Eddie Cantor (January 31, 1892 – October 10, 1964) was an American "illustrated song" performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor and songwriter. Familiar to Broadway, radio, movie and early television audiences, this "Apostle of Pep" was regarded almost as a family member by millions because his top-rated radio shows revealed intimate stories and amusing anecdotes about his wife Ida and five daughters. Some of his hits include "Makin' Whoopee", "Ida", "If You Knew Susie", "Ma! He's Makin' Eyes at Me", "Margie" and "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree?)" He also wrote a few songs, including "Merrily We Roll Along", the Merrie Melodies Warner Bros. cartoon theme.
His eye-rolling song-and-dance routines eventually led to his nickname, "Banjo Eyes". In 1933, the artist Frederick J. Garner caricatured Cantor with large round eyes resembling the drum-like pot of a banjo. Cantor's eyes became his trademark, often exaggerated in illustrations, and leading to his appearance on Broadway in the musical Banjo Eyes (1941).
His charity and humanitarian work was extensive, and he is credited with coining the phrase and helping to develop The March of Dimes.
Cantor's appearance with Rudy Vallee on Vallee's The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour on February 5, 1931 led to a four-week tryout with NBC's The Chase and Sanborn Hour. Replacing Maurice Chevalier, who was returning to Paris, Cantor joined Chase and Sanborn on September 13, 1931. This hour-long Sunday evening variety series teamed Cantor with announcer Jimmy Wallington and violinist Dave Rubinoff. The show established Cantor as a leading comedian, and his scriptwriter, David Freedman, as “the Captain of Comedy.” Cantor soon became the world's highest-paid radio star. His shows began with a crowd chanting, "We want Can-tor, We want Can-tor," a phrase said to have originated when a vaudeville audience chanted to chase off an opening act on the bill before Cantor. Cantor's theme song was his own lyric to the Leo Robin/Richard Whiting song, "One Hour with You." His radio sidekicks included Bert Gordon, (comic Barney Gorodetsky, aka "The Mad Russian") and Harry Parke (better known as "Parkyakarkus"). Cantor also discovered and helped guide the career of singer Dinah Shore, first featuring her on his radio show in 1940, as well as other performers, including Deanna Durbin, Bobby Breen and Eddie Fisher.
Indicative of his effect on the mass audience, he agreed in November 1934 to introduce a new song by the songwriters J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie that other well-known artists had rejected as being "silly" and "childish." The song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", immediately had orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day. It sold 400,000 copies by Christmas of that year.
His NBC radio show, Time to Smile, was broadcast from 1940 to 1946, followed by his Pabst Blue Ribbon Show from 1946 through 1949. He also served as emcee of The $64 Question during 1949-'50, and hosted a weekly disc jockey program for Philip Morris during the 1952-'53 season. In addition to film and radio, Cantor recorded for Hit of the Week Records, then again for Columbia, for Banner and Decca and various small labels.
His heavy political involvement began early in his career, including his participation in the strike to form Actors Equity in 1919, provoking the anger of father figure and producer, Florenz Ziegfeld. At the 1939 New York World's Fair, Cantor publicly denounced Father Charles Coughlin and was dropped by his sponsor, Camel cigarettes. A year and a half later, it was his friend Jack Benny who was able to get him back on the air.