Archive for the Eddie Cantor Category

100 Years Ago Today: Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers Debut in The Follies

Posted in Broadway, Comedians, Comedy, Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2017 by travsd

100 years ago today, the 1917 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Why is this worth noting? Because this was the edition during which Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers both joined the show for the first time, and they were both to be regulars for many editions thereafter. The Follies, as it did for so many, made stars of them both. Also in this legendary edition were W.C. Fields, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, Walter Catlett, Marie Wallace, Lilyan Tashman, Peggy Hopkins, Dorothy Dickson and Carl Hyson, the Fairbanks Twins, et al. Staged by Ned Wayburn, sets by Joseph Urban, costumes by Lady Duff-Gordon, and about a dozen top playwrights and songwriters in the mix as well.  Some considered it the greatest edition of The Follies ever. W.C. Fields did his lawn tennis sketch (one of the few of his sporting routines never to make it film). Rogers did his folksy monologues and rope tricks for a Broadway audience for the first time. Fanny Brice did her “Egyptian” number, and sang and danced a duet with Cantor. Cantor also did sketches with Bert Williams.  Can you imagine such a show?

For more on vaudeville performers like Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers and everyone else on this pageconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold

 

Eddie Cantor in “If You Knew Susie”

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , on February 7, 2015 by travsd

If_You_Knew_Susie_poster

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy If You Knew Susie (1948). This movie is interesting for several reasons. For one, it’s Cantor’s last starring role. While still as popular as ever on radio, his film career had been grinding to a halt for over a decade. The sparkling, fast-paced, Goldwyn/ Busby Berkley musicals of the early 30s were far behind him now. He was already having difficulty solving his film career when World War 2 came along to interrupt things still further.

By 1948, Cantor was 56 years old, and he needed a different character from the fast-talking, brash but timid New York street kid. These were years of reinvention for him. The Cantor of If You Knew Susie was the one Americans knew from his late radio and tv work, a post-war presence not unlike so many others, a middle class, middle aged family man not worlds away from Bing Crosby, Perry Como or Danny Thomas. Thus, though the title of If You Knew Susie is cribbed by one of Cantor’s most popular, iconic hits of the 1920s, it doesn’t evoke the spirit of that era at all. It merely has that name because it’s the name of the character played by his co-star Joan Davis. Fellow radio star Davis had also co-starred with Cantor in his previous film Show Business (1944), and the two were said to be having a long term affair (so much for the family man!) In Susie, the couple play a pair of retired vaudevillians who move to a small Connecticut town where every one shuns them for being showfolk. Then they just happen to stumble on a latter from George Washington that seems to indicate that he knew Eddie’s ancestor — and owed him money. In the world of the film, this ingratiates him with the locals whose families have all lived there since Colonial times. And truly, this is a FASCINATING bellwether of the tenor of the post-war period. On the one hand, there is an obvious eye-winking joke about Cantor’s Jewish identity: Washington BORROWED MONEY from him? Really? On the other hand, his Jewish identity is buried. His last name is Parker, and as far as the film is concerned he’s as white bread as everyone else. This kind of conformity was the spirit of the age, a definite leap backward from the expansiveness of the 20s and 30s. Even the fact that the Parkers have put show business behind them, and are seeking to ingratiate themselves with the establishment hierarchy. Is the movie funny? Mildly. But mostly you just want the two characters to tell their neighbors to go to hell.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Eddie Cantor in “Strike Me Pink”

Posted in Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2015 by travsd

Strike_Me_Pink_1936_poster

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy Strike Me Pink (1936), directed by Norman Taurog. 

The early 30s magic is waning by the time Cantor made this picture, but it still has its moments. In this one, he plays a bullied pants presser and inventor named Eddie Pink, who takes a correspondence course in self-assertion. He gets a job managing his friends amusement park, where he is expected to keep a bunch of gangsters led by Brian Dunlevy from installing a bunch of slot machines and turning the whole operation crooked. Parkyakarkus plays Eddie’s putative (but useless) bodyguard. Then the crooks try to use Eddie’s crush on nightclub singer Ethel Merman to manipulate him, but that doesn’t work either. There is a long slapstick climax on the amusement park rides, almost of all of which is faked with rear projection screens and doubles. My favorite bit in the film is a routine involving ghosts!

Here’s a number from the film:

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Eddie Cantor in “Roman Scandals”

Posted in Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2014 by travsd

Poster_of_the_movie_Roman_Scandals

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy Roman Scandals (1933), devised for him by George S. Kaufman and Robert E. Sherwood. 

The film is a very funny and charming semi-musical full of one-liners and songs for Cantor (most written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin including, “Build a Little Home”, “Be Young and beautiful” among them. The art deco version of Rome is gorgeous. Eddie plays a shlub who works in a museum and dreams he goes back to ancient Rome and becomes a slave named Oedipus. Rome is depicted as a decadent, cruel and terrifying place…essentially a totalitarian state. This fuels the humor and also provides great dramatic tension. Oedipus is made royal food-taster to the emperor (Edward Arnold), whom of course the empress is trying to poison. (The little rhyme Eddie uses to remember which dish contains poison was later appropriated by Danny Kaye in The Court Jester — people tend to remember the later version).  Gloria Stuart of Titanic is the Empress—70 years younger!  Billy Barty plays a version of Eddie when he shrinks in a steam bath. Some unfortunate black face stuff is a little jarring. (The premise is a beauty mud pack…but when Eddie starts to act like a minstrel, the intention is unmistakable).The cast also includes Ruth Etting as a slave girl, David Manners (of Dracula) as Eddie’s aristocratic young protector, and of course the lovely pre-code Goldwyn Girls, choreographed by Busby Berkley.  Among them were Lucille Ball and Paulette Goddard. 

romscan12

While the movie obviously draws from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it ended up being influential itself. It is literally the basis for the Roman section of Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part One. The premise was also used by Three Stooges for one of their late features—undoubtedly others have used it as well. (Think of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). And the same premise was adapted for the later Eddie Cantor comedy Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937).

