Lucy & the Stars:
Lucy & Eddie Cantor
Lucy and Desi join Eddie Cantor at the 1947 Hollywood premiere of
Warner Bros.' "Johnny Belinda," starring Jane Wyman. More than
500 stars and industry leaders attended the event.
When 21 year-old Lucille Ball boarded a train in New York City in July, 1933, she was bound for California, where she was to appear in her first motion picture... Not just any picture -- "Roman Scandals," a major musical-comedy, produced by the legendary Samuel Goldwyn and starring Eddie Cantor. Cantor, she knew, was not only a star of stage, screen, phonograph records and radio, but one of America's most beloved entertainers.
To say that Cantor and Lucy met and became instantaneous friends would be an erroneous exaggeration. He was, after all, nearly 20 years her senior and an established star. She was a showgirl -- and a rank beginner, at that. "I was classified with the scenery," she later quipped. There was, however, an immediate affinity between the two performers.
Lucy let everyone know she was interested in doing more than this one picture... and that she felt desperately out of place among the beautiful Goldwyn Girls. When Cantor suggested one of the ladies be used in a comedy bit that would require her to get mud on her face, most of the Goldwyn beauties shrieked and ran the other way. Their face, they reasoned, was their fortune. Lucy, on the other hand, gladly volunteered. Her spirit and enthusiasm immediately endeared her to both Cantor and director Frank Tuttle. Cantor saw to it that in addition to her "showgirl" duties, Lucy was given a small part (with lines!) as one of the townspeople in the opening and closing segments of the film. Finally, Lucy's face was featured prominantly in many of the "Roman Scandals" publicity photos and print ads. All in all, not a bad beginning for the skinny kid from Jamestown.
Lucy and Cantor worked together again a year later in Goldwyn's "Kid Millions." He was again the star; and she, alas, still part of the scenery.
Lucy spent the next ten years piecing together a film career, shuttling from Goldwyn to Columbia to RKO and finally to MGM. Cantor, meanwhile, found himself doing fewer and fewer films, and funnelled his boundless energies instead into his highly-popular weekly radio broadcasts. Indeed, when the opportunity presented itself for Cantor and Ball to work together again, it was in a radio studio:
- In April, 1943, Cantor invited Lucy and her husband Desi to be a guest on his CBS program "Time to Smile." Dinah Shore was a regular on that series, as was announcer Harry Von Zell. World War II was underway, and Lucy and Cantor did a skit concerning the Hollywood Canteen. Fred Astaire made a special pitch encouraging people to buy War Bonds. (Cantor's grandson, Brian Gari, has made a recording of this April 28 broadcast available to fans on CD and cassette.)
- Lucy and "Banjo Eyes" (as Cantor was affectionately known) got together again three years later on "Eddie Cantor Show," broadcast on NBC October 10, 1946.
Sadly the two old friends never had a chance to work on each other's television programs. Cantor's Colgate Comedy Hour was broadcast over NBC, and Lucy's I Love Lucy, of course, was on rival CBS. The two did get together for a special Ed SullivanShow telecast on June 24, 1956 -- Sullivan's 8th TV anniversary. Lucy and Desi hosted a special "remote" segment from Hollywood, in which a group of top stars stepped in front of the camera and wished Ed a happy anniversary. Cantor was one of those stars.
Seven months later, Lucy, Desi and Eddie were all guests on Jackie Gleason's "At 65" show (January 12, 1957), on which they performed in a comedy sketch about a lopsided birthday cake.
Lucy and Eddie also crossed paths numerous times socially and at Hollywood fundraisers. The two always spoke very highly of each other, she ever grateful that Cantor had given her encouragement (and extra screen time) at the very beginning when she needed those things most, and he happy that one of the "youngsters" had not only made good, but become a top star in her own right.
