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"Eddie Cantor fights the Nazis: the evolution of a Jewish celebrity".

One morning in February 1936, Tamar de Sola Pool interrupted Eddie Cantor's breakfast at the posh Hollywood Beach Hotel in South Florida with a proposition. Pool was president of the New York chapter of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. She wanted Cantor to support a new campaign for Youth Aliyah, a German organization that was helping teenagers from Europe immigrate to Palestine. (2) Pool may have suspected that Cantor, one of America's most popular entertainers, would be sympathetic to Youth Aliyah because of his history of supporting Jewish charities and labor guilds. He did not disappoint her. Cantor made numerous appearances for Youth Aliyah at a time when public figures of Cantor's stature, including most other Jewish celebrities who were politically active, rarely discussed their religious faith in public. Cantor became Youth Aliyah's biggest fundraiser and Hadassah's "number one boy friend." In addition, Cantor's involvement offered Youth Aliyah credibility as a "big-time campaign" and helped Hadassah form partnerships with other Zionist organizations in the United States and Palestine. (3)

During the mid-1930s, Cantor wanted to modify his image by showing the public that he was more serious and intelligent than his movie and radio roles suggested. Cantor starred in seven movies from 1930 to 1937, playing a variation of the same character in all of them. The Cantor hero is a timid weakling who finds himself in dangerous, alien territory. Yet he somehow manages to survive through a combination of luck, resourcefulness, and the kindness of others, usually women, who provide maternal protection. Even as Cantor approached his mid-forties, the father of five was cast as an effeminate and naive young man. The Cantor formula was enormously successful. Three Cantor vehicles--The Kid from Spain (1932), Roman Scandals (1933) and Strike Me Pink (1936)--ranked among the top twenty films in box office receipts from 1932 to 1940. In addition, Whoopee! (1930) was the tenth-ranked film from 1914 to 1931. (4) On radio, where Cantor was also among the most popular and highly paid talents, he performed manic comedy skits with a cast of quirky sidekicks and amused guests.


In 1928, Cantor wrote that one day he hoped to appear in a "straight play where I will not have to depend on singing or dancing or clapping of hands to get my effect, but upon the simple ability of acting, which maybe I have, after all." (5) When Pool recruited him in 1936, Cantor had not achieved this goal. He was starring in Strike Me Pink, the last in a series of formulaic films that he made for United Artists and producer Sam Goldwyn. After the movie's release, Cantor broke with Goldwyn because the producer refused to slot him in more diverse roles. Cantor left his next studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, in 1938 for similar reasons. As biographer Gregory Koseluk explained, "Cantor obviously was looking for a change. It would seem he was seeking to mature his screen character before he outgrew it." (6)

Cantor's anti-Nazi activities facilitated a broader public makeover from 1936 to 1939. Cantor raised funds and made anti-Nazi speeches during appearances for Hadassah and other Jewish organizations, delivering a consistent message: He was a Jew and there was a war against Jews in Germany that was spilling over into the United States. Cantor identified dangerous senators, priests, and industrialists; warned of growing American Nazi groups; and promised to continue his crusade, despite threats to his life and his livelihood as a performer. His bold statements attracted a great deal of coverage in the major daily newspapers and entertainment industry trade journals. By acknowledging his religion and speaking to the pressing issue of his times, Cantor revitalized his public image while raising several hundred thousand dollars to aid Jewish refugees emigrating from Germany. He also contributed to the American anti-Nazi movement.

Jewish activists like Cantor faced many challenges. Religious and lay leaders recognized Hitler as a threat to Jews everywhere from the time the Nazis took power in 1933. However, they disagreed about how American Jews could best help their coreligionists abroad while neutralizing antisemitism at home. During the 1930s, antisemitic organizations became more visible in the United States, incidents of physical abuse against Jews increased, and opinion polls indicated that a significant number of Americans had low opinions of Jews. (7) In this environment, prominent Jews, including Cantor, rarely campaigned for major changes in U.S. immigration or foreign policy that might have saved more European Jews. (8) Nevertheless, American Jews drew media attention to the increasingly horrific conditions in Germany and warned concerned Americans that their country could be next by holding large anti-Nazi theatrical productions, boycotts, and demonstrations. Zionist plays were designed "to remedy, however slightly, the sense of powerlessness that pervaded Jewish experience [and] to activate feelings of solidarity that dispersal had stifled." (9) The American Jewish movement to boycott German goods, which started in 1933, had similar "symbolic and therapeutic effects. It gave supporters the sense that Nazism could be opposed abroad much as anti-Semitism was at home--by fighting against it." (10)

Cantor participated in this effort to increase public awareness about antisemitism while bolstering American Jewish morale. He presented Jews as patriotic Americans, encouraged Jews to be proud of their heritage, and raised funds for Jewish charities that supported European refugees. Cantor condemned antisemitic laws and practices in Germany, but he also presented Nazism as an attack on the decency, tolerance, and kindness that were the foundations of American society. Cantor's activism during the early 1930s consisted primarily of performances at benefits, which raised funds and provided implicit endorsements of charities and political causes. Later in the decade, he became increasingly outspoken in his speeches, writings, newspaper interviews, and radio performances.

Cantor's Early Jewish Activism

Throughout his career, Cantor was proud of his devotion to Jewish charities, especially those that helped children. When Cantor headlined a 1921 concert benefiting the Home for Jewish Children in Boston, his agent, Max Hart, remarked on the young star's strong sentiments for "this kind of charity." (11) During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Cantor lent his name and talents to several Jewish federation, Zionist, and anti-Nazi campaigns. The biggest events were the annual "Night of Stars" shows, which featured hundreds of celebrities in support of the United Palestine Appeal and other organizations that facilitated Jewish settlement in Palestine. Cantor served on the planning board for several productions, starting in 1934, and appeared in the 1938 and 1940 editions. A crowd of 35,000 flocked to the debut "Night of Stars," held at Yankee Stadium, on September 20, 1934. Its 300 stars included Jack Benny, George Jessel, Bill Robinson, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. In 1935, the show moved to Madison Square Garden, where it remained for the next several years. While celebrity benefits were not new, the scale of "Night of Stars" was striking, as was its pro-Zionist, anti-Nazi agenda. Event chairman Nathan Strauss explained that "Night of Stars" was not merely a fundraiser. It also served the broader political purposes of protesting against discrimination in Germany and offering "moral support" to the victims of Nazi persecution. (12)

Cantor made his first public anti-Nazi statements in response to bans of his films. In June 1934, Der Angriff, the newspaper owned by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, attacked Roman Scandals (1933). The film, asserted Der Angriff, "illustrates the Jewish sadism which prevails in American films." (13) During a January 1935 trip to London, Cantor indicated that he didn't mind losing access to audiences in Germany: "Why should I send my films to Germany and make people laugh who make my people cry?" Cantor repeated the remark in discussing the Nazi ban of another film, The Kid From Spain (1932), at a 1935 benefit for the Catholic Actors Guild in New York. (14) In an evening filled with light entertainment, Cantor's statement stood out.

