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The Eddie Cantor Story

The Eddie Cantor Story(1954)

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The working title of this film was The Story of Eddie Cantor. Will Rogers, Jr.'s onscreen credit reads: "Will Rogers Jr. as His Dad." Eddie Israel Iskowitz Cantor (1892-1964), was born in New York. Cantor's parents, immigrants from Russia, died when he was a small child and, as the film depicts, he was thereafter raised by his grandmother. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, dated August 1948, Lou Edelman was set to produce a Cantor biography for Warner Bros. with the working title The Life of Eddie Cantor, but the project was dropped when Cantor and studio executives could not agree on the final script. Sidney Skolsky, a syndicated gossip columnist, had previously produced The Jolson Story (1946), which was also directed by Alfred E. Green. Hollywood Reporter noted in October 1951 that Eddie and Ida Cantor were "greatly moved" by Skolsky's screen treatment and the film was made with their approval and active participation. Cantor was said to have been impressed by how much Keefe Brasselle resembled him, especially once Brasselle was in the special makeup created for the role. According to a January 1953 article in Los Angeles Mirror, makeup artist Gordon Bau spent eight months developing techniques to transform Brasselle into Cantor at various ages. Bau's innovations included large, life-like plastic ears and an eye lining technique designed to give Brasselle's eyes the popping-out quality for which Cantor's were famous.
       According to a July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, The Eddie Cantor Story was one of five films requiring outdoor sets that suffered delayed production because of a studio fire on July 9, 1952. Although a January 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Paul Picerni would portray Cantor's business manager, the actor did not appear in the film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items add Mary Ellen Clemens, Beverly Thomas, Frances Karath, Beverly Adland, Brenda Benson and June Leabow to the cast. However, their appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
       Daily Variety news items indicate that George Stevens directed several additional scenes for the film in August 1953 and that Gordon Douglas shot one exterior scene in early September 1953. Eddie Cantor's voice was dubbed onto the soundtrack for all of the featured songs and the original soundtrack album was released by Capitol Records in 1954.
       According to a December 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, The Eddie Cantor Story had an advance premiere in New York City on December 23, 1953 to benefit the Educational Alliance Alumni Association, and a New York Times ad announced the public New York opening of the film as December 25, 1953. According to a December 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items, the film opened in New York and Miami simultaneously, and the Los Angeles opening, which was telecast live on ABC and NBC television networks, was held on 29 December 1953.
       Although the film received some positive notices, most reviews were mixed; the general consensus was that Cantor's life story had been oversentimentalized. The majority of critics felt that Brasselle overplayed Cantor's mannerisms, leading to a performance that Cue described as "uncomfortable, exaggerated and ugly." The New Yorker termed the portrayal "disconcerting," noting that Brasselle's "efforts to make his eyes pop out in the manner of the master frequently conveys the impression he is being strangled." The Hollywood Reporter review, however, praised Brasselle's performance and instead criticized the makeup job which gave the actor a "mask-like expression that sometimes is almost grotesque."