Eddie Cantor: Some Vital Statistics:Eddie Cantor -- comedian, actor, singer, author, producer, and the man they called "banjo eyes" -- was born Edward Israel Iskowitz on January 31, 1892, in New York City, to Michael and Minnie Iskowitz. His mother died soon after his birth; his father, a violinist, died a year later. Eddie was raised by his grandmother, who was 60 at the time of his birth.
Eddie attended Public School #1 in Manhattan, where his Grandma Esther enrolled him under her name, 'Kantrowitz.' The registrar shortened that to 'Kanter,' which Eddie later changed to 'Cantor.'
Eddie married Ida Tobias on June 9, 1914, and together they had five daughters -- Marjorie, Natalie, Edna, Marion, and Janet.
He served in both World War I and World War II, entertaining troops and participaring in bond drives.
He was a member of AEA; SAG; AGVA; AFTRA (was president of American Federation of Radio Artists, 1937); National Vaudeville Artists (president, 1929); Jewish Theatrical Guild (president, 1931-57); Surprise Lake Camp (board of directors).
Cantor on Stage:
Cantor appeared first on stage in American Night (at Winer's Bowery, NYC, circa 1906-1908), and made his vaudeville debut at the old Clinton Music Hall (NYC, 1907). He appeared in The Indian Maidens burlesque show(1908), and was a singing waiter at Diamond Tony's and Carey Walsh's Saloon (1905, 1909). In vaudeville he appeared on the Zukor-Loew Circuit (1909); played in "Bedini and Arthur" and Kid Kabaret (1912). Eddie made his London debut in Not Likely (Alhambra, May, 1914); played in vaudeville with Sammy Kessler (London, 1914); with Al Lee in The Master and the Man (1914); with Lou Edwards (in American vaudeville and in London, 1915); and appeared in a touring production of Canary Cottage (US, 1916).
In New York, Cantor appeared in The Midnight Revue and Ziegfeld Follies (New Amsterdam Theatre, opening June 12, 1917), followed by the Ziegfeld Follies (opening June 18, 1918) and the Ziegfeld Follies (1919). He wrote sketches with Thomas Duggan, for Silks and Satins (George M. Cohan Theater, opening July 15, 1920); and appeared in The Midnight Rounders of 1921 (Century Promenade, opening February 5, 1921); Make it Snappy (Winter Garden, opening April 13, 1922); and in vaudeville (Brooklyn Orpheum, July, 1923).
He appeared in the title role of Kid Boots (Earl Carroll Theater, NYC, opening December 31, 1923); performed in vaudeville (Rialto, 1926); wrote sketches with Harold Atteridge for Ziegfeld Follies (New Amsterdam Theater, opening August 16, 1927); starred in Whoopee (New Amsterdam Theater, opening December 4, 1928); wrote sketches with Sidney Stolsky for Earl Carroll's Sketch Book (Earl Carroll Theater, beginning July 1, 1929); played in vaudeville (Palace Theater, 1930) and in Eddie Cantor-George Jessel Show (Palace Theater, opening October 31, 1931); performed in vaudeville (Boston, 1936); starred in Banjo Eyes (Hollywood Theater, NYC, opening December 25, 1941); was producer, with Nat Karson, of Nellie Bly (Adelphia Theater, opening January 21, 1946).
He later presented two career-retrospectives: My 40 Years in Show Business (Carnegie Hall, March 21, 1950); and in An Evening with Eddie Cantor (1950, 1951, and 1952).
Cantor in the Movies:
Eddie Cantor made his first appearance on film in Widow at the Races (F. A. Edison Co.) in 1911, but it was not until 1926 that his "film career" began. He starred in a screen version of Kid Boots for Paramount that year, followed by Special Delivery in 1927 and Glorifying the American Girl in '29. He made his "sound" debut in That Party in Person, a short for Warner Bros., also 1929.
A new contract with Samuel Goldwyn Productions resulted in Whoopee (United Artists, 1930); Palmy Days (United Artists, 1931); The Kid from Spain (United Artists, 1932); Roman Scandals (United Artists, 1933); Kid Millions (United Artists, 1934); and Strke Me Pink (United Artists, 1936).
