The Story Behind The Eddie Cantor Story
Did you ever meet Eddie Cantor or see him perform live?
Cantor died in 1964, a few years before I was born. I grew up loving punk and indie rock rather than Broadway musicals and the Great American Songbook. However, I have long been interested in the history of popular culture. I specialized in film and media history while earning my Ph.D. in American studies and taught media studies at the University of Maryland and George Mason University. My first book, The Forgotten Network, explores the history of early television.
How did you first discover Eddie Cantor?
In researching The Forgotten Network, I watched videotapes of many early comedy-variety shows, including The Colgate Comedy Hour. Cantor frequently hosted and starred in this NBC program. I had associated Cantor primarily with vaudeville and Broadway of the 1910s and 1920s. I was surprised to see him headlining a popular television program many years after his vaudeville days. After I finished The Forgotten Network, I turned my attention to Cantor.
You have a “day job.” How did you find the time to research and write The Eddie Cantor Story?
The Eddie Cantor Story was a labor of love. Over several years, I woke up super early to write before I went to work. I spent "vacation time" in archives, where I feverishly photographed documents and listened to Cantor's radio and television programs.
Why Eddie Cantor?
Much of Cantor’s story –his rise from poverty on the Lower East Side, his use of Yiddish, his balancing of “American” and “Jewish” identities, his sense of humor, and his politics— resonated with me, as an American Jew.
As I learned about Cantor, I felt as if I was discovering the roots of Jewish humor. I found elements of Cantor’s style in some of my favorite recent comedians, such as Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman. I also was inspired by the way Cantor spoke out against nativism, bigotry and antisemitism, despite the risks to his career and even his life.