For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Eddie Cantor in “The Kid from Spain”

Posted in Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Latin American/ Spanish, Movies with tags , , , , , , on November 17, 2014 by travsd

 the-kid-from-spain-eddie-cantor-lyda-roberti-1932

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy The Kid from Spain (1932), written by Kalmar and Ruby, directed by Leo McCarey, featuring Lyda Roberti, and the Goldwyn Girls, choreographed by Busby Berkley! Is that team or is that a team?! And it’s just as terrific as you would expect. All of these artists are at their peak here. Delectable stuff: hilarious jokes, extremely witty songs…

It starts out with a very funny, sexy musical number set at a college starring an enormous number of pre-code co-eds. Eddie is discovered in one of their beds and expelled, along with his dashing Mexican room-mate (Robert Young!) Young tries to get Eddie to come with him to Mexico but Eddie decides to stay…and then ends up going to Mexico anyway. While parked outside a bank, he is mistaken for the getaway driver of a robbery, and has to drive the escaping gang to their hideout. To avoid capture, he goes to Mexico, where he instantly bumps into Robert Young, who must have been loitering around the border checkpoint. But a detective has followed Eddie across the border. Through Young’s instigation, Eddie masquerades as a famous Spanish bullfighter, the son of one of a famous hero of the ring. (This is one of those films where a bad Spanish accent allows you to communicate with native Spanish speakers). The climax of the film is of course the cowardly Eddie having to do a bullfight. The romantic subplot concerns Robert Young’s trysts with a girl who is affianced to some turkey though an arranged marriage.

Great Kalmar and Ruby songs. “Look, What You’ve Done” reminds me of “Why Am I So Romantic?” from Animal Crackers. “In the Moonlight” reminds me of “Everyone Says I Love You” from Horse Feathers. This being a Cantor movie, there is also unfortunately a blackface number: “What a Perfect Combination”.

 

In the end, Eddie is vindicated by a telegram. And it turns out the detective knew the truth all long—he just wanted to see Eddie fight the bull!

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Eddie Cantor in “Kid Millions”

Posted in Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , , on November 10, 2014 by travsd

Poster - Kid Millions_01

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy Kid Millions (1934), directed by Roy Del Ruth.

This is not Cantor’s best movie, mostly because of the script, which was written by those fairly dreadful writers who wrote the Marx Brothers’ later movies: Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin and Nunnally Johnson. The plot: Eddie inherits a fortune, which he needs to go to Egypt to collect. Two others scheme for the money:  Ethel Merman, who claims to be his mother even though she’s younger than he is; and a southern colonel (Burton Churchill). A great cast helps divert us from the thinness of the plot, including (in addition to Merman) Block and Sully, Ann Sothern and the Nicholas brothers. The third act is all in Alexandria, and very much calls to mind the atmosphere of Roman Scandals—a scary shiek plans to kill Eddie. The songs are great, and there’s an amazing color sequence at the end (the first ever 3 strip technicolor), when Eddie uses his fortune to start a giant factory that produces free ice cream for children. And as always, don’t forget the Goldwyn Girls!

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

safe_image

Eddie Cantor and Gypsy Rose Lee in “Ali Baba Goes to Town”

Posted in Comedy, Eddie Cantor, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , on October 29, 2014 by travsd

Ali_Baba_Goes_to_Town

Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Eddie Cantor comedy Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937).

This movie, while plenty funny, marks the end of Cantor’s flush period as a 30’s comedy star. After having starred in a talkie every year since 1930, the next movie after Al Baba wouldn’t be for three years, and thereafter his vehicles became less and less frequent. By this stage in his career Cantor was waxing stout and middle aged – – his traditional character didn’t suit him as well any more.

Ali Baba is essentially a remake of Cantor’s earlier screen hit Roman Scandals, except in this one (rather than ancient Rome) Eddie falls asleep as a movie extra on a film set for Arabian Nights and awakes as Ali Baba. The film is not a font of racial sensitivity—in addition to the constant lampoon of Arab culture, Cantor indulges in some very late blackface. But the jokes and music are good, and the plot moves along. Lots of rare topical humor at the EXPENSE of the New Deal as Eddie tries to remake the Sultan’s government. An eye-opener…criticisms about high taxes!  There were five writers on the project – – all Republicans, I’m guessing!

aliroselee1

Gypsy Rose Lee is also in the film as the Sultana, in only her second role as an attempted movie star under her real name Louise Hovick. Though I am naturally among her worshippers, it’s not hard to see why she never became a movie star (though a highly intelligent woman, she couldn’t, um, act. Whereas her siser June havoc could).

Also in the film – -wow! : crooner Tony Martin, John Carradine (as a thug), Douglas Dumbrille (as a Prince), Sidney Fields, Charles Lane, Jeni Le Gon, Hank Mann and Lee J. Cobb in bit parts, and dozens of the top stars of 1937 in cameos at a fictional movie premiere — including, hilariously enough, Eddie Cantor!

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc. To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

%d bloggers like this: