Eddie Cantor (New York, January 11, 1892 - Beverly Hills, California October 10, 1964) was one of the most popular, enduring entertainers of the 20th century who was famous for vaudeville, Broadway, records, movies and television. He is the only entertainer to have been so successful in all of these media over such a substantial period of time. As a comedian he didn't really do stand-up, as a dancer he was more of a hoofer and as a singer he had an average voice but what he did have was personality to burn and a remarkable ability to distinguish good comedy writing. He also grew famous developing a persona which came to be known as "The Kid", a seeming innocent who finds himself drawn into various predicaments by his own innocence or stupidity and who was known for his overlarge "banjo" eyes.
He was at the same time interested in girls and yet mystified by them, trusting yet often wary with a sixth sense about crooked leaders, and ridiculous while at the same time often pathetic. He also had a habit of speaking half as if he is relating to another character on the stage or screen and half as if he is explaining a joke to the audience at the same time. His gestures used to punctuate his punch lines or react to his jokes were legendary among comedians and vaudevillians. He was a prominent blackface comedian often doing racist jokes early in his career while at the same time he was a pioneer in breaking the color line for black artists such as Bert Williams, performing with them in integrated comedy scenes that many at the time railed against.
Cantor grew up as Isidore Itzkowitz and claimed to have been raised primarily by his grandmother without the presence of his parents. Cantor had a tendency to distort his biography so it is unclear how precisely true his theory of origins for himself is. The grandmother was named Kantrowitz which in school became Kantor and then Cantor eventually.
Gus Edwards was a showman of the early 1900s who was famous for putting on popular shows featuring kiddie stars, many of whom went on to success in the business. Cantor, after performing for a while in vaudeville, became a regular in Edwards' shows in 1912 joining such future luminaries as George Jessel, Edward Buzzell (later a successful director of films), Georgie Price and later screen actress Lila Lee.
As Cantor's popularity soared he was invited to be part of Florenz Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolics which took place on a small stage atop the New Amsterdam Theater. He caused such a sensation with his curious style of perpetually pedaling himself around the stage and clapping his hands together to emphasize a point that he was invited to be part of the more prestigious Ziegfeld Follies in the theater below in 1916, 1917, and 1918. Cantor was set to continue with this prominence but at great risk to his career he took a leadership role in the Actor's Equity Strike and Cantor signed with Lee and J. J. Shubert instead, doing
several hit shows with them. Years later, disgusted with the cheapness of the Shuberts, Cantor would return with Ziegfeld in movies and finally the 1927 Follies. His Ziegfeld shows included Kid Boots in 1923 and Whoopee! in 1928, and these made him into an American theater legend. These were both latterly made into successful films, the second one leading to a string of anticipated comedy musicals, the best of which was Roman Scandals in 1933.
Roman Scandals was a typical Cantor outing. He had fought with George S. Kaufman and others about the script, then created on-screen his Kid character who was brow-beaten and taken advantage of by others and daydreams about going back to ancient Rome where he experiences more of the same problems, falling in love with a barbarian princess, becoming imprisoned by the emperor and somehow saving the day through his innate goodness. The film showcased the kind of vaudeville routines that Cantor had used in the Ziegfeld Follies but set them back in the time of ancient Rome. It was also a valuable antidote for the Great Depression since it offered hope and happiness amid dire conditions, exposed corruption and expressed faith in FDR.
Cantor became one of FDR's greatest allies, helping through his radio show to keep the nation laughing through the hard times. His small books about getting through the Depression were widely read and Cantor himself had lost almost all of his fortune in the great stock market crash of 1929 but he was so successful during these years that he made his money back in spades.
On radio Cantor became a smash on The Chase and Sanborn Hour beginning in 1931 and he was responsible for launching a number of brilliant careers, among them boy singer Bobby Breen who lasted as a radio and film star with pop hits such as Rainbow on the River until his teens when his voice changed, Dinah Shore who became the darling of World War II G.I.s as the ideal girl next door, and Deanna Durbin who could sing opera or pop music, act wonderfully and look beautiful in a series of enormously popular Universal Pictures films that did especially well in the war years.
During World War II Cantor may have raised more money for the Allied Forces than any other star in Hollywood, through his tireless campaigns over radio and in person special performances. He was also a staunch supporter of the founding of a new state of Israel and raised enormous amounts of money for David Ben Gurion and other Israeli leaders despite the fact that he himself was not particularly religious. Still, he considered himself part of the New York and Hollywood Jewish community.
As a young boy I looked forward to watching Cantor on television on the Colgate Comedy Hour, where he was one of the most successful and most watched hosts in this rotating show that included hosts such as Fred Allen, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and Abbott and Costello. Cantor was brought back again and again, forcing him to constantly have to find new material to use, unlike the way he could perform in vaudeville where one good 18 minutes could last for years and years. He worked so hard and was in such constant demand even well up into his sixties that it brought on a series of heart attacks in between which, despite bad health, he continued to perform at a much less energetic pace but was still funny and still beloved by viewers. Even as he was slowly having his body defeat him, he remained a talent in demand and he tried his best to keep going back on the air when health would permit.
It is amazing that a person who was so electrifying to watch and so pervasive within the entertainment industry in all of its aspects should be so totally unknown and unremembered today. It is for stars such as Eddie Cantor that this vaudeville archive was launched to help introduce younger audiences to some of the great talents of yesteryear and to observe a tradition that continues in many ways still today.
Here is a sample on a VERY early sound on film process from 1923 showing Eddie Cantor performing in the era of his big stage success Kid Boots. This is the sort of routine he would do in vaudeville which was part stand-up monologue and part singing. His movements are sharply restricted here due to the primitive sound equipment but the hand-clapping together that he does and the footwork are typical Cantor. Tommy Meehan was a famous Eddie Cantor impersonator and is referenced by Cantor in his opening comments:
The University of Arizona School of Anthropology Vaudeville Collection has a large assortment of Eddie Cantor sheet music including:
THEY START THE VICTROLA (AND GO DANCING AROUND THE FLOOR) 1914 - by Grant Clarke, Maurice Abrahams. Coule dances by old-fashioned victrola. Inset photo of EDDIE CANTOR in blackface. Cantor was just 21 years old when this early sheet was issued.
THE DIXIE VOLUNTEERS 1917 - by Edgar Leslie, Harry Ruby. "As introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld's Follies".
YOU CAN HAVE IT I DON'T WANT IT 1917 - May Hill, Clarence Williams, Armand J. Piron. Cover EDDIE CANTOR "Follies"
THAT'S THE KIND OF A BABY FOR ME 1917 - Alfred Harriman, J. C. Egan. "EDDIE CANTOR's smashing song hit in Ziegfeld Follies.
THAT'S THE KIND OF A BABY FOR ME 1917 - alternate cover, with lovely girl in center, inset photo of EDDIE CANTOR
BUT- AFTER THE BALL WAS OVER! 1918 - Arthur J. Jackson, Bud De Sylva. "As sung in the Ziegfeld Follies 1918". Cover photo EDDIE CANTOR. Produced at the New Amsterdam Theatre New York by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.
WHEN UNCLE JOE STEPS INTO FRANCE 1918 - Bernie Grossman, Billy Winkle. "Introduced by EDDIE CANTOR now with Ziegfeld's Follies.
COME ON PAPA 1918 - Edgar Leslie, Harry Ruby. "Successfully introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld Follies
YOU KEEP SENDING 'EM OVER AND WE'LL KEEP KNOCKING 'EM DOWN 1918 - by Sidney D. Mitchell, Harry Ruby. World War I song. "Successfully introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld Follies."
OH! HOW I HATE TO GET UP IN THE MORNING 1918 - Irving Berlin. "Successfully introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld Follies.
"Irving Berlin's Bugle Song".
JOHNNY'S IN TOWN 1919 - Jack Yellen, George W. Meyer, Abe Olman. "Successfully sung by EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld's Follies.
I WISH THAT I'D BEEN BORN IN BORNEO 1920 - Grant Clarke, Walter Donaldson. "Successfully introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in George Le Maires' Broadway Brevities."
EARLY TO BED AND TO RISE NEVER MADE ANYONE WISE COMEDY ONE STEP SONG 1920 - Alex Gerber, Abner Silver. "Sung with great success by EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolics.
GREEN RIVER 1920 - Gus Van, Joe Schenck, Eddie Cantor. Cover photos of EDDIE CANTOR & VAN AND SCHENCK, all 3 of the Ziegfeld Follies.