As someone who understood the persuasive power of the mass media, Cantor was especially concerned about Father Charles Coughlin, the popular priest whose radio show and newspaper often carried antisemitic messages. On July 1, 1935, Cantor delivered a sharp address at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles before some 1,000 B'nai B'rith convention delegates and guests, including California Governor Frank Merriam and Hollywood executive Irving Thalberg. "Father Coughlin is a great orator but I doubt that he has a sincere atom in his entire system." said Cantor, whose appearance was described by Time as "sober and articulate." He may have anticipated that Coughlin or his followers would accuse him of being anti-Catholic or anti-Christian, as he continued, "We Jews have nothing to fear from good Christians ... but I am afraid of people who pretend to be good Christians. I am also afraid of Jews who are not good Jews." Cantor recognized the political dangers of domestic antisemites such as Coughlin: "We are living in precarious times. You know the situation in Europe as far as Jews are concerned; but I doubt if many of you know how close to the same situation we are in [in] America." (15)


Cantor's speech stimulated debate at the B'nai B'rith convention that mirrored broader discussions during this time about whether to address domestic antisemitism. The evening's next speaker, San Francisco Judge I.M. Golden, disagreed with Cantor, claiming that "we need have no fear concerning our position in this country. We may well be assured that the American people are sound to the core and that they will tolerate nothing un-American in these matters." Yet Governor Merriam pointedly affirmed Cantor's warning about the dangers facing all Americans and the importance of preserving "the fundamental principles under which this government was founded." Cantor's association of antisemitism in Europe with that in the United States was risky and unusual for a prominent Jewish figure. It made him vulnerable to charges that he placed global Jewish interests ahead of his support for America and faith in its people. Time's coverage of the talk highlighted Cantor's Jewish identity. It characterized Cantor as a "good Jew" and cited his "East Side" heritage and his work for Jewish charities, including a fellowship that he had supported at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (16)

In 1936, Cantor spoke at two rallies for the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League for the Defense of American Democracy (HANL), the largest and most active organization of film writers, actors, and executives. Addressing an audience of 500 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on July 13, 1936, Cantor chronicled the German government's propaganda campaign in America and repeated his earlier statement that he did not want his films shown in Germany. When the HANL filled Los Angeles's Shrine Auditorium at another event later that year, Cantor "pleaded for a concerted movement to thwart the ravages of Hitlerism and appealed for moral and financial support to help carry on the work." (17)

Yet, after 1936, Cantor limited his involvement with the HANL, "an alliance of liberals, leftists, and communists, with the grunt work performed by the communists and directional guidance from Moscow." (18) Through the Depression, Cantor remained confident in capitalism and core American institutions. He may not have been comfortable with the HANL's more radical politics. Cantor may also have believed his association with the organization would provide ammunition to prominent antisemites, who regularly attempted to marginalize Jewish progressives in Hollywood by linking them with communist subversion. (19) In addition, Cantor saw Nazism as a particular threat and problem for Jews in America and Europe. While the HANL condemned Germany's "racial" policies, it did not highlight the Jewish dimensions of the anti-fascist struggle or the problem of antisemitism in America. Many Hollywood activists believed that too much discussion of domestic antisemitism "would have cast a shadow of doubt on the fundamental healthiness of the American people, which Cultural Front politics was eager to celebrate." (20) In contrast, Cantor preferred to work through Jewish organizations based in New York that were not identified with the political left. His activism, at a time when celebrities rarely discussed their religious faith in public, offers a different perspective on the history of the "Cultural Front" and progressive political artists during the 1930s.

Network Radio Politics

On his weekly, prime time network radio program, Cantor walked a thin line, criticizing Germany without upsetting networks or sponsors. Broadcasters and advertising agencies monitored programs and related print publicity closely for content that could offend listeners and hurt ratings. As an internal NBC report explained, "From an advertiser's viewpoint, particularly, it would seem unwise to broadcast a program that would tend to antagonize anyone or any part of the great listening audience." (21) Networks and sponsors were not merely concerned about ratings. More broadly, believing that the public associated radio performers with particular networks and sponsor products, industry executives did not tolerate behavior by radio stars that could reflect poorly on corporate brands. (22)

Comedy-variety programs, the most popular and profitable radio genre, drew particularly close scrutiny. In March 1937, Variety reported that sponsors, agencies, and networks had "clapped so many rules and regulations on jokes about news events" that it had become impossible for comedians to present topical material. Prohibited news subjects included Roosevelt, Hitler, Mussolini, the Spanish Civil War, and domestic politics. Variety counseled, "Never mention" Congress. This causes "hysterics with sponsors similar to the conniptions over Roosevelt gags." (23)

With a few exceptions, such as Cantor and actor Orson Welles, radio performers seldom discussed politics on or off the air. Jewish celebrities like George Burns, Gertrude Berg, and Jack Benny were especially careful not to express controversial views, though many quietly donated to Jewish philanthropies and performed at benefits. After visiting Palestine during a U.S.O. tour of Africa and the Middle East in 1943, Jack Benny spoke with Los Angeles Rabbi Edgar E Magnin about Zionism, antisemitism, and his responsibilities as a Jewish comedian. Zionist newspaper The New Palestine published the interview. Benny praised Jewish contributions to world cultures and appreciated the freedom and self-respect that Jews enjoyed in Tel Aviv. "Nobody calls you a blankety-blank Jew there," he said. Yet, according to Magnin, Benny did not express an opinion on "the political phase of the Palestine movement" because he thought that others were more qualified to discuss the issue. Benny's expertise was comedy. "When a comedian becomes a crusader, people do not take him seriously. My job is to entertain and not to teach or to persuade," Benny explained." (24)

Comedians like Benny and Cantor worked under significant constraints on program content, but performers in other genres occasionally enjoyed more freedom to discuss world events. (25) For example, commentators such as Dorothy Thompson (NBC), Walter Winchell (NBC), and H.V. Kaltenborn (CBS) spoke against the Nazis, though they each clashed with networks and sponsors as a result of their broadcasts. (26) In addition, the networks aired powerful dramas with thinly veiled anti-fascist themes by Orson Welles, Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, and other progressives during the late 1930s. On "The Goldbergs," a long-running daytime drama that moved between sponsors and networks throughout the 1930s, characters sometimes discussed the struggles of family members in Europe. In April 1939, the series also referenced antisemitic violence during a Passover episode in which the "Madden group" interrupts the Goldbergs' Seder by throwing a rock through the family's apartment window. (27)

Cantor joined this loose effort by radio talent to oppose fascism. On his prime time program, he offered a model for inserting anti-Nazi messages into a comedy format, working around network and sponsor restrictions. Cantor broadcast more anti-Hitler comments than any other comedian of the mid-1930s, but he wrapped these remarks around more peaceful, popular, and patriotic messages about the virtues of America and the dangers of intervention. He also communicated through music and commentary at the end of his program, rather than in the comedy sketches that were the core of an episode and that may have received more attention from broadcasters who monitored content.

Prominent Jews who spoke against Hitler were sometimes accused of pushing America toward war and placing Jewish interests ahead of American interests, so Cantor took many opportunities to promote peace. In 1936, for example, he sponsored a much-publicized contest, offering a $5,000 scholarship for the best essay on ways America could avoid war. Cantor also performed "(If They Feel Like a War) Let Them Keep it Over There," written by Tin Pan Alley veterans Howard Johnson and Willie Raskin, on at least four radio broadcasts between 1936 and 1939. (28) Historians have characterized the song as "non-interventionist" or isolationist, with lyrics such as, "If they feel like a war, on some foreign shore/Let them keep it over there/If some fools wanna fight/And think might makes right/Let them keep it over there." (29) However, like most Americans, Cantor believed it possible to be both anti-interventionist and anti-Nazi. In his performances of "(If They Feel Like a War) Let Them Keep it Over There," Cantor advanced humanitarian arguments about the costs of war consistent with his liberal politics, while also contrasting American and German values. In this way, Cantor showed that he was in touch with popular sentiment against intervention, avoided potential problems with networks and sponsors, and advanced a more subtle anti-Nazi agenda.

On his November 15, 1936 program, Cantor introduced "(If They Feel Like a War) Let Them Keep it Over There" by praising President Roosevelt for his recent "I hate war" statement. (30) In evoking Roosevelt's speech, Cantor aligned himself with a broader set of principles about peace and self-defense. Roosevelt's statement was part of a major foreign policy address during the election campaign. He affirmed America's commitment to democracy, freedom, and peace, as well as its opposition to imperialism and increases in "world armaments." However, Roosevelt also indicated that America would fight if necessary. He emphasized the United States' good relations with Canada and Latin American countries and warned that "if there are remoter nations that wish us ill, they know that we are strong; they know that we can and will defend ourselves and our neighbors." Roosevelt reminded his audience "that so long as war exists on earth there will be some danger that even the nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war." Cantor did not identify "the fools" over the ocean by name or nationality in his performance, just as Roosevelt did not identify particular countries that were violating international treaties "without regard to the simple principles of honor." Nevertheless, as The New York Times editorialized about Roosevelt's speech, "everybody knows which [nations] they are." (31)

