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Cantor, Eddie (Isidore Itzkowitz)

ziegfeld record follies kid

Cantor, Eddie (Isidore Itzkowitz), energetic American comedian, singer, and actor; b. N.Y., Jan. 31, 1892; d. Beverly Hills, Oct. 10, 1964. Cantor’s brash comic style enabled him to conquer the fields of musical theater, records, film, radio, and television in a career that spanned more than 50 years. He was one of the stars of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918 (N.Y., June 16, 1918) and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 (N.Y., June 16, 1919), the latter of which found him singing Irving Berlin’s “You’d Be Surprised” which became a popular record for him. He had a hit with “Makin’ Whoopee,” but his biggest record came in August 1925 with “If You Knew Susie.”

His parents, Russian immigrants, died by the time he was three, and he was raised by his grandmother, Esther Kantrowitz, a peddler, later deriving his stage name from hers. He began working in vaudeville in 1907; in 1912 he joined Gus Edwards’s Kid Kabaret, staying for two years. Part of his performance was an impression of blackface entertainer Eddie Leonard, singing Leonard’s signature song “Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider.” The song became a Cantor favorite when he married Ida Tobias on June 9, 1914. (They had five daughters and remained married until her death in 1962.) While on his honeymoon in London, he appeared in the revue Not Likely .

Cantor was in the musical Canary Cottage in L.A. in 1916 when he was tapped by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld to appear in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic . He attracted attention with his presentation of “Oh, How She Could Yacki, Hacki, Wicki, Wacki, Woo,” which led Ziegfeld to put him in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 (N.Y., June 12, 1917), where he sang “That’s the Kind of a Baby for Me,” which became his first recording for Victor. He appeared in the revue Broadway Brevities of 1920 (N.Y., Sept. 29, 1920), followed by The Midnight Rounders of 1921 (N.Y., Feb. 7, 1921) and Make It Snappy (N.Y., April 13, 1922), meanwhile continuing to record and scoring a best-seller with “Margie” in March 1921. Returning to Ziegfeld, he appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1923 (N.Y., Oct. 20, 1923) and in the Ziegfeld-produced book musical Kid Boots (N.Y., Dec. 13, 1923), which ran 479 performances. The month it opened he had the double sided record hit “No, No, Nora”/ “I’ve Got the Yes! We Have No Bananas Blues.”

Cantor made his feature-film debut in a silent version of Kid Boots in 1926, followed by Special Delivery (for which he also wrote the story) in 1927, the year he made his final Follies appearance, the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927 (N.Y., Aug. 16, 1927). Whoopee (N.Y., Dec. 4, 1928) was nearly as successful onstage as Kid Boots and gave him one of his biggest record hits in “Makin’ Whoopee.” He co-wrote the libretto for Earl Carroll’s Sketch Book (N.Y., July 1, 1929), though he did not appear in the revue; it ran 392 performances. After losing a fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, Cantor made at least some of the money back by writing a book, Caught Short, about the experience. (A movie based on the book came out in 1930.) He then went to Hollywood and made a series of musical comedy films: Glorifying the American Girl (1929); Whoopee! (1930); Palmy Days (1931); The Kid from Spain (1932) (featuring the record hit “What a Perfect Combination”); Roman Scandals (1933); Kid Millions (1934) (featuring the record hit “Okay, Toots”); Strike Me Pink (1936); and Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937).

Cantor had a popular radio show starting in 1931, but he was blacklisted by radio in 1939 after giving a speech at the N.Y. World’s Fair in which he denounced fascism. When world events vindicated his position, he returned to the air. After another film, Forty Little Mothers, in 1940, he made his last appearance in a Broadway musical with Banjo Eyes (N.Y., Dec. 21, 1941). His other films of the 1940s were Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), Show Business (1944, which he produced), Hollywood Canteen (1944), and If You Knew Susie (1948, which he produced).

In September 1952, Cantor began hosting The Colgate Comedy Hour on television. The show lasted until 1954, when he hosted the Eddie Cantor Comedy Theatre for an additional year. He played himself in the film The Story of Will Rogers (1952). He dubbed the voice of Keefe Braselle in the film The Eddie Cantor Story (1953). The last decade of his life he was largely inactive due to a heart condition.

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