Eddie Cantor was once among the most popular performers in the United States. He was influential and innovative on stage, radio, and film from the early twentieth century though the early 1960s. He is not widely known today, however, despite his importance in his time. In a new biography, David Weinstein
discusses Cantor, his work, his times, and his politics. The Eddie Cantor Story: A Jewish Life in Performance and Politics
(Brandeis University Press, 2017) explains the many ways Cantor's work was representative of the period, but also the ways he pushed the boundaries of entertainment during his career. Cantor was Jewish and unlike many of his Jewish contemporaries in the business, he did not hide or shy away from his background either in performance or in politics.
In this episode of New Books in History, Weinstein discusses his biography of Cantor. He talks about Cantor's career and his anti-Nazi activism and the importance of his Jewish heritage is shaping his career and political activism. Weinstein also discusses some of the more contradictory aspects of Cantor's career, particularly his use of blackface.
Christine Lamberson is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th-century U.S. political and cultural history. She's currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.