IF I MEET THE GUY WHO MADE THIS COUNTRY DRY 1920 - Harry Von Tilzer, William Jerome. "Sung with terrific success by EDDIE CANTOR". Prohibition era song.
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP 1920 - Sidney D. Mitchell, George W. Meyer. "EDDIE CANTOR's song hit introduced in The Midnight Rounders.
GRIEVING FOR YOU 1920 - Joe Gibson, Joe Ribaud, Joe Gold. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR in The Shubert Production The Midnight Rounders"
REBECCA CAME BACK FROM MECCA 1921 - Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby. "As sung by EDDIE CANTOR in Lee and J. J. Shubert's production The Midnight Rounders.
SCANDINAVIA (SING DOSE SONG AND MAKE DOSE MUSIC) 1921 - Ray Perkins. "As introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in The Midnight Rounders.
ANNA IN INDIANA 1921 - Billy and Eddie Goran, Harry Rose. Inset photos of singers EDDIE CANTOR in Midnight Rounders, PAT WEST in the Fanchon Marco Review, BOB LA SALLE in Ziegfeld's Midnight Froli, JACK STRAUSS in Whirl of the Town, BOB NELSON in Broadway Brevities.
BIMINI BAY 1921 - Gus Kahn, Raymond B. Egan, Richard A. Whiting. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR"
ANGELS WE CALL THEM MOTHERS DOWN HERE 1921 - Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby. "As sung by EDDIE CANTOR in Lee and J. J. Shubert's production The Midnight Rounders. A song dedicated to your mother and mine."
THE LADIES MAN DAPPER-DAN FROM DIXIE LAND 1921 - Albert Von Tilzer, Lew Brown. "Featured with terrific success by EDDIE CANTOR in The Midnight Rounders".
I WANT MY MAMMY 1921 - George B. Wehner, Louis Breau. "Introduced by EDDIE CANTOR in Messr. Lee and J. J. Shubert's Stupendous Musical Comedy Success The Midnight Rounders"
I WANT MY MAMMY 1921 - alternate, Paderewski cover for the above song and show.
MA! 1921 - Sidney Clare, Con Conrad. "EDDIE CANTOR's Sensational Hit! in The Midnight Rounders"
MY SUNNY TENNESSEE 1921 - Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Herman Ruby. "As sung by EDDIE CANTOR in Lee and J. J. Shubert's production THE MIDNIGHT ROUNDERS OF 1921"
MY YIDDISHA MAMMY 1922 - Alex Gerber, Jean Schwartz, Eddie Cantor. "Sung with great success by EDDIE CANTOR in Make It Snappy. Direction- Lee and J. J. Shubert."
I'LL BE IN MY DIXIE HOME AGAIN TO-MORROW 1922 - Roy Turk, J. Russel Robinson. "As sung by EDDIE CANTOR in Lee and J. J. Shubert's production MAKE IT SNAPPY"
LOVIN' SAM (THE SHEIK OF ALABAM) 1922 - Jack Yellen, Milton Ager. "As sung with great success by EDDIE CANTOR in Lee and J. J. Shubert's production MAKE IT SNAPPY"
SILVER SWANEE 1922 - Jean Schwartz, Eddie Cantor. Cover EDDIE CANTOR
SOMEONE LOVES YOU AFTER ALL (THE RAIN SONG) 1923 - Harry Tierney, Joseph McCarthy. Ziegfeld Production EDDIE CANTOR in Kid Boots with Mary Eaton. Staged by Edward Royce. Book by William Anthony McGuire and Otto Harbach.
BEBE NOVELTY FOX-TROT SONG 1923 - Sam Coslow, Abner Silver. "Introduced with Great Success by EDDIE CANTOR in the Ziegfeld Follies.
OH! GEE, OH! GOSH, OH! GOLLY I'M IN LOVE 1923 - Ole Olson and Chic Johnson, Ernest Breuer. "EDDIE CANTOR's Big Song Hit in Ziegfeld Follies.
IF YOU DO-WHAT YOU DO 1923 - Roy Turk, Lou Handman, Eddie Cantor. "Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. presented EDDIE CANTOR in Kid Boots with Mary Eaton"
THE SAME OLD WAY and SOMEONE LOVES YOU AFTER ALL (THE RAIN SONG) 1923 - Harry Tierney, Joseph McCarthy. Ziegfeld Production EDDIE CANTOR in Kid Boots with Mary Eaton. These are TWO sheet musics. Book by William Anthony McGuire and Otto Harbach.
