Banjo Eyes: Eddie Cantor and the Birth of Modern Stardom

By Herbert G. Goldman | Go to book overview
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Chapter 9

THE PEAK

"No one was bigger in film at the time. And no one was bigger in radio. He was just the biggest thing in show business at the time -- in the U.S. or in Europe." -- Gerald Marks

The Cantor girls found life at the San Remo interesting. Margie and Natalie shared one room, Edna and Marilyn another, and Al Jolson gave the family a new dog, named Jolie in his honor, who sadly was crushed to death by the heavy roof elevator door. Most of the family's adventures were not quite so tragic. Janet, not quite seven, gave Winnie the scare of her life by climbing up to the roof of the building on an outside ladder. Another time, a fire broke out on one of the lower floors, forcing an evacuation of the building. Margie, stark naked, looked down from her window and yelled, "Okay, boys, take me. Here I am."

The Cantors often entertained, their guests constituting a Who's Who of show biz in the early to mid-1930s: Block and Sully, Jolson, Jack Benny, Durante, Jessel, Burns and Allen, all of whom Eddie had either worked with in the recent past or known for years. The girls did not regard these people as celebrities; they were simply "Daddy's friends from show business.

Far more frequent guests were Ida's sisters and their husbands. Eddie and the girls found Ida's youngest sister, Nettie, by far the most amusing member of the Tobias family, especially when watching her take food. She ate quickly, without stopping, blissfully ignorant of her surroundings. "Ida, she's amazing," Eddie said on one occasion. "Listen." He proceeded to call Nettie one offensive name after the other as the woman went on shoveling food into her mouth, oblivious to what Eddie was saying.

The most traumatic times for the girls were their visits to Ida's parents. Janet remembers her maternal grandfather as "like a big teddybear -- lovable and warm." By contrast, her grandmother was forbidding, miserable, "and a miser to boot." Rachel Slotzki Tobias had steadfastly refused to learn--

-158-

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