and the overall warmth of a little fellow struggling against odds and escaping are intriguing. His aggression is distinctive, but he never becomes the brash confidence man in the vein of his contemporary, Groucho Marx. In this 1933 musical, for example, his wisecracks have a more flippant tone. But while Eddie's invective humor may not prove to be a match for Groucho's, his deftness as a song and dance man left the leader of the Marx team far behind. In his films Cantor could sell a song such as "Making Whoopee," "Keep Young and Beautiful," and "My Honey Said Yes, Yes." Of course, it could have been partly a case of the public preferring allusions to the high life over the social cynicism of Groucho.

In these early 1930s musicals the comedian retained the lion's share of the focus even when he was flanked by a Busby Berkeley battalion of beauties dancing in swirling, kaleidoscopic patterns. Eddie does not merely hold his own; he dominates. With his strutting patter routine, he hops about in an eccentric dance, pressing palms together and clapping with delight, his huge eyes revolving. He is a standout figure as his vaudeville "blackface" dance and song routines keep him in the center of the action—among the circling, scantily costumed blonds.

Like many top comedians, Cantor had a number of impersonations up his sleeve. In Palmy Days, he skillfully handles three roles: he impersonates a woman to escape his adversaries, a phony French spiritualist to con a quack medium, and a wacky efficiency expert recruited by a bakery tycoon through a mistaken identity plot development in the film. Another farcical twist shows the comedian acting out the role of a toreador in The Kid from Spain, an effort that wins the approval of the crowd because of his supposed innovative deviations from the art of bullfighting. In all of these contrivances the comedian portrays the coward on the run who achieves safety and even fame by pluck and luck.

In the musical with a strong comedy emphasis, Eddie Cantor can be rated as king of them all. By 1933 he was the highest-paid comedian in the country; not merely through his films but also as America's leading radio comedian. In fact, his success in that medium cut into the number of films he created in the 1930s, and consequently, his influence on the musical began to wane. His ability to turn a line, even a mediocre one, was an asset that made him a successful radio comedian, but he was skilled in visual comedy as well. It was a pity that, with his success in radio, he did not concentrate on films. Even a second-rate Cantor work was better than most of the musical comedy movies of the 1930s. It is, however, only conjecture that he might have changed the face of the musical. Roman Scandals may have been a fortunate combination of writing, directing, and production talents which could not be equalled in a later picture, such as Kid Millions. If the quality of his work in film had continued, he might now be ranked with the best laugh getters of the period—the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, and Laurel and Hardy. As a comedian in the musical comedy, however, Eddie Cantor had no equal.

—Donald McCaffrey

Eddie Cantor

views updated May 21 2018

Eddie Cantor

Eddie Cantor (1892-1964) was a singer and comedian in vaudeville and on stage and a radio and film star.

Eddie Cantor was born Isador Iskowitz on January 31, 1892, in the Lower East Side of New York City. His parents died before he reached the age of two, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Esther. Due to his poverty, Cantor was forced to drop out of school before he reached the sixth grade. He took on a variety of odd jobs— delivery boy, shooting gallery attendant, and, finally, performing in the streets for small change. At the age of 16 Cantor was in an amateur singing contest in which he won $5.00. He subsequently became a singing waiter in a saloon in Coney Island in which Jimmy Durante played the piano.

Cantor's first vaudeville appearance was in 1907 at the Old Clinton Music Hall in which he played with the juggling team Bedini and Arthur. He was picked up by Gus Edwards and played in his Kid Kabaret along with George Jessel and Lila Lee. In 1914 Cantor made his first London appearance at the Alhambra in Not Likely. He also pursued his vaudeville career in the act "Cantor and Lee" with Lila Lee from Edwards' company.

In 1916 Cantor made his first appearance in musical comedy with a minor role in Canary Cottage in Los Angeles. He also toured the same year playing the role of Sam in US. Cantor's big break came in 1917 when Florenz Ziegfeld, the famous theater impresario, hired him for his midnight revue, The Frolics. He rapidly moved to a featured role in Ziegfeld's Follies and success on the Broadway stage.

Cantor's association with Ziegfeld was a long and fruitful one for both of them. He starred in the Follies of 1917 through 1919. However, a rift occurred in their relations in 1919 when Cantor took an aggressive stand against management as one of the founders of Actor's Equity, a newly formed actors' union.

During his conflict with Ziegfeld Cantor worked for the rival producers the Shubert brothers. He was a great success in their productions of Broadway Brevities (1920), She Don't Wanna (1921), and Make It Snappy (1922). Finally Ziegfeld and Cantor resolved their conflict and Cantor returned to star in Kid Boots (1923), directed by Ziegfeld on Broadway. In this show Cantor played a clever caddie at a golf resort who sold golf lessons and, on the side, bootleg whiskey. This was his first full-length part on Broadway, and it proved to audiences and producers alike that his act could carry an entire show. In 1927 he was a smashing success in his return to Ziegfeld's Follies, and in the following year he starred in another Ziegfeld musical comedy, Whoopee. In Whoopee Cantor played the part of Henry Williams, a chronic hypochondriac travelling to a dude ranch. He sang "Makin' Whoopee," one of his all time favorite songs, and the success of this show led Eddie Cantor to film stardom.

Cantor had made his first film in 1911 in a test talking picture. In Widow at the Races he starred with his friend George Jessel and was directed by none other than Thomas Edison. He started working seriously in film in 1926 (Kid Boots), but it was Whoopee (1930) which made him a film star. Among his best films were Palmy Days (1931), Kid from Spain (1932), Roman Scandals (1933), and Kid Millions (1934).

In 1931 Cantor had returned to the stage at the Palace (an old vaudeville house) and headed the bill with George Jessel. The show, which also starred the famous comedy team of Burns and Allen, was so popular that it was held over for six weeks. His next stage role was in Banjo Eyes (which became his nickname) in 1942.

Cantor frequently appeared on stage in blackface with a straw hat, wire-rimmed glasses, white gloves, black tie, and tight checked trousers. He had large popping eyes and used fast, mincing steps, jumping-jack antics, and hand clapping. He was known for his Jewish humor, for which he employed a Yiddish accent. In one sketch he announced, "I'd go to war for my mother country, Russia—darkest Russia—for all my relatives there, General Walkowitch, Hzkowitch, Eczema" When he was questioned about Eczema he answered, "Yes, that's another itch."

In addition to his stage and film career Cantor was host of the Chase and Sanborne Hour (1931), a popular radio show, and of the Eddie Cantor Show (1935-1939). He also made many recordings and wrote several books. He was coauthor of Silks and Satins and author of such humorous books as Earl Carroll's Sketch Book, Your Next President, Caught Short: A Saga of Wailing Wall Street, Between the Acts, Who's Hooey, and World's Book of Best Jokes. With David Freedman he paid tribute to his mentor in Ziegfeld, the Great Glorifier. Cantor wrote two autobiographies, My Life Is in Your Hands (1928) and Take My Life (1930). He was also host of the television show The Colgate Comedy Hour. His life was recorded on film in 1953 in The Eddie Cantor Story, and in 1956 he was awarded a special Oscar for distinguished service to the motion picture industry.

Cantor was admired as a tireless, conscientious humanitarian. His outspoken criticism of what he called fascist government officials resulted in his being blacklisted for a year (1931). Nevertheless, always appreciated for his modesty, kindness, and generosity, he was granted, in 1951, an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Temple University.

He was dedicated to many charities. Among his favorites were a summer camp for poor children, the March of Dimes (which he helped to create), and various Jewish causes. In 1962 the State of Israel gave him the Medallion of Valor for his extraordinary efforts on behalf of that nation.

He was a devoted family man who married his childhood sweetheart, Ida Tobias. They had five daughters. Cantor died October 10, 1964, at the age of 72.

Further Reading

Biographies of Eddie Cantor can be found in Daniel Blum's Great Stars (1952); Anthony Slide's The Vaudevillians (1981); and John Parker, editor, Who's Who in the Theatre, 9th edition, (1939).

The World of Flo Ziegfeld (1974) by Randolph Carter and On with the Show (1976) by R. C. Toll shed light on Cantor's career with Ziegfeld. The Palace (1969) by Marian Spitzer gives a description of his return to vaudeville in 1931.

Additional Sources

Koseluk, Gregory, Eddie Cantor: a life in show business, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1995. □

Cantor, Eddie

views updated Jun 11 2018


CANTOR, EDDIE (1892–1964), U.S. comedian and vaudeville performer. Cantor was born Isidor Iskowitch on New York City's Lower East Side. In 1907 he won a music-hall amateur contest, and then began touring with a comedy blackface act. He was eventually booked into major vaudeville circuits and set records for long runs at all the major American variety houses. He toured the music halls of Europe and was given top billing in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917, 1918, and 1919. In 1923 he starred in the musical Kid Boots, which ran for three years.

After the depression, Cantor entered films and worked for the major studios until 1940. Among his most popular films were The Kid From Spain, 1933, Roman Scandals, 1934, and Ali Baba Goes to Town, 1937. On the radio, songs associated with him were immediate hits. He raised large sums for Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and other Jewish causes. He also aided Christian and non-denominational philanthropies, especially the March of Dimes. He was a founder and president of the Screen Actors' Guild and the Jewish Theatrical Guild. In 1964 he was awarded a medal by President Johnson for his services to the United States and humanity. He published his autobiographies, My Life is in Your Hands (1928; rev. ed. 1932), Take my Life (1956), The Way I See It (1959), and a book of reminiscences, As I Remember Them (1963).

[Raphael Rothstein]