I'D LOVE TO CALL YOU MY SWEETHEART 1926 - Paul Ash, Joe Goodwin, Larry Shay. Cover EDDIE CANTOR'S SWEETHEARTS, featuring his four daughters. "A Worth Weil Song"
SHE DON'T WANNA 1927 - Jack Yellen, Milton Ager. "EDDIE CANTOR, America's Favorite Comedian and Motion Picture Star, in Ziegfeld's Follies. Cover art by Barbelle.
BIG HEARTED BABY 1928 - Raymond B. Egan, Phil Philips. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR in his latest musical success Whoopee"
MY BLACKBIRDS ARE BLUEBIRDS NOW 1928 - Irving Caesar, Cliff Friend. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR in the Ziegfeld production Whoopee.
EVERYTHING I DO- I DO FOR YOU 1929 - Al Sherman, Abner Silver, Al Lewis. Cover has EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld's Whoopee.
RO-RO-ROLLIN' ALONG 1930 - Billy Moll, Harry Richman, Murray Mencher. Suggested by J. P. McGowan. Themes song of the Rayton Talking Picture Near the Rainbow's End, a Trem Carr Production presented by W. Ray Johnston. Cover show EDDIE CANTOR in Ziegfeld's Whoopee.
A GIRL FRIEND OF A BOY FRIEND OF MINE and MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME 1930 - Walter Donaldson, Gus Kahn. EDDIE CANTOR in WHOOPEE (the movie). All Technicolor. Cover art by Frederick S. Manning.
I'LL STILL BELONG TO YOU 1930 - Nacio Herb Brown, Edward Eliscu. "Florenz Ziegfeld and Samuel Goldwyn present EDDIE CANTOR in WHOOPEE. Multi-part small orchestra edition.
MAKING THE BEST OF EACH DAY 1931 - Charles Tobias, Sidney Clare, Murray Mencher. "Successfully introduced by EDDIE CANTOR". Cover art by LEFF.
POTATOES ARE CHEAPER - TOMATOES ARE CHEAPER - NOW'S THE TIME TO FALL IN LOVE 1931 - Al Sherman, Al Lewis. "Special Edition with 16 extra choruses as sung by EDDIE CANTOR".
POTATOES ARE CHEAPER - TOMATOES ARE CHEAPER - NOW'S THE TIME TO FALL IN LOVE 1931 - alternate music labeled "EDDIE CANTOR's smash hit".
THERE'S NOTHIN TOO GOOD FOR MY BABY 1931 - Eddie Cantor, Benny Davis, Harry Akst. "Samuel Goldwyn presents EDDIE CANTOR in PALMY DAYS (movie) with Charlotte Greenwood. United Artist Picture. Directed by Edward Sutherland. Story and dialogue by Eddie Cantor, Morrie Ryskind, David Freeman.
AT THE BABY PARADE 1932 - Little Jack Little, Dave Oppenheim, Ira Schuster. Cover EDDIE AND IDA CANTOR AND 5 DAUGHTERS. Cover art by LEFF.
FIT AS A FIDDLE 1932 - Arthur Freed, Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart. "Featured by GEORGE JESSEL AND EDDIE CANTOR" "Hey Nonny Nonny and a Hot-Cha-Cha".
ONE HOUR WITH YOU 1932 - Leo Robin, Richard A. Whiting. Special lyrics by EDDIE CANTOR. Eddie Cantor's Radio Theme Song.
THE GIRL IN THE LITTLE GREEN HAT 1932 - Jack Scholl, Bradford Browne, Max Rich. "Laughingly yours EDDIE CANTOR (Chase and Sanborn's Pup). This refers to his radio show sponsor that is supporting him.
GET YOURSELF A GIRL (AND FALL IN LOVE) 1932 - Mack Gordon, Harry Revel. Cover has EDDIE CANTOR and lots of lovely ladies on strings with a heart on each string!
WHAT A PERFECT COMBINATION, IN THE MOONLIGHT and LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE 1932 - Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby. Cover EDDIE CANTOR and Lyda Roberti in THE KID FROM SPAIN, with The Goldwyn Girls. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn for United Artists Pictures. Two sheet musics with similar covers.
THOSE WERE WONDERFUL DAYS 1933 - Charlie Tobias, Jack Scholl, Murray Mencher. "Originally introduced with tremendous success by EDDIE CANTOR".
