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Eddie Cantor and his wife Ida arrive at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California, for a private screening of The Eddie Cantor Story . Just before the film rolls, Cantor whispers, "Ida, I've never been so nervous in all my life." The story begins on New York's East Side in 1904. Thirteen-year-old Eddie, eager to be accepted by the neighborhood hoodlum, Rocky Kramer, entertains a crowd at a political rally by singing, unaware that Rocky and his gang are using the opportunity to pick the listeners' pockets. After a kindly Irish cop escorts Eddie home to his Grandma Esther, Eddie sets off to deliver Sabbath candles to the home of merchant David Tobias, whose daughter, Ida, invites Eddie to stay for dinner. Soon after, Mr. Burke from the Educational Alliance persuades Grandma Esther to send Eddie to the Surprise Lake Camp for boys. Eddie's vocal performances make him an instant hit with the campers and on the way home, he wins a contest at Miners' Bowery Theatre. In the audience is Mr. Lesser, a producer who arranges for Eddie to join the Gus Edwards Kid Kabaret. For the next several years, Eddie travels with the show, sending Grandma Esther souvenir spoons from each of the cities he visits. When Eddie becomes too old for the Kid Kabaret, he returns home. Rocky Kramer, now a crooked politician with Tammany Hall, offers Eddie a job at his nightclub on Coney Island. Although nothing more than a singing waiter, Eddie, who is still fond of his childhood sweetheart Ida, boasts that he is the star of the show to impress her father. One evening, Ida and her family, accompanied by another of Ida's admirers, Harry Harris, visit the club. Horrified, Eddie sets down his tray and provides his audience with an unscheduled solo performance, but Ida's family nevertheless discovers the truth. Ida is angry at Eddie for lying, but when he tells her that a famous producer wants him to perform in London, and that he wants Ida to accompany him as his wife, she happily elopes with him. Upon discovering that the producer is broke, however, the newlyweds return home. Eddie remains unemployed until Jimmy Durante, the piano player at Kramer's club, gets him a spot in a Los Angeles show entitled Canary Cottage . The show is a success, but its star, Cleo Abbott, is jealous of Eddie's popularity. To get rid of the scene stealer, Abbott pretends that famous theatrical producer Florenz Ziegfeld wants Eddie to perform in his new Follies . The ambitious Eddie joyfully returns to New York, only to discover that Ziegfeld has never heard of him, but Eddie, who now has not only Ida but a new baby daughter to support, persuades Ziegfeld to try him out that evening. His performance of "How Ya' Gonna' Keep 'Em Down on the Farm After They've Seen Paris" is such a hit that Ziegfeld signs him to a traveling show that includes Will Rogers in its cast. As time passes, Ida has a second daughter while Eddie is on the road, but Eddie later returns to Broadway to star in Ziegfeld's new Follies . On opening night, Grandma Esther, bursting with pride and all dressed up for the show, dies peacefully in a chair. Overwhelmed with grief, Eddie is able to perform a rousing version of "If You Knew Susie Like I Know Susie" only by imagining that Grandma Esther is the sole member of the audience. During the next several years, Eddie's popularity grows as he becomes identified with hit songs such as "Bye, Bye Blackbird," "Pretty Baby," and "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby." On the night that Ida gives birth to their third baby girl, Eddie performs for the Prince of Wales and visits the hospital in blackface. Ida later begs her husband to take a vacation with the family, but Eddie, explaining that he must work hard to stay on top, suggests that they build a house on Long Island instead. Eddie's successful new show makes his schedule even more hectic. In 1929, while recovering in the hospital from the birth of yet another daughter, Ida learns from the newspaper that "Cantor Says Vacation Is Out." Weeping, Ida declares that because she and the children are not an important part of Eddie's life, their marriage is over. Eddie is crushed and offers to take Ida and his five daughters to London, but as they are planning the trip, the stock market crashes and he loses everything. With Ida's approval, Eddie returns to work in a new show entitled Whoopee and later performs in his own weekly radio show, ending each program with the tune, "(I'd Love to Spend) One Hour with You." Harry, now the family's doctor, advises Eddie to relax and spend time with family, and when Eddie stubbornly refuses, they argue. Harry declares that Eddie has always needed applause to replace the love he never received from a mother and father, while Eddie accuses his old friend of still loving Ida. Not long after, Eddie learns that Rocky has been indicted for murder, and soon after, while working late on a show, suffers a heart attack. Eddie recovers, but becomes morose and quits working. Ziegfeld thinks that Eddie is scared, and Ida wires Harry for help. When Eddie is invited to speak at the boys' camp he attended as a youth, he tells the boys that his experience at camp prevented him from joining up with Rocky, who by this time has been sentenced to death. The boys plead for a song, whereupon Eddie, reluctantly at first, sings a few of his famous tunes. Declaring that he has at last grown up, Eddie launches a string of performances for charity shows. In the projection room, the lights come up and as Eddie and Ida prepare to leave, Eddie exclaims "I never looked better in my life!"