THE BUBBA AND
"I grew up on the sidewalks of New York, with an occasional fall into the gutter."
There are myths about Eddie Cantor, the perpetually young Jew with the big, rolling eyes, joyous, clapping hands, and chatty East Side manner who became the first multimedia superstar and a "member of the family" in countless homes during the 1930s. He was born in New York City, supposedly on January 31, 1892, and was orphaned at the age of two.
These myths, like others about Cantor, are untrue. He was not born on January 31, 1892. Nor was he, apparently, an orphan.
The Cantor saga begins in Belarus, in 1834, the year a daughter was born to Javel Lazarowitz and his wife, Mindel Abramowitz. They named her Esther, and, like most girls of that time, she married early. Her husband, a cigar maker named Abraham Kantrowitz, doubtless gave her many children. Only four survived, however -- three sons and a daughter. Life expectancy was not high in Belarus, and Abe died, a victim of the tobacco and nicotine fumes of his trade, around the age of forty, leaving his still young wife to support four children with a small cigar business.
Esther rolled cigars, ran the business, kept her house, and raised four children, saving a few rubles on the side but never purchasing a license. Dragged before a magistrate on more than one occasion, she made funny faces, danced, and made him think that she was totally insane.
She continued rolling her cigars, which grew steadily in local reputation, until nihilist revolutionaries assassinated Czar Nicholas II in March 1881. Anti-Semitic pogroms and the so-called "May laws" followed. The lot of the Jews in the czar's empire, never enviable, steadily grew worse, and Esther used part of her savings to get her two elder sons, now both in their twenties, to America.
Esther's main concern, at this point, was her daughter, Meta -- in her