Cantor frequently ended his comedy program with a more serious appeal for a charity or a holiday wish for his audience. On December 20, 1936, he concluded his broadcast by contrasting the peace in America with the gathering storm in Europe, "We have so much to be thankful for this Christmas. When you read the newspapers every day and you watch the newsreels and you learn of these dictators in foreign lands working feverishly day and night, getting ready to pour millions of sons of mothers into war, we ought to get down on our knees and thank God that we're Americans, living in America, the land of the flee, where Santa Claus comes every single day of the year." Listeners would have recognized who was guilty of pushing the world to the brink of war. During 1936, Germany backed its militaristic, nationalist rhetoric by reoccupying the Rhineland, in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles, and sending combat troops to support Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Perhaps conscious of standing out as a Jewish celebrity attacking "dictators in foreign lands," Cantor ended the segment by noting that he had just returned from Chicago, where he felt the "Christmas spirit" while performing at a benefit for the city's Christmas fund. (32)

On November 21, 1938, soon after Kristallnacht, Cantor again used a holiday program to promote peace in a world that was becoming more violent. After singing a Christmas song, Cantor implicitly referenced the September 29-30 Munich Conference, at which the Allies appeased Hitler by allowing Germany to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. "It's really great to live in a country where people gather around a table to carve up a turkey, instead of a map," Cantor said, expressing gratitude for peace, but also implying that German aggression wouldn't stop with the Sudetenland. "Let's be thankful that there's nothing between us and the aggressive nations--except water." (33) Cantor introduced a similar line in "My Land and Your Land," an anti-war song that he performed at least twice earlier in the 1938 season, "You know, it's nice to live in a country where we're busy preparing for another world's fair/Instead of another world war." (34)

In a national radio address on November 14, 1938, President Roosevelt claimed to have received a "Thanksgiving telegram" from his "old friend" Eddie Cantor. He delivered a variation of Cantor's Thanksgiving benediction, "I am thankful that I can live in a country where our leaders sit down on Thanksgiving Day to carve up a turkey instead of a map." (35) Audiences recognized the anti-Nazi implications in Cantor's telegram. The New York Times, for example, led its coverage with the statement, "President Roosevelt tonight again implied his abhorrence of Nazi policies by reading a Hollywood telegram contrasting the state of affairs on Thanksgiving day in this country and Central Europe." (36)

Cantor and Roosevelt

Cantor's biographer Herbert Goldman doubts that Cantor really sent Roosevelt that telegram. He suggests that Roosevelt invented the telegram for dramatic effect and speculates that Cantor may have spoken to someone at the White House, who passed the line of commentary to the President. Or, perhaps, someone on the president's staff heard Cantor's broadcast earlier in the week. (37) Cantor did not have a direct line to Roosevelt at the time, though the two men knew each other. As the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Cantor met with Roosevelt in 1933 to lobby for changes in the proposed National Recovery Administration (NRA) Code that would have limited actors' salaries and bargaining power with producers. Many of Cantor's subsequent correspondence with Roosevelt went through Marvin H. McIntyre, Roosevelt's longtime aide, with whom Cantor seems to have developed a more personal connection. (38)

Cantor's relationship with Roosevelt became closer over time primarily through Cantor's contributions to Roosevelt's favorite charities, beginning with the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. From the time of its establishment, Warm Springs' progress would remain "one of the great passions" of Roosevelt's life. On November 29, 1933, shortly after their meeting in Warm Springs, Roosevelt wrote to Cantor, thanking him for his "most generous check" to the foundation and inquiring as to whether Cantor might be able to conduct a live broadcast of his radio show from Warm Springs. (39) Though Cantor was unable to move his program to Georgia, he continued to support the foundation.

In 1937, Roosevelt formed a new organization, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, and turned to Hollywood for support. Cantor led the effort. Serving as the "radio and stage" chairman of the fundraising committee, Cantor came up with the idea of the "March of Dimes." The campaign was launched the next year. Cantor and other celebrities took to the airwaves, urging listeners to send dimes directly to the President. White House mail clerk Ira R. T. Smith later wrote, "We had been handling about 5,000 letters a day at that time. We got 30,000 on the day the March of Dimes began producing. We got 50,000 the next day. We got 150,000 the third day. We kept on getting incredible numbers, and the Government of the United States darned near stopped functioning because we couldn't clear away enough dimes to find the official White House mail." Variety reported that an entire room of the White House was "stripped of furniture" so that it could hold all of the mailbags loaded with dimes. The 1938 campaign generated a total of 2,680,000 dimes. In reviewing his relationship with Roosevelt, Cantor remembered that his "real closeness to the President came about through the March of Dimes ... Mr. Roosevelt was deeply thrilled with the response" to Cantor's idea." (40)

Cantor made only one political appeal to Roosevelt, through McIntyre: an impassioned letter asking Roosevelt to support the Wagner-Rogers Bill of 1939, which would have greatly increased the number of German children admitted to America. Perhaps hoping to use his charity work as leverage, Cantor wrote to McIntyre indicating that he wanted to meet with Roosevelt to discuss two matters: the infantile paralysis drive and the problem of Jewish refugee children. The remainder of the letter emphasized the urgency of admitting additional children and the practicality of the plan proposed under the Wagner-Rogers Bill. Cantor also appealed to Roosevelt's emotions and ego, "For generations to come, if these boys and girls were permitted entry into this country they would look upon our leader as a saint. They would bless the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt." (41) McIntyre forwarded Cantor's letter to Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles with a reminder to Welles that "Eddie has been a very ardent worker" for Roosevelt's National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Yet Welles responded to Cantor, "It would be inadvisable to raise the question of increasing quotas or radical changes in our immigration laws during the present Congress." The White House ultimately did not take a public stand on the politically controversial legislation. The bill failed after a series of heated hearings. (42)

Cantor and Youth Aliyah

Cantor frequently worked with Hadassah, through its Youth Aliyah campaign, and other organizations that emphasized the Jewish dimensions of the anti-Nazi struggle. Youth Aliyah was founded by a group of German Jews led by Recha Freier in 1933 to help German youths immigrate to Palestine, where they would continue their education and participate in kibbutz life. From 1933 to 1945, Youth Aliyah trained and resettled approximately 15,000 children from Germany, occupied countries, and transit countries to which youths escaped during the war. (43) In November 1935, Hadassah voted to become the chief American supporter of Youth Aliyah, guaranteeing that it would raise $30,000 a year. Its involvement in Youth Aliyah was risky. Youth Aliyah represented a new kind of cause, different from the building of schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and social services in Palestine that had been Hadassah's focus. Even while Hadassah attempted to transfer control of its projects to the government of Jewish Palestine, it retained ongoing responsibilities to provide financial support for local medical services there. (44) Hadassah needed to market Youth Aliyah and its ongoing social services to its members as well as to new prospects at a time when all organizations faced difficulties raising funds. Many large donors who had served as the foundation of fundraising drives during the 1920s could no longer support these efforts. (45) Synagogues, local charitable federations, fraternal organizations, advocacy groups, and Zionist agencies competed for a limited pool of funds.

In his first appearance for Youth Aliyah, at a luncheon held at the Waldorf Astoria on March 26, 1936, Cantor announced that he had raised $4,400 and that he would continue to work for the organization. (46) He met often with Hadassah leaders to develop a fundraising campaign in which Cantor addressed "small picked gatherings" of potential donors around the country. He also promised to "secure contributions from the Hollywood world," an audience that Hadassah had not been able to reach. (47) In several cities, Cantor drew on his network of friends and businessmen for pledges, making all arrangements and paying travel expenses for these meetings himself. However, Cantor did not focus exclusively on big donors. Recognizing the realities of fundraising during the Depression, he employed the strategy he turned to later with the March of Dimes, soliciting smaller contributors both in person and over the air. Cantor pledged "to go to any city for [Hadassah] and address any function where the sponsorship of a minimum of ten children [$3,600] will have been underwritten prior to his arrival." In fact, Cantor's events generated up to $20,000. (48) "He is a truly great and generous person who has been deeply moved by the appeal of the Youth Aliyah work," wrote Marian G. Greenberg, Hadassah's first national Youth Aliyah chairman, in a letter to a colleague. (49) At the time, it was very unusual for one of America's biggest celebrities to crisscross the country to meet with local chapters of a relatively small religious charity, though it later became more common for touring artists to engage in this kind of grassroots work. Cantor recognized that Hadassah offered him an infrastructure for raising funds at the local level. He did not need to confine himself to large meetings in New York and Los Angeles.

