The Eddie Cantor Story: A Jewish Life in Performance and Politics

The Eddie Cantor Story: A Jewish Life in Performance and Politics

by David Weinstein


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This absorbing biography chronicles the life and work of one of the most important entertainers of the twentieth century. Eddie Cantor (1892–1964) starred in theater, film, radio, and television. His immense popularity across a variety of media, his pride in his Jewish heritage, and his engagement with pressing political issues distinguished him from other headliners of his era. Paying equal attention to Cantor’s humor and politics, Weinstein documents his significance as a performer, philanthropist, and activist. Many show business figures quietly shed their Jewish backgrounds or did not call attention to the fact that they were Jewish. Cantor was different. He addressed the vital issues of his times, including acculturation, national identity, and antisemitism. He was especially forceful in opposing Nazism and paid a price for this activism in 1939, when a sponsor cancelled the actor’s radio program. In this carefully researched book, Weinstein uncovers sketches and routines filled with Jewish phrases, allusions, jokes, songs, and stories. Cantor frequently did not mark this material as “Jewish,” relying instead on attentive audiences to interpret his coded performances. Illustrated with thirty photographs, The Eddie Cantor Story examines the evolution, impact, and legacy of Cantor’s performance style. His music and comedy not only shaped the history of popular entertainment, but also provide a foundation for ongoing efforts to redefine Jewish culture and build community in contemporary America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781512600483
Publisher: Brandeis University Press
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Series: Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life Series
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

DAVID WEINSTEIN is a senior program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities. He holds a PhD in American studies, has taught at the University of Maryland and George Mason University, and is the author of The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television. He lives in Rockville, Maryland, with his wife and two daughters.

Table of Contents

Introduction • Immigrants, Criminals, and Actors (1892–1908) • A Vaudeville Education (1908–1916) • The Jewish Wise Guy (1916–1919) • A Snappy Headliner (1919–1923) • Makin’ Whoopee with Ziegfeld (1923–1930) • Voice of the Depression (1929–1938) • Radio with a Jewish Accent (1931–1938) • The Fight against Nazism (1933–1939) • Cantor Goes to Church (1939–1941) • It’s Time to Smile Again (1941–1945) • Postwar Struggles (1945–1950) • The Last Comeback (1950–1952) • Fading Away (1952–1964) • Epilogue: Eddie Cantor’s Legacy • Notes • Index

What People are Saying About This

Hasia Diner

“The Eddie Cantor story needed to be told, both to those who remember him and to later generations. A story like this deserved to be presented in a deeply researched and engaging narrative to show the convergence of Jewish immigrant life, the rise of America’s urban vernacular culture, and the role of Jews in it, set against the realities of global Jewish politics in the age of Nazism and the Holocaust. . . . No mere celebrity biography, The Eddie Cantor Story melds together politics and popular culture.”

Mark Cohen

“The history of the Jewish American community is sometimes reflected in the life of a single individual. David Weinstein makes an excellent case that the singer, comedian, and actor Eddie Cantor was such a person, and this biography of Cantor offers the reader one of the greatest pleasures of nonfiction, which is the joy of finding surprising new knowledge on nearly every page. . . . The Eddie Cantor Story is a wonderful book for anyone interested in twentieth-century popular culture, Jewish history, and the ongoing drama of immigrants becoming Americans.”

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