Jun 9, 2016

Eddie Cantor: The Craziest Reason for Gay Rumors

One of the cartoons I saw on Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat as a kid in the 1960s was Billboard Frolics (1935), which spoofed contemporary radio stars.  I didn't recognize any of them at the time, of course, but I was intrigued by a big-eyed, big-eared man who clapped his hands in a feminine fashion and sang:

Merrily we roll along, Rubinoff and me; when he plays his fiddle, I just go on a spree!
It's a cinch that every time I go on the air, I just look around and find old Rubinoff there.

This guy obviously had a crush on a violinist named Rubinoff!

Years later, when I was in college, an episode of Matinee at the Bijou featured the same guy, mincing and rolling his eyes as he sang "Making Whoopee," a cynical look at marriage: women snare their "victims" to get free room and board, and men spend the rest of their lives trying desperately to escape (Johnny Weissmuller pantomimed the unhappy "victim").

Who was this guy who had a crush on Rubinoff and disapproved of heterosexual marriage?

His name was Eddie Cantor (1892-1964), known as "Banjo Eyes" for his mincing, eye-rolling song-and-dance routines.  He got his start in Vaudeville, then moved into Broadway musical reviews, and had his own radio programs in the 1930s and 1940s (Violinist David Rubinoff was a frequent guest).

Cantor became a film star with Kid Boots (1926), and went on to Whoopee (1930), Roman Scandals (1933), Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), and many others.

He had a reasonably good physique for the 1930s (see top photo), but he was no muscleman, so he didn't provide any beefcake in his films.  However, he was often paired with muscular men, such as Paul Gregory (left) in Whoopee.

He never could resist peeking at pecs.

He probably wasn't gay, but his feminine mannerisms certainly code him as "queer."

And he was the subject of gay rumors for the craziest reason: he was the father of five daughters.  Thus drawing thirty years of gossip, speculation, jokes, and ridicule.  Why wasn't he "man" enough to have a son?  Was he gay?

Cantor turned the gossip around, and made his lack of "virility" a running gag on his radio program.

See also: Burns and Allen: Not the Marrying Kind

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