BUILD A LITTLE HOME, NO MORE LOVE, KEEP YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL 1933 - Harry Warren, Al Dubin. All 3 musics from EDDIE CANTOR in the Samuel Goldwyn production of Roman Scandals, with Ruth Etting, Gloria Stuart, David Manners, Edward Arnold, Verree Teasdale. Dances and production numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley.
BUILD A LITTLE HOME 1933 - alternate cover, from London, featuring Miss Mona Vivian who sang the song in England.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND 1933 - Charlie Tobias, Jack Scholl, Murray Mencher. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR"
OKAY TOOTS and AN EARFUL OF MUSIC 1934 - Gus Kahn, Walter Donaldson. Both sheets from EDDIE CANTOR in Samuel Goldwyn's production Kid Millions, with Ann Sothern, Ethel Merman, Block and Sully and the Gorgeous Goldwyn Girls. United Artists release.
SONG HIT FOLIO NOV. 30, 1934 ISSUE NO. 10- Complete preview in pictures and cover story of EDDIE CANTOR in Kid Millions.
MANDY 1934 - Irving Berlin. "EDDIE CANTOR's big song hit in Kid Millions"
TRUST IN ME 1936 - Ned Wever, Jean Schwartz, Milton Ager. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR"
GEE! BUT YOU'RE SWEEL 1936 - Charlie Tobias, Abel Baer. "Successfully introduced and featured by EDDIE CANTOR".
I'VE GOT MY HEART SET ON YOU and SWING IS HERE TO STAY 1937 - Mack Gordon, Harry Revel. Two pieces of music. Cover EDDIE CANTOR in Ali Baba Goes to Town, featuring on the cover JUNE LANG and LOUISE HOVICK aka GYPSY ROSE LEE, with Tony Martin, Roland young, Raymond Scott and his Quintet.
LITTLE LADY MAKE BELIEVE 1938 - Charlie Tobias, Nat Simon. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR"
THE ONLY THING I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS JUST TO KEEP THE THINGS THAT I'VE GOT 1939 - Vick Knight, Johnny Lange, Lew Porter. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR".
LITTLE CURLY HAIR IN A HIGH CHAIR 1940 - Charles Tobias, Nat Simon. Cover EDDIE CANTOR in the story of FORTY LITTLE MOTHERS, with Judith Anderson. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Picture.
THE HUT-SUT SONG, A SWEDISH SERENADE 1941 - Leo V. Killion, Ted McMichael, Jack Owens. "Featured on the radio show EDDIE CANTOR's Time To Smile starring Olive Major and Dinah Shore"
WE DID IT BEFORE AND WE CAN DO IT AGAIN 1941 - Cliff Friend, Charlie Tobias. "Albert Lewis presents EDDIE CANTOR in a new musical comedy Banjo Eyes with book by Quillan and Elinson. Based on a play by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott. Staged by Hassard Short.
MAIRZY DOATS 1943 - Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, Jerry Livingston. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR"
COMIN' ON IN ON A WING AND A PRAYER 1943 - Harold Adamson, Jimmy McHugh. "Featured by EDDIE CANTOR"
DINAH 1944 - Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, Harry Akst. Cover EDDIE CANTOR in SHOW BUSINESS, with George Murphy, Joan Davis, Nancy Kelly, Constance Moore, Don Douglas. Directed by Edward L. Marin. Produced by Eddie Cantor. RKO Radio Pictures.
IT HAD TO BE YOU 1944 - Gus Kahn, Isham Jones. Same credits otherwise as preceding entry.
YOU MAY NOT REMEMBER 1944 - George Jessel, Ben Oakland. Same credits otherwise as preceding entry.
UP, UP, UP 1944 - Doris Fisher, Allan Roberts. "Introduced by EDDIE CANTOR"
MY BROOKLYN LOVE SONG 1947 - George Tibbles, Ramey Idriss. Cover EDDIE CANTOR, Joan David in If You Knew Susie with Allyn Joslyn, Charles Dingle, Bobby Driscoll. Produced by Eddie Cantor. Directed by Gordon M. Douglas. Screen play by Warren Wilson, Oscar Brodney.
MY, HOW THE TIME GOES BY 1947 - Jimmy McHugh, Harold Adamson. Same credits otherwise as the preceding entry.