Comic actor and singer, Eddie Cantor, was born Isidore
Itzkowitz in New York, January 31, 1892. Growing up on
the Lower East Side of Manhattan he was reared by his
maternal grandmother, Esther Kantrowitz, a
warmhearted, giving woman who was responsible,
inadvertently, for his eventual name and career. When the
school registrar asked for the six-year-old's name, Esther,
who spoke no English (only Yiddish, Polish, and
Russian), became confused and started to give her own
name, Kantrowitz, but never finished it. The registrar
wrote down "Isidore Kanter." Later the boy himself
changed the spelling to Cantor. Still later he changed the
Isidore to Eddie because his girlfriend, Ida Tobias, later to
become his wife, liked the name Eddie.
Along with other future stars, including Jimmy Durante,
one of his earliest successes was as a singing waiter at a
Coney Island restaurant, singing songs, or making them
up, for the customers. Breaking into burlesque, he soon
became a star of the Ziegfeld Follies, with such hits as
Kid Boots and Whoopee. Although his unique style was
poorly captured by film, he made many, and they remain
a treasure to Cantor fans today. He even had a brief
television series in the 1950s, kinescope copies are still
Such a popular entertainer, Cantor was tapped by
President Franklin Roosevelt to head the effort at
conquering polio, then called "infantile paralysis."
According to the way Cantor told the story, Roosevelt
wanted to get together a thousand people, each to donate
a thousand dollars, to amass a seed fund of a million
dollars to begin the fight. "Mr. President," Cantor said,
"why not ask ten million people to each send in a dime?
You could conquer infantile paralysis with a March of
Dimes!" And that was the beginning of this famous
One of Cantor's trademark songs, If You Knew Susie,
was actually introduced by Al Jolson! Jolson's picture
appears on the cover of early editions of the sheet music
of Susie, but Al didn't think the song suited his style.
After Cantor exploded with the song as such a hit, Jolson
swore he'd never give Cantor another song.