Whereas radio networks and sponsors vetted Cantor's commercial broadcasts, he had much more freedom to raise funds and speak about the European situation in his unsponsored appearances on Youth Aliyah appeals. Stations made airtime available to Hadassah, the United Palestine Appeal, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and other Jewish organizations as a public service. The networks apparently did not monitor this content closely, perhaps because the programs were unsponsored, aired during unpopular times in the broadcast schedule (usually Sunday afternoons), and did not attract large audiences. Still, speakers such as Rabbi Stephen S. Wise used this national broadcast time to promote anti-Nazi and pro-Zionist politics, as did Cantor. (50) From 1936 to 1943, Cantor made at least five national network radio appeals, increasing the recognition of Hadassah's work among Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. (51) In mid-1938, he also paid for large advertisements in The New York Times and Variety to support Youth Aliyah, emphasizing that this "appeal is urgent" and asking readers to mail checks directly to him at his respective New York and California addresses. (52) Later that year, Cantor launched a highly publicized tour of England, raising a staggering $500,000 in fifteen days. Cantor reported on his trip in a telegram to Henrietta Szold, Hadassah's iconic co-founder and longtime president, who was coordinating activities for Youth Aliyah in Palestine. He wanted his efforts to serve "as some slight indication of hope to our people." Szold recognized Cantor's commitment to the cause as well as his fundraising prowess, writing to Greenberg, "The man is a wizard!" (53)

As Cantor's telegram to Szold suggests, he saw his role as both a fundraiser and a source of strength to Jews. Cantor recognized that he needed to project intelligence, maturity, and stability, so he decided not to perform songs and comedy during his Hadassah appearances. Instead, he used Youth Aliyah to deliver serious messages, appropriate for both the subject and a performer who wanted to add nuance and gravity to a more familiar comic persona. Greenberg described Cantor's Youth Aliyah appearances: "There has never been any admission charge, nor would Mr. Cantor lend himself to that kind of solicitation. In other words, he would not "perform' to a gathering in order to raise money for the Youth Aliyah. He does not go before his audiences, be they men or women, in the guise of an entertainer, but makes a ten or fifteen minute appeal for their support by giving them facts and figures." (54)

Cantor was apologetic during his first Youth Aliyah address in March 1936, warning his audience, "If you came here thinking you were going to have a great deal of fun out of Eddie Cantor, you are in for a disappointment. With what we have facing us right now and in the very near future, it would be sacrilege to tell you jokes that you can hear on the radio every Sunday night anyway." (55) In an October 1936 talk that was broadcast nationally on CBS radio, Cantor recognized that he was using his star skills in a new forum: a speech before a religious organization that was airing as a public service. What's more, he was selling political ideas rather than sponsor products: "It's a bit strange that I should be talking on the radio without attempting to sell coffee or toothpaste or gasoline, but on second thought, I have something else to sell and there are many, many people who should buy." (56) The public usually encountered Cantor and other celebrities through their acting roles and press pieces generated by network and studio publicists, but Cantor presented his Youth Aliyah work as more personal and authentic: a glimpse of the real man behind the comic image. By adapting his persona to the gravity of the times, Cantor was both anticipating and modeling new ways for celebrities to promote social and political causes through serious speeches.

Cantor's talks had a practical, tactical purpose: to raise money that was used to support immigration. Cantor used his acting skills and familiar public image to engage people. Audiences were accustomed to hearing him as a trusted advocate for children and a passionate, sentimental spokesperson for charities. In his Youth Aliyah appeals, Cantor typically put a human face on the dollars that he solicited, reminding his audience that every $360 supported the rescue of a young Jewish boy or girl. He also related moving stories of endangered children to communicate the horrific threat that the world faced. However, Cantor's political priorities were slightly different from Hadassah's. In its organizational appeals, Hadassah stressed the value of the education and training that Youth Aliyah participants received in Palestine. In contrast, Cantor used his Hadassah platform to sound alarms regarding the dangers facing Jews in Europe and America. Cantor presciently recognized that his effort was about more than saving individual Jewish lives or settling Palestine. The spiritual survival of his people was at stake. For example, in August 1938, Cantor delivered a radio speech that was broadcast nationally upon his return from his European fundraising trip. He described Jewish children growing up with an "intense hatred for their parents because they were born Jews. With ostracism, persecution, and danger to life and limb the daily lot of Jewish children in Germany and Austria, is it any wonder that a whole generation of these Jewish children have forgotten what it means to laugh and to play." (57)

This was a war. The stakes were immeasurably high. If American Jews appeared weak in opposing the Nazis abroad, he believed they would soon face Hitlerism at home. Cantor, no longer the meek movie patsy, was ready. In fact, from the time of his initial March 1936 talk at the Waldorf Astoria, Cantor continued to sound themes about the Nazi threat to Americans, especially American Jews. In his first Youth Aliyah speech, Cantor warned, "Anything that you do for the Jews on the other side is insurance for you here in America. They are waiting for us, those antisemitic groups here and all over the world, to see whether or not we fail there, and we dare not fail." Cantor also spoke about American Nazi threats on his life. These attempts to intimidate Cantor increased over the next few years, provoking several FBI investigations. For Cantor, the threats were proof of the truth and danger of his message urging international Jewish solidarity. "They are threatening me only for one reason," he said. "Because I believe that the Jews must have some form of unity." (58)

In describing the magnitude of the battle, Cantor argued that Germany was bankrolling the Nazi movement in America and using prominent Americans to spread propaganda. At a luncheon given to recognize Cantor's work with Youth Aliyah on August 3, 1938, Cantor asserted that the Nazi government had "reached people in the highest places" in America and the Nazis were doing "a good job" of spreading propaganda over American airwaves and presses. As an example of Nazi influence and propaganda, he cited Henry Ford's acceptance of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest decoration given to foreigners, four days earlier. "Mr. Henry Ford, in my opinion, is a damned fool permitting the world's greatest gangster to give him this citation," Cantor said. "Doesn't he realize that the German papers, reporting the citation, said all Americans were behind Nazism? Whose side is Mr. Ford on? I question Mr. Ford's Americanism and his Christianity." While Ford was receiving his medal from German consular representatives in Detroit, Cantor was aboard the S.S. Normandie, returning from his fundraising tour of Great Britain. (59) The dangers of Germany and its propaganda machine may have been on Cantor's mind even more than usual when he delivered his address to Hadassah and other supporters.

The idea that a Jewish comedian from the East Side of New York would question the patriotism and Christianity of a heroic Midwestern capitalist was offensive to many people. In fact, Cantor received and saved approximately fifty letters from writers expressing their anger over his criticism of Ford. The letters serve as powerful evidence of the kinds of antisemitism directed toward Cantor. Several defended Ford's decision to accept the Nazi medal as a business decision and claimed that Cantor's criticism of Ford would provoke additional antisemitism in America. Some writers, including a few who identified themselves as Jews, seemed concerned about this potential backlash and presented their comments as friendly advice. One man praised Ford as "one of the greatest living Americans." He advised Cantor, "You are doing the Jewish people a great disservice by your remarks... Let's not start anything that may lead to a hatred of the Jews in America." (60) Others relished the possibility that the situation Jews faced in Germany would be replicated in America. A typical writer ended his rant against Cantor and Jews, "Your [sic] just a clown and a poor one ... and you try to tell Mr. Ford what to do. I hope the day comes and it isn't far away when the people of the United States will know the truth and act accordingly. As soon as you're wiped off the globe, the better it is for the other race." (61)

Many lectured Cantor about why Jews were unpopular all over the world, repeating stereotypes about the manners, ethics, and business practices of Jews. Cantor's questioning of Ford's "Americanism" seemed to strike a particular nerve with this group of people. Several attacked Cantor's allegiance to the United States, linking Jews with Russians and communists. Others were incensed that Cantor had criticized Ford shortly after traveling abroad in support of European Jews, rather than Americans who needed help during the Depression. One person wrote, "What I can't understand is your running over to England raising money for German and Polish Jews and then come back here and attack Ford who is putting American men to work to make a living. That's your answer why we have so many anti-Jew movements in this country. You boys bring it on yourselves." (62) Throughout his professional life, Cantor prided himself on his patriotism as well as his ability to win the approval of public audiences and critics, yet now he was receiving antisemitic hate mail. Cantor may have wondered if the letters indicated that a larger segment of the public was turning against both him and the Jewish people.

Some of the hate mail went to Cantor's network and his sponsor. It is not clear whether CBS or R.J. Reynolds spoke with Cantor about the mail, which included threats to boycott the program and the sponsor's Camel cigarettes. However, this public response reveals how Cantor's political activity and his stage persona converged. Cantor himself blurred the lines between activism and commercialism by regularly delivering anti-Nazi quips and impromptu speeches during informal performances before and after the thirty-minute broadcasts. Network and advertising agency executives did not silence Cantor because these comments did not air and, for the most part, did not attract attention. (63) However, Cantor's post-broadcast jokes about Hitler caused him trouble after his March 27, 1939 program. Cantor performed a satirical routine in which he imagined a conversation between a rabbi and Hitler. During the routine, an audience member, Charles Gollob, began to heckle Cantor. Gollob then caused a further commotion when he and his wife, Elsie, left the studio theater while Cantor was still on stage. The Gollobs claimed that they were then beaten and called "Nazis" by two or three men (accounts differed) outside the studio. One of the alleged assailants was a comedian on Cantor's show, Bert Gordon, who played the "Mad Russian." The trade press and daily newspapers widely covered the initial skirmish and the Gollobs' subsequent call for criminal battery charges against Gordon. After the district attorney's office refused to issue a complaint, the Gollobs remained in the spotlight by bringing a $751,000 civil lawsuit against Gordon, Cantor, CBS, and sponsor R.J. Reynolds. (64)

Cantor and the other parties in the lawsuit suffered no legal damages; nevertheless, the episode further politicized Cantor's public image and created additional friction between Cantor and his employers. Cantor's remarks about Hitler, coupled with the alleged assault of audience members, were "very disgusting to the broadcasting company officials and he [Cantor] is becoming increasingly unpopular in radio circles," according to an FBI informant who worked in the radio industry. The FBI source also anticipated Cantor's future problems with his sponsor, disclosing that R.J. Reynolds wanted to cancel Cantor's contract immediately after the Gollob incident, but that it was not legally able to do so. (65)

Hate mail and threats of boycotts following the Gollob incident offered CBS and R.J. Reynolds evidence that Cantor was alienating listeners and generating too much controversy. Several letter writers saw themselves as protectors of the Gollobs, "good Americans" who were victims of Jewish aggression. An "anti-Jew organizer" wrote to Cantor, "The thing that happened last night is the best thing that could have happened, when your henchmen beat up two good white people, to wake up the Christian people to run all you Hebes back where you belong--the middle of the ocean." Others charged that Cantor was no better than Hitler in the way he treated those who disagreed with him. One man wrote, "No Nazi storm-trooper ever administered a more callous beating, or with less provocation." Another saw the alleged altercation as an example of "how intolerant your anti-Hitler crowd can be. You can't speak against Hitler in Germany and you can't speak for him in Hollywood." (66)

Throughout the late 1930s, Cantor found a haven in the Jewish community and its newspapers, which were filled with articles covering his work with Youth Aliyah, including detailed accounts of his speeches. Commentators praised Cantor's strength and success, sometimes making a distinction between his on-air performances and his off-air political activities. A Pittsburgh Jewish Criterion tribute, published in 1937 to commemorate Cantor's twenty-fifth anniversary in show business, chronicled the celebrity's work fighting antisemitism. "To Jewry and its institutions, he [Cantor] has given time, money, thought, and selfless service, for Cantor's record of participation in and help to things Jewish is unsurpassed by any other figure in the entertainment world." (67) In a weekly column from 1938, Jewish Criterion editor Milton K. Susman wrote that although he was not a fan of Cantor's work on theater, screen, or radio, he was raising his voice "in a loud huzzah for the magnificent work he [Cantor] has done to help relieve the suffering of our sorely harassed people in other parts of the world." (68) The Boston Jewish Advocate lamented, "Few people know the humane, gentle, earnest Eddie Cantor. They do not see beneath the wise-cracker's shell. He is a courageous American ... a generous Jew." (69)

The Jewish community's affirmation of his importance may have energized Cantor to continue speaking about the dangers of American Nazi propagandists. On the afternoon of June 13, 1939, Cantor addressed the New York chapter of Hadassah at the World's Fair Temple of Religion. Though the talk was not broadcast, daily newspapers covered it and the Jewish press published a transcript of the speech under Cantor's byline. Cantor warned, "The whole business now going on over there [Germany] can be transferred over here. Some people have told me that I seem to be getting a little panicky ... They don't know what important industrialists are behind this business." Cantor identified Father Coughlin and Senator Robert Rice Reynolds of North Carolina in particular as two public figures supported by industrialists. "These men," he continued, referring to the figures behind Coughlin and Reynolds, "are the enemies of not only the Jews, but of all Americans." (70) Cantor did not name the prominent industrialists who threatened to bring Nazism to America and England or provide supporting evidence for his accusation. Moreover, Coughlin still had an active and vigilant following in 1939 and Cantor probably did not endear himself to the powers at R.J. Reynolds, the North Carolina-based tobacco company that sponsored his program, by singling out the state's junior senator. In short, Cantor may have gone too far.

Two weeks after Cantor's World's Fair speech, the radio season ended. R.J. Reynolds and the William Esty advertising agency announced that they would not renew Cantor's contract for his "Camel Caravan" radio program, even though he still attracted a large audience. Cantor averaged a 20.1 rating during the 1938-1939 season, making his show the twelfth-highest ranked program on radio, and he placed highly in a June 1939 Radio Guide poll of more than 700,000 listeners. (71) There was surprisingly little press coverage of R.J. Reynolds' decision to drop Cantor, and no explanation for this decision in the major daily newspapers and trade journals. The only speculation about the reason for the firing appeared in the Jewish press. Show business columnist Phineas J. Biron, probably alluding to Cantor's charges against Senator Reynolds, wrote, "It will be denied, and we'll never be able to prove our contention, but we have more than a suspicion that the reason why Eddie Cantor and his radio sponsor, Camel cigarettes, have split had something to do with Cantor's attack on the un-Americanism of a well-known figure who, in turn, has some connections with Camels." (72) Cantor did not comment publicly at the time, but looking back on the event, he had no doubt that he was taken off the air because of his politics. In his 1957 autobiography, Cantor wrote that the World's Fair address "not only cost me $585,000, but threatened my radio career for good." (73) Cantor missed the entire 1939-1940 radio season, becoming one of the first radio or TV performers to lose work because of his progressive politics.

In July 1939, Camel premiered a situation comedy, "Blondie," based on the popular comic strip and film series. Intended as a summer replacement for Cantor's Monday evening program, it ran on radio for eleven years. (74) R.J. Reynolds continued to sponsor another network program, "Camel Caravan" with Benny Goodman, which moved from CBS to NBC starting with the 1939-1940 season. Both programs were cheaper to produce and may have seemed fresher to audiences than Cantor's show. More importantly, these shows did not feature an outspoken star who threatened network and sponsor corporate images by expressing controversial political views.

During his forced exile from commercial network radio from June 1939 to October 1940, Cantor remained busy. He headlined theaters nationally with a show that included several members of his radio cast. Cantor also shot a new film, "Forty Little Mothers," in which, for the first time, he played a mature figure: a smart and sincere teacher. In an interview with The New York Times, Cantor welcomed the opportunity to portray a character his own age, rather than "striving for youth in a romance with a girl who could be his granddaughter." (75) Cantor made a handful of radio appearances during these sixteen months, mostly in unsponsored blockbuster tributes to other stars and charity benefits. The comedic highlight of this period was a short skit on a New Year's Eve 1939 "Gulf Screen Guild Theatre" in which Cantor parodied his dull and desperate life without a radio sponsor. (76)


Now off the air, Cantor kept a lower profile in his anti-Nazi efforts. He did nothing more with the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League or other political organizations. In addition, he curtailed his fundraising for Hadassah and other groups that promoted Zionism or opposed Hitler under a Jewish banner. Cantor also toned down the rhetoric about domestic Nazism that had incited audience members and sponsors. Yet, despite the risks to his career, Cantor did not abandon the anti-Nazi fight during his time in broadcast exile: He merely tempered it. In August 1939, for example, 1,000 people attended a benefit carnival for Jewish refugees held at Cantor's Great Neck, Long Island estate. Cantor was not among the participants. (77)

On May 10, 1940, Cantor signed a contract for a new radio show, to begin in the fall, sponsored by Bristol-Meyers. Cantor's old friend Jack Benny, radio's biggest star, helped him return to prime time. Benny asked his former producer Tom Harrington, the vice president in charge of radio for the Young and Rubicam advertising agency, to offer Cantor a contract. The agency expressed reservations about employing Cantor because of his politics. As it prepared to launch the new Cantor show, Bill Thomas, Young and Rubicam's publicity director, wrote a long memo to Harrington, listing the "distinct handicaps" in promoting Cantor. Thomas maintained, "Cantor's non-comedy activities of recent years have tended to present him as a serious-minded person, making it difficult for listeners to appreciate him as a person to be laughed at. These activities include his work for war refugees." Thomas also lamented Cantor's "unfortunate attack on Father Coughlin." Working with Cantor's personal publicist and representatives from NBC, Young & Rubicam decided to "present Cantor to the public strictly as a funny man, and [to] try to avoid any publicity that would indicate that Cantor ever has a serious thought or is guilty of a serious deed." The agency insisted: "If Cantor does some kind deed for the poor, or for the war refugees, etc., it should be in private and without publicity." (78) While Thomas's memo reflected industry concerns about political activity in general, and Cantor in particular, the agency publicist may have been overly anxious in anticipating negative publicity from Cantor's political activity. By the summer of 1940, many Americans shared Cantor's views about Nazi Germany.

After Cantor secured the new radio deal, he began to speak more freely about politics. Though he was not as strident in his criticisms of Hitler and Nazism as he had been earlier, Cantor still reminded audiences of the urgent world situation and cautiously resumed activities under a Jewish banner. For example, Cantor told the press during a July 1940 stop in Atlantic City that antisemitism and other "hates" weaken America and would make it easier for a dictator to "conquer" this country. In November 1940, at a benefit for the Zionist Mizrachi Women's Organization of America, Cantor announced that he was "devoting all his time to refugee work and to the Bundles for Britain," a relief organization with no religious or political affiliation. Cantor planned to open his home estate to 100 British children who were being sent to America to escape Nazi bombing. "We must do all we can to aid what looks like the next-to-last democracy," Cantor said, though he was also clear that "we should never send troops." By October 1941, Cantor was ready to don a hoopskirt in front of 17,000 people at Madison Square Garden as part of an act with his friend Jack Benny. They were among the many celebrities participating in the "Fun to Be Free" rally for military intervention against Germany. (79)

Cantor steered clear of politics on the air from the time his new NBC program premiered in October 1940 until after America entered World War Two, when jokes and comments about Hitler and Germany became acceptable to networks, sponsors, and audiences. In an interview published on December 21, 1941, Cantor recognized that "things are different now." For the first time, he went on the record about why he had lost his sponsorship, still angry at those who drove him from broadcasting, "I was off the air for a year, though, for saying the kinds of things everybody is begging me to say these days. In my broadcasts I used to tell people that Hitler would strike us when it suited him. Well, he has. Was I right?" After seeing The New York Herald Tribune interview, Cantor's old friend James G. McDonald, perhaps the most prominent and respected American advocate for Jewish refugees during the 1930s, sent Cantor a telegram expressing "delight" in the reference to "your earlier experience when farsighted denunciation of hitler led to your withdrawal from the air ... those of us who in those days foresaw the menace were stigmatized as war mongers." (80)

By 1941, Cantor's image transformation was complete. He had emerged from broadcast exile as a figure known as much for his politics as he was for his comedy and singing. He was no longer the lightweight, juvenile movie star of the mid-1930s. Within a few years, Cantor had become a mature show business veteran, a selfless humanitarian, and a prescient political activist. Cantor's involvement in Youth Aliyah facilitated this change, as did his work with other charities and his choices of material to perform on stage, record, radio, and film. Nevertheless, the fact that Hadassah and Youth Aliyah ultimately helped Cantor accomplish professional goals does not diminish his courage and accomplishments. Cantor could have supported a number of causes, candidates, unions, or charities in order to demonstrate his maturity and altruism. He risked his career in speaking for and about the plight of Jews and antisemitism at a time when this issue was especially controversial and unpopular with many Americans, including powerful figures in broadcasting and politics. Cantor's principled and skillful campaign to save Jewish refugees and oppose Hitler during the 1930s illustrated some of the possibilities as well as the dangers of celebrities engaging in progressive politics from an explicitly Jewish, Zionist perspective.

(1.) The author thanks the following people for their assistance accessing archival materials: Mih Larsen (Magic Castle), Meg Bausman, Heather Halliday (American Jewish Historical Society), Carol Marie, Jennifer Porst, and Susan Woodland (American Jewish Historical Society). Thanks, also, to friends and colleagues who provided feedback on this article at different stages of development.

(2.) Marlin Levin, Balm in Gilead: The Story of Hadassah (New York: Schocken Books, 1973), 130; Marian H. Greenberg, There Is Hope For Your Children (New York: Hadassah, 1986), 96.

(3.) "New Yorker Re-elected President of Hadassah," The New York Times, Nov 3, 1938; Marian G. Greenberg, There is Hope, 96.

(4.) Joel W. Finler, The Hollywood Story (New York: Crown Publishers, 1988), 276. Precise box-office figures are difficult to determine, but Finler's research suggests that Cantor's films were among the most popular from this time period.

(5.) Eddie Cantor with David Freedman, My Life, Is In Your Hands, in My Life Is In Your Hands & Take My Life: The Autobiographies of Eddie Cantor (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1928; New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000), 285. Citations refer to the Cooper Square edition.

(6.) A. Scott Berg, Goldwyn: A Biography (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990), 255; "Cantor Walks On Goldwyn Antique, Looks Like Law," Variety [daily], July 28, 1936; "Cantor Ends Contract With 20th Over Story Material," Variety [daily], August 31, 1938; Gregory Koseluk, Eddie Cantor: A Life in Show Business (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1995), 276.

(7.) Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 127.

(8.) Henry L. Feingold, A Time For Searching: Entering the Mainstream 1920-1945 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 228; Gulie Ne'eman Arad, America, Its Jews, and the Rise of Nazism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000), 182. The historiography about American response to the Holocaust is vast. Useful summaries of the literature include Rafael Medoff, "New Perspectives on How America, and American Jewry, Responded to the Holocaust," American Jewish History 84, no. 3 (1996), 253-66; Steven Bayme, "American Jewish Leadership Confronts the Holocaust: Revisiting Naomi Cohen's Thesis and the American Jewish Committee," American Jewish Archives Journal 61, no. 2 (2009), , 63-86.

(9.) Stephen J. Whitfield, "The Politics of Pageantry, 1936-1946," American Jewish History 84, no. 3 (1996), 221.

(10.) Feingold, A Time For Searching, 235; William Orbach, "Shattering the Shackles of Powerlessness: The Debate Surrounding the Anti-Nazi Boycott of 1933-1941," Modern Judaism 2, no. 2 (1982), 160-65.

(11.) Max Hart, letter to J.J. Shubert, February 9, 1921, General Correspondence 1910-1936, Shubert Archives, New York, NY.

(12.) "35,000 Hear Stars to Aid Reich Jews," The New York Times, Sept 21, 1934; "'Night of Stars Will Aid U.J.A. Campaign," New Palestine, September 27, 1935; "'Night of Stars' Huge Success," New Palestine, October 4, 1935.

(13.) "Death Toll Mounts in Germany," Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 12, 1934, JTA Jewish News Archive, germany.

(14.) "Cantor Explains Success Theory," Jewish Telegraphic Agency, January 14, 1935, JTA Jewish News Archive, theory-as-he-takes-europe-by-storm; "Catholic Guild Show Raises $14,000 Fund," The New York Times, February 18, 1935.

