Radio stars (June 1933)

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RADIO STARS Down the Years with Eddie Cantor among the comedians to have the nerve to kid himself. He would get off gags like the one about the little boy that he found waiting outside the theater to ask him for an autographed picture. Eddie gave him one and the boy came back each night for a week asking for an- other. Finally Eddie said: "Say, you must like me pretty well to want all those autographed pictures of me." "Naw," the little boy replied, "I like Valentino and there's a kid down the street will give me one picture of Val- entino if I give him ten of you." IN the Follies, too, Eddie met Will Rogers. Will Rogers was getting a hundred and twenty-five a week then and glad of it. Now he gets more than that a minute. Besides being pals, they did a lot for each other. Eddie used to take Will out after the show to Kosher delicatessens. At that time Will was a "dumb act"; just a cowboy who twirled a rope. He used to sit and talk to Eddie in his quiet, humorous drawl. And Eddie convinced him that his conversation would go over big on the stage. Had it not been for Eddie, Will Rogers might still be a "dumb act" today. Rogers also did a lot for the come- dian whom he terms "My favorite non- Methodist actor." He taught him the value of the topical gag, the gag built on timely subjects, rather than played straight for a laugh. Eddie snapped up the idea. His first efforts in that line were some of the early "front" gags, during the war, such as: "Ziegfeld says you've got to go and be shot at the front." "I don't care whether it's front or back, just so it's painless." But Eddie went his mentor one bet- ter and where Will confined most of his gagging to politics, Eddie made use of every subject of popular interest, such as his recent radio quipping about Technocracy. Perhaps that is one rea- son why he has far surpassed Rogers as a radio attraction. QNE of the most lavish displays of comic talent ever seen on the stage was to be found in the Follies in the trio of Cantor, Rogers, and W. C. Fields. These three were inseparable. They played constant tricks on each other. When Eddie was to come rushing on the stage with a straw suitcase, he would find that Fields had filled it with bricks. Or when Rogers had a pet gag, he would find that it fell flat because Cantor had already used it, unknown to him, to get his goat. Cantor is no Pagliacci. There is no tear-behind-the-smile with him. Yet I find a curious sort of pathos in the fact that this kidding and horseplay, the same sort of thing he does on the stage, is his only offstage recreation. He has (Continued from page 23) no other hobbies, although now and then he will go out and dub around a golf course, just to get the sunshine. As a boy on the East Side and later, in the theatre, he had to make his own play. With the Kid Kabaret, he and Jessel used to demoralize the other acts by popping out of the wings or the pit in the weirdest outfits; as even now he will demoralize a Rubinoff rehearsal for the Chase & Sanborn hour by snatching a violin and conducting the orchestra. Clowning has always been his only fun. It still is. When he is at home, he passes the time clowning with his wife and the five girls. Well, to get back to the story: He went ahead steadily, although he had fast company in the Follies: Fannie Brice, the late Bert Williams, (with whom Eddie was always "Sonny" and Bert "Papsy") as well as Rogers and Fields. Ziegfeld had such confidence in Ed- die's opinion that he used to send him long wires asking advice about the show. But Eddie had to fight to get Ziggy to star him, just as he had to fight in his early years with the Follies, to get out of blackface. Ziggy refused and refused, and then, just as he seemed about to give in, along came the famous Actor's Equity- strike of 1920 when De Wolfe Hopper lead the street parade up Broadway. Eddie joined the all-star walk-out and thereby lost a chance to play oppo- site Marilyn Miller and incidentally a contract which would have netted him four hundred thousand. But it finally did bring him to stardom, though under the Shubert banner. When the strike was over, the trio broke up and Cantor was left without prospects. LIE went with J. J. Shubert in a revue called "The Midnight Rounders." But it wasn't until the show opened and he went around front to look at the mar- quee, that he found he had been starred. During this time Eddie was hopping, howling, clowning, all over town, at banquets, benefits and private parties. "I'd open a theater on Avenue B where they came eating sausages and bringing their pushcarts," says Eddie, "and on the same night I'd hop over to Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt's and enter- tain her swanky guests." Ziegfeld was willing to star him now all right. He did so, in "Kid Boots" and Cantor hit a new high. "Kid Boots" was a sensation on Broadway, a hit road show, and finally was made into a picture by Paramount. How the golden flood poured in! Eddie's brokers got the most of it and added to it and multiplied it—on paper. And Eddie slaved. The son of the lackadaisical violinist who hated work, put more work into his clowning than a dozen other actors. He labored to develop new gags, new situations. He would get up in the middle of the night to jot them down in his note book. Out on the stage he was never still, giving it all he had—always the nervous little guy at the mercy of the doctor or the dentist or the aviation instructor, the tough traffic cop or the golf "pro"; the same nervous little guy he had been on the East Side, kidding and making them like it—to the tune of several thousand a week. Meanwhile, on Broadway, he was Eddie Cantor, the wise guy. The wise guy who had turned his back on the bright lights, worked hard, stayed home with his wife and family and let the money roll in—but not out again. THEY had heard about his luck on the market. Oh, the moochers didn't ask for hand-outs now. They asked for tips on American Can. About this time an old dream came back to trouble Eddie—a dream he must have had on his tenement cot on the first night back from Surprise Lake Camp. It was a dream of blue sky with fleecy clouds and trees. Mount Vernon was getting pretty crowded. Building up fast. So he got his big idea. He would turn his back on the theatre, the drafty dressing rooms, the crowded clanging streets. He would retire and for once he would get all of the fresh air and sunshine he had craved all his life. Where? Why, in Great Neck, on Long Island Sound, the heaven where good actors go when their work is done. Hence the idea of the Great Neck house. What a house! They say, all fancies aside, that he laid out $600,000 for it, in cold hard cash. Countless rooms, a cabaret in the basement and a bar for his friends, a completely equipped theatre where he could caper for the fun of it. And all those acres of green grass with plenty of sky above. He built that house—out of the two million dollars that he had—on paper. He moved in. He was living there, late in 1929. You must know the answer already. "Oo, how the market broke!" Crash ! Zingo ! Zowie ! It took him twenty years to earn it—and twenty days to lose it. It was all gone, all but the house, for which he had paid cash. When the smoke had cleared away he took inventory. He found that he had the following: Liabilities—Five lusty, hungry daugh- ters; one overwhelming useless estab- lishment ; any number of pensioners, pals, hangers-on, pet charities, that he Iiad developed in his fat years and could not let down. Assets—One sweet, understanding, trusting wife; one undamaged sense of humor. Can Eddie Cantor come back? That's what everybody asked. You'll find the answer in the smashing conclusion to this story in the next issue of Radio Stars. 42