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.