(15.) "Religion: Cantor on Coughlin," Time, July 13, 1935, 43; Sheldon Marcus, Father Coughlin: The Tumultuous Life of the Priest of the Little Flower (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1973), 97; "Jews' Status Precarious, Cantor Warns Lodgemen," Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1935.

(16.) "Religion: Cantor on Coughlin"; "Jews' Status Precarious, Cantor Warns Lodgemen."

(17.) The July 23, 1936 rally was sponsored by the Hollywood League Against Nazism, a precursor to the HANL. "Nazi Policies Rapped By Filmites at H'wood Meet," Variety [daily], July 24, 1936; "10,000 Pack Shrine For Anti-Nazi Meet," Variety [daily], October 21, 1936. According to publicity before the event, Cantor was scheduled to appear at two additional anti-Nazi functions in Los Angeles: an anniversary party for the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League held on August 5, 1937 and a rally sponsored by the Los Angeles Community Conference on Democracy, a coalition of one hundred organizations including the HANL, held on January 30, 1938. Media coverage of these events suggests that Cantor did not actually appear as announced, though a telegram from Cantor was read at the January 30, 1938 rally. See "'Million Dollar' Floor Show is Gay Spectacle," News of the World, August 7, 1937, pp. 1, 6; Phyllis Marie Arthur, "Gals and Gab," Variety [daily], August 6, 1937; "7000 Roar OK to Collective Action Against War-Makers," Hollywood Now, February 4, 1938.

(18.) Thomas Doherty, Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen & The Production Code Administration (New York: Columbia UP, 2007), 206-7.

(19.) Leonard Dinnerstein chronicles the association of Jews with communism during the 1930s in Anti-Semitism in America, 11 1-18; Steven Carr, Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History up to World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 154-81.

(20.) Saverio Giovacchini, Hollywood Modernism: Film and Politics in the Age of the New Deal (Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 2001), 104; Brownstein, The Power and the Glitter, 63.

(21.) NBC Continuity Acceptance Department, "Radio Is Human, Too!" unpublished report, April 1938, 17, History Files, NBC Collection, Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress (hereafter cited as NBC History Files).

(22.) On advertiser branding of stars, see Cynthia Barbara Meyers, "Admen and the Shaping of American Commercial Broadcasting, 1926-50" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2005), 169-70.

(23.) "Serious Side of Comedy," Variety [weekly], March 24, 1937; J. Fred MacDonald, Don't Touch That Dial (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979), 107; "Radio Is Human, Too!" 17; Robert West, The Rape of Radio, New York: Rodin Publishing Company, 1941), 250, Internet Archive, rapeofradiooowestrich_djvu.txt.

(24.) Edgar F. Magnin, "Jack Benny Drops in on Palestine," New Palestine, January 7, 1944, 183; Mary Livingstone Benny and Hilliard Marks with Marcia Borie, Jack Benny: A Biography (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), 140-51.

(25.) "Interpretation on NBC Policies as Applied to Broadcasts During the Current European War," pamphlet, circa 1939, NBC History Files; Erik Barnouw, The Golden Web: A History of Broadcasting in the United States, Volume II: 1933 to 1953 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 137.

(26.) See John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 492; "Inside Stuff--Radio," Variety [daily], May 3, 1939; correspondence among NBC executives from 1937 to 1940 in "Walter Winchell" file, NBC History Files.

(27.) Howard Blue, Words at War: World War II Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2002), 75-95; David Weinstein, "Why Sarnoff Slept: NBC and the Holocaust," in NBC: America's Network, ed. Michele Hilmes (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 106-11. "The Goldbergs" episode aired April 3, 1939. Glenn D. Smith, Jr., Something On My Own: Gertrude Berg and American Broadcasting, 1929-1956 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2007), 77-81; Vincent Brook, "The Americanization of Molly: How Mid-Fifties TV Homogenized "The Goldbergs' (And Got 'Berg-lerized' in the Process)," Cinema Journal 38:4 (Summer 1999), 54; Michele Hilmes, "The Goldbergs," Museum of Broadcast Communications, Encyclopedia of Television, php?entrycode=goldbergsth

(28.) The first performance was on "The Fleischmann Yeast Hour," hosted by Rudy Vallee, April 23, 1936. The other broadcast dates, on Cantor's program, were November 15, 1936; March 28, 1938; and March 13, 1939.

(29.) John Bush Jones, The Songs That Fought The War (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2006), 57; MacDonald, Don't Touch That Dial, 108.

(30.) "The Eddie Cantor Show," CBS, November 15, 1936, MP3 file, author's collection.

(31.) See Charles W. Hurd, "Roosevelt Denounces War and Breakers of Pledge," The New York Times, August 15, 1936; "The President on Peace," New York Times, August 15, 1936; "President Roosevelt's Chautauqua Address on International Affairs," The New York Times, August 15, 1936.

(32.) "The Eddie Cantor Show," CBS, December 20, 1936, MP3 file, author's collection.

(33.) Eddie Cantor's "Camel Caravan," CBS, November 21, 1938, p.30A, unpublished script, Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) Collections, Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, University of California San Francisco (hereafter cited as Legacy Tobacco Documents),

(34.) Eddie Cantor's "Camel Caravan," CBS, May 2, 1938, p.36, unpublished script, Legacy Tobacco Documents,

(35.) "President Franklin D. Roosevelt Reads a Telegram From Eddie Cantor," track 20, on "Pals: Eddie Cantor and George Jessel," produced by Brian Gari, Original Cast OC-9918, 1999, compact disc.

(36.) Felix Belair, Jr., "Roosevelt Carves Turkey, Not Map," The New York Times, November 25, 1938.

(37.) Two Cantor biographers claim that the sponsor's advertising agency, William Esty & Company, banned the Thanksgiving joke from Cantor's radio broadcast, but the evidence for this claim is not provided. See Koseluk, Eddie Cantor, 365 and Herbert Goldman, Banjo Eyes (New York: Oxford UP, 1997), 205. A recording of the live broadcast is not available. The R.J. Reynolds company files include a copy of the program script, cited above, with the joke intact.

(38.) See correspondence in "Eddie Cantor," PPF 1018, President's Personal File, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY (hereafter cited as PPF 1018).

(39.) David M. Oshinsky, Polio: An American Story (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 39; Franklin D. Roosevelt to Eddie Cantor, November 29, 1933, PPF 1018.

(40.) Oshinsky, Polio, 55; Ira R. T. Smith, Dear Mr. President ... The Story of My Fifty Years in the White House (New York: Julian Messnep, 1949), 155, HathiTrust Digital Library,; "Hollywood Inside," Variety [daily], January 27, 1938; Scott M. Cutlip, Fund Raising in the United States: Its Role in America's Philanthropy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1965; New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990), 386. Citations refer to Transaction edition; Eddie Cantor with Jane Kesner Ardmore, Take My Life, in My Life Is In Your Hands & Take My Life: The Autobiographies of Eddie Cantor (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957; New York: Cooper Square Press, 2000), 198-200. Citations refer to the Cooper Square edition.

(41.) Eddie Cantor to Marvin H. McIntyre, January 12, 1939, PPF 1018.

(42.) M. H. McIntyre, memo to Sumner Welles, January 18, 1939, PPF 1018; Welles' response was sent under McIntyre's signature. See M. H. McIntyre to Eddie Cantor, January 27, 1939, PPF 1018. For more on the Wagner-Rogers Bill, including the significance of Welles' response to Cantor, see Arthur Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York: Random House, 1968), 252-69

(43.) Sandra Berliant Kadosh, "Ideology vs. Reality: Youth Aliyah and the Rescue of Jewish Children During the Holocaust Era 1933-1945" (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1995), I; Greenberg, There is Hope, 4; Brian D. Amkraut, "Let Our Children Go: Youth Aliyah in Germany 1931-1939" (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 2000), 267-69; Erica B. Simmons, Hadassah and the Zionist Project (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefeld, 2006), 118.

(44.) Simmons, Hadassah, 123-24.

(45.) Cutlip, Fund Raising, 297-317.

(46.) Marian G. Greenberg to Henrietta Szold, April 3, 1936, Archives of Youth Aliyah: 1933-1960, Record Group 1, Hadassah Archives at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY (hereafter cited as Youth Aliyah archives); Levin, Balm in Gilead, 120, 130.