Moving to 20th-Century Fox, Cantor starred in Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), followed by Forty Little Mothers (MGM, 1940); Thank Your Lucky Stars (Warner Bros., 1943); and Hollywood Canteen (Warner Bros., 1944). He produced and appeared in Show Business (RKO, 1944), and appeared in If You Knew Susie (RKO, 1948); The Will Rogers Story (Warner Bros., 1952) and The Eddie Cantor Story (Warner Bros., 1953).
Cantor on the Radio:
Eddie Cantor made his first radio appearance on Rudy Vallee's Fleishman Hour in February, 1931, and became the star of The Chase and Sanborn Hour later that year. He starred in The Eddie Cantor Show (NBC, 1931-34; CBS, 1935-36 and 1938-39); Texaco Town (1936); Camel Caravan (1938-39); Pabst Blue Ribbon (NBC, 1937; 1946-49); Time to Smile (NBC, 1940-46); Take It or Leave It (1949); The Disc Jockey Show (NBC, 1951-52); and Ask Eddie Cantor (1961). For many years, he was radio's highest-paid star.
Cantor on Television:
Cantor was one of the first established stars to move into television, appearing every fourth week on Colgate Comedy Hour (NBC, 1950-1954). He subsequently starred in The Eddie Cantor Theater (syndicated, 1955). As a guest-actor, he appeared in "George Has a Birthday" (Matinee Theater, NBC, June 11, 1956); "Seidman and Son" (Playhouse 90, CBS, October 18, 1956); "At 65" (The Jackie Gleason Show, CBS, January 12, 1957); and "The Future Lies Ahead" (NBC, January 27, 1960).
Eddie Cantor was the founder of the Eddie Cantor Camp Committee, and fund raiser for March of Dines, Bonds for Israel, and United Jewish Appeal.
Cantor was the author of:
Cantor also wrote numerous articles for periodicals, and wrote a syndicated newspaper column.
- "Since Ma is Playing Mah Song" (1928)
- "My Life is in Your Hands" (1928)
- "Caught Short! A Saga of Wailing Wall Street" (1929)
- "Between Acts" (1930)
- "Yoo-Hoo Prosperity! The Eddie Cantor Five-Year Plan" (co-authored with David Freeman, 1931)
- "Your Next President!" (1932)
- "Ziegfeld, the Great Glorifier" (co-authored with David Freeman, 1934)
- "World's Book of Best Jokes" (editor, 1943)
- "Take My Life" (co-authored with Jane Kesner Ardmore, 1957)
- "The Way I See It" (1959)
- "As I Remember Them" (1963)
Disney included an animated Cantor in
1939's "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood."
Cantor received the following awards:
- B'nai B'rith Humanitarian Award (1950)
- Gold Medal Award from the Williamsburg
Settlement of Brooklyn (1951)
- L.H.D. from Temple University (1951)
- Citation from City of New York (1952)
- Al Jolson Award from the VFW (1954)
- Eddie Cantor Golden Jubilee Statue (1961)
- Presidential Citation (1964)
Among Eddie Cantor's most famous hits were
songs like --
- "Ida, Sweet As Apple Cidar"
- "Josephine, Please No Lean on the Bell"
- "Waitin' for the Robert E. Lee"
- "Ballin' the Jack"
- "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?"
- "Ma, He's Making Eyes At Me"
- "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby"
- "Now's The Time to Fall in Love"
- "If You Knew Susie"
- "Ain't She Sweet?"
- "Baby Face"
- "Each Sunday with You" (radio theme)
Eddie's beloved Ida died on August 8, 1962; they had been married 48 years. Eddie himself died two years later, on October 10, 1964. He was 72.
For more information about Eddie Cantor, visit
The Eddie Cantor Appreciation Society
For more information about Brian Gari, visit
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