“It takes over 20 years to make an overnight success.”
The quote is one of the more illustrious comments from talented Hollywood singer, comedian and general performer, Eddie Cantor, and is indicative of his hardworking dedication to the entertainment industry. Over his over fifty year career, Cantor starred in a handful of films, television and radio programs, featured in stage productions, composed and performed countless popular songs and wrote over eight books. He had vitality, motivation and determination to achieve everything he wanted and was one of few in Hollywood that really had the ability to ‘do it all’. Although he was a diligent performer, Cantor’s innate sense of humour and comedic timing was his crowning feature and one that his daughter, Janet Cantor Gari, has definitely inherited. In her latest book The Buried Cantor Tales she recounts a number of experiences and memorable people she met during her time in Hollywood.
By the time of her birth in 1927, her father was already a stage star appearing as part of the popular Ziegfeld Follies shows and had made his film debut in several silent and short films. Although Cantor turned down the lead role in legendary film The Jazz Singer (1927), it didn’t slow down his film career. The early 1930’s brought a number of successful movies, including the Technicolour production Whoopee (1930), Palmy Days (1931), The Kid from Spain (1932) and Roman Scandals (1933); most highlighting his musical as well as comedic skills. He made a number of films until his focus shifted more to radio and later television in the 1950’s with his appearances in war aid pictures, Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) and Hollywood Canteen (1944) showing his charitable side. As a young adult, Cantor Gari, mingled with several talented and popular Hollywood stars but, as she was too young, didn’t notice their stardom.
“It never occurred to me as a child that my father's pals and acquaintances were any different from anyone else's circle of friends,” said Cantor Gari.
“There were those I liked and those I didn't. We never met any of the glamorous stars of the day. My folks "hung out" mostly with their old friends from New York. As much as I detested Groucho Marx I adored Jimmy Durante (as did everyone--the kindest, sweetest man in the world).”
|Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals (1933)|
On Groucho Marx, she continued:
“He was basically a very cruel man with a devastatingly sharp sense of humor. I think he destroyed his daughter's (my best friend) life, as he did that of her mother and two other wives. He enjoyed making vulnerable people squirm, although he never tried it with his peers. Like most people, I loved him in the movies; he was a brilliant comic, but in life the difference between him and his brother Harpo was amazing. Harpo was a sweet and lovable man who married just once and was a great father to his four adopted children.”
Cantor’s increased popularity on television and radio gave him a wider license with the content of the skits and jokes. He was now given the ability to show his greatest gifts – as a writer and a comedian. Of course, to Cantor, not even his family was off limits in his comedy routines with his anecdotes on the troubles of marrying five daughters a crowd favourite.
“Although we had a very stable home life, the constant barrage of jokes about my father's marrying off his large female brood had a negative and very harmful effect on all of us,” said Cantor Gari.
“He didn't seriously want to marry off his daughters. It had simply become part of his "routine," which the public loved--the beleaguered father struggling to provide for so many dependent girls. It was his well-known gimmick…We knew they were gags, but the public didn't, and our self-esteem eventually slipped off the slippery slope.”
|Eddie and Ida Cantor with their daughters|
Although Cantor was a capable father, it is clear that Cantor Gari deeply loved and respected her mother through the writing of her second book, Don't Wear Silver in the Winter: Remembering my Mother. When asked if she admired her mother, Ida Cantor, she commented:
“No question about it: what I admired most about my mother was her energy. Never once when I was growing up did I see her "lie down with a bad headache." She was always up and dressed and ready to go.”
As part of the Cantor family, it was almost inevitable that there would be some pressure for his daughters to likewise enter the entertainment industry. Though having achieved some success, Cantor Gari followed a different path from her famous father.
“When I was nineteen, I was invited by an up and coming director to play the comedy lead in a summer stock production. I got rave reviews, including one from the most important Boston critic, but when I got back to New York, I found I was just too scared to audition for any new shows, so I got married instead!”
“As an adult I began to use my classical music background (the only one in the family) to study and write for piano and small chamber groups, but when I wrote the music for my first show, I was hooked, eventually writing my own lyrics as well. For me this beats performing. No need for steady nerves or learning lines. Just sitting back and having the thrill of hearing the laughs or tears as reactions to something I've created.”
|Janet Cantor Gari|
Cantor Gari has certainly used the talents and experienced gain from her famous father and dedicated mother. Her endeavours in the musical and writing arenas has both created a new generation of Cantor-lovers and has spurred her children to continue the legacy of their grandfather by becoming accomplished singers and musicians. Her new venture is the more quirky world of fiction writing:
“This is very new for me, and I find it is true that the characters take on a life of their own and sort of lead the way.”She has published three books before the current one, namely, Themes From My Father regaling her remembrances about her father, Don't Wear Silver in the Winter, and Stop the World! I Want To Tell Someone Off! A Collection of Candid, Comical Contemplations which she calls her “way to vent” seen through her “comically distorted glasses”. Her present book, The Cantor Buried Tales, is an interesting and light-hearted look at some of Hollywood’s fascinating characters written more like a novel then typical nonfiction. These can be purchased from Bear Manor Media or other online book stores, such as, Amazon. Janet Cantor Gari has a personal website with information on her and her works that can be found here.