(47.) Greenberg to Szold, April 3, 1936. Youth Aliyah archives.

(48.) "Extract from a letter outlining the conditions under which Mr. Cantor will visit any city on behalf of the Youth Aliyah Movement," letter to Hadassah chapter presidents, circa 1936, Youth Aliyah archives; Marian G. Greenberg to Eva Stern, November 16, 1936, Youth Aliyah archives; Marian G. Greenberg to Hedwig Epstein, April 5, 1938, Youth Aliyah archives.

(49.) Greenberg to Stern, November 16, 1936.

(50.) Zev Zahavy, "A History and Survey of Jewish Religious Broadcasting," (Ph.D. dissertation, Yeshiva University, 1959), 148-85.

(51.) The programs aired on October 20, 1936, August 2, 1938, June 29, 1943, and July 9, 1943.

(52.) On The New York Times ad, see Henrietta Szold to Marian G. Greenberg, May 24, 1938, Youth Aliyah archives. Ads for Youth Aliyah, sponsored by Cantor, appeared in The New York Times, April 11, 1938 and Variety [daily], June 25, 1938.

(53.) Hadassah, untitled press release, July 29, 1938, Youth Aliyah archives; Hadassah, "Hadassah Honors Eddie Cantor For Youth Aliyah Work," press release, August 3, 1938, Youth Aliyah archives; Henrietta Szold to Marian G. Greenberg, August 1, 1938, Youth Aliyah archives. Cantor's telegram is quoted in Szold's letter.

(54.) Greenberg to Stern, November 16, 1936.

(55.) Eddie Cantor, "No Time for Jokes!: A Humorist Gets Serious," Youngstown Jewish Times, April 3, 1936, The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hereafter cited as Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project. =CRI_1936_087_021_04031936&file=0054. This article also appeared in the (Boston) Jewish Advocate, April 3, 1936.

(56.) Youth Aliyah, CBS, October 20, 1936, tape LWO 5265 1A1-2, Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress.

(57.) Simmons, Hadassah, 126. "Eddie Cantor, in Radio Appeal, Calls Upon Americans to Assist Victims of Nazi Oppression to Find Homes Elsewhere," (Pittsburgh) Jewish Criterion, August 5, 1938, Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, CRI_1938_092_013_0805 1938&file-004.

(58.) Cantor, "No Time for Jokes!," 54; Hadassah, "Eddie Cantor Pledges Aid For German-Jewish Children," press release, March 27, 1936, Youth Aliyah archives; also see Federal Bureau of Investigation, Freedom of Information/Privacy Acts Section, "Eddie Cantor," File Number: 26544, (hereafter cited as Cantor-FBI); "Cantor Says Nazi Threaten His Life," Hollywood Reporter, September 1, 1938; Walter Winchell, The Jergens Journal, WJZ, November 14, 1937, unpublished script, Blue network Master Books, NBC Collection, Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress.

(59.) Nazi Honor to Ford Stirs Cantor's Ire," The New York Times, August 4, 1938; Goldman, Banjo Eyes, 199-200.

(60.) M. E. Rozelle, letter to Cantor, August 5, 1938, Larsen collection.

(61.) Lotz, letter to Cantor, August 8, 1938, Larsen collection.

(62.) A. Burt, letter to Cantor, August 5, 1938, Larsen collection.

(63.) "In Progressive Hollywood," Hollywood Now, June 11, 1938.

(64.) "Cantor Joke About Hitler Starts Fight," Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1939; "Hollywood Inside," Variety [daily], March 28, 1939; "Mild Riot Occurs During Eddie Cantor Broadcast," The Palm Beach Post, March 29, 1939; "Cantor Aide May Go Free," Los Angeles Times, April 6, 1939; "Hollywood Pair Sue Cantor for $751,000 Damages," Washington Post, August 1, 1939; Koseluk, Eddie Cantor, 366. The episode received no more publicity after the Gollobs announced that they had filed a lawsuit on July 31, 1939. This lack of additional press coverage suggests that the civil case did not go to trial.

(65.) R.B. Hood to Director [J. Edgar Hoover], memorandum, April 4, 1939, "Eddie Cantor, Part 1 of 6," Cantor-FBI.

(66.) Unsigned card to Cantor, March 28, 1939; Jerry P. Marshall, letter to Cantor, March 30, 1939; A. Carroll, postcard to Cantor, n.d. All letters in Larsen collection.

(67.) Louis Pekarsky, "The Jew in Eddie Cantor," (Pittsburgh) Jewish Criterion, October 22, 1937, Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, cgi?layout=volo/parto/copyo&call=CRI_1937_090_024_10221937&file=0003.

(68.) Milton K. Susman, "As I See It," (Pittsburgh) Jewish Criterion, August 5, 1938, Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, http.// cgi?layout=volo/parto/copyo&call=CRI_1938_092_013-08051938&file=0007.

(69.) "Eddie Cantor, "The One-Man Americanism Campaign," (Boston) Jewish Advocate, July 7, 1939, ellipses in original.

(70.) Eddie Cantor, "In the Temple of Religion: I See a Challenge to Humanity," (Pittsburgh) Jewish Criterion, June 23, 1939, Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, http.// CRI_1939_094_007_0 6231939&file=0002; "Cantor Warns Jews at Fair's Hadassah Day," New York Herald Tribune, June 14, 1939; Goldman, Banjo Eyes, 210-21. For more on Reynolds, including his antisemitism, see Julian M. Pleasants, Buncombe Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Rice Reynolds (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2000), passim.

(71.) "Camels Stall on Ed. Cantor," Variety [weekly], June 21, 1939; "Camel Gives Cantor Go-By," Variety [weekly], 28 June 1939; Koseluk, Eddie Cantor, 366-74; "Most Popular Radio Stars Picked in Fan Poll," Broadcasting, July 1, 1939, 46. Cantor remained popular with listeners after he returned to radio, starting with the 1940-1941 season. See Harrison B. Summers, ed. "A Thirty-Year History of Programs Carried on National Radio Networks In The United States, 1926-1956," (1958; repr., New York: Arno Press, 1971), 91, 99, 107, 115; C. E. Hooper, Inc., "Hooperatings Pocket Piece," week of December 1-7, 1942, entry 96, OWI Records, National Archives, College Park, MD; Crossley, Inc., "C. A. B. Program Report," March 18-24, 1942 and April 8-14, 1942, vol. 13, report 3, entry 93, OWI Records.

(72.) Phineas J. Biron, "Strictly Confidential: Tidbits From Everywhere," (Pittsburgh) Jewish Criterion, July 7, 1939, Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project, http://pjn.library.cmu .edu/books/pages.cgi?layout=volo/parto/ copyo&call=CRI_1939_094_009_07071939&file=0005.

(73.) Cantor with Ardmore, Take My Life, 224-5.

(74.) Dunning, On the Air, 97.

(75.) "A Comic's Comeback," New York Times, March 24, 1940.

(76.) "Gulf Screen Guild Theatre," CBS, December 31, 1939, MP3 file, author's collection; Koseluk, Eddie Cantor, 367.

(77.) "1,000 Attend Benefit for Jewish refugees," The New York Times, August 27, 1939. This event may have been scheduled before Camel decided not to sponsor Cantor in June 1939.

(78.) Cantor with Ardmore, Take My Life, 224-5; Thomas to Harrington, August 15, 1940, unpublished memo, scrapbook, pf Ms. 2003.G3.1, Fred Allen Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library, Boston, MA. Parts of the memo are quoted in Robert Taylor, Fred Allen: His Life and Wit (Boston: Little Brown, 1989), 284-5.

(79.) "Cantorisms," Variety [weekly], July 17, 1940; "Cantor Expounds on America's Need for Real Good Laugh Right Now," Variety [weekly], November 20, 1940; Rafael Medoff, "Leo Durocher's View of Saddam Hussein," February 2003, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies,

(80.) Helen Ormsbee, "Cantor, Back After 12 Years, Plans New Role as a Producer," The New York Herald Tribune, December 21, 1941; McDonald, telegram to Cantor, December 23, 1941, James G. McDonald papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.
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Author:Weinstein, David
Publication:American Jewish History
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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