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Eddie Cantor

From Academic Kids

Eddie Cantor (January 31, 1892October 10, 1964) was a comedian, singer, actor, songwriter, and one of the most popular entertainers in the United States of America in the early and middle 20th century. His nickname was "Banjo Eyes."

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Eddie Cantor in the 1920s

Cantor was born as Edward Israel Iskovitz in New York City, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He was orphaned in childhood and made a living entertaining for coins on the city streets of Manhattan's Lower-East-Side.

By his early teens he began winning talent contests at local theaters, and started appearing on stage and in 1907 became a billed name in Vaudeville.

In 1912 he appeared in Gus Edwards Revue, and in 1917 debuted in the Ziegfeld Follies, where he would appear for years. For some time Cantor co-starred in an act with pioneer African-American comedian Bert Williams, both appearing in blackface; Cantor played William's son.

Cantor started making phonograph records in 1917, recording both comedy songs and routines and popular songs of the day, first for Victor, then for Aeoleon-Vocalion, Pathé, and Emerson. From 1921 through 1925 he had an exclusive contract with Columbia Records, then returned to Victor for the remainder of the decade.

He starred in the Broadway musicals Kid Boots in 1923, Whoopee! in 1928, and Banjo Eyes in 1940.

Cantor was one of the era's most successful entertainers, but the 1929 Stock market crash suddenly took him from multi-millionaire status to being broke and deeply in debt. Cantor soon bounced back thanks to Hollywood movies and the radio. Cantor had appeared in a number of short films in the 1920s, but became a feature star in 1930 with the film Whoopee!. He continued making feature films through 1948, the most notable including Roman Scandals (1933), Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), and If You Knew Susie (1948).

In the 1930s he also began hosting his own radio show, and by 1936 Cantor was the world's highest paid radio star. His radio shows began with a crowd chanting "We want Cantor - We want Cantor", said to have originated when a vaudeville audience used that chant to chase off an opening act who was on a bill before Cantor. Cantor's theme song was the 1903 pop tune "Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider", dedicated to Eddie's wife Ida.

In addition to film and radio, Cantor recorded for Hit of the Week Records, then again for Columbia, for Banner and Decca and various small labels.

He was a founder of the March of Dimes, and did much to publicize the battle against polio. Cantor also served as first president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Cantor's career declined somewhat in the late 1930s due to his public denunciations of Adolf Hitler and Fascism. Wishing to distance themselves from any political controversy, many sponsors dropped Cantor's shows. However Cantor's career bounced back with the United States entry into World War II.

In the 1940s his NBC national radio show was Time To Smile.

In the 1950s he hosted the television show The Colgate Comedy Hour. However, the show landed him in unlikely controversy. When a young Sammy Davis Jr. was the guest performer on one of the shows, Cantor handed Davis his handkerchief after performing. This caused outrage among Southern censors, and they banned the program from their stations. Cantor left the show soon after, due to his strong beliefs in the kindly gesture.

Cantor wrote eight books, including Caught Short (about the Crash of 1929) and his autobiography, My Life is in Your Hands.

He was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1964.

Eddie Cantor died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California, and was buried in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery.

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