Fueled by my interest in the television series Boardwalk Empire, I have discovered the golden rolling 1920s and the fantastic comedian Eddie Cantor. The show features historical events with many characters based on real individuals (mostly East Coast gangsters active in the first half of the 20th century). With unbeatable genre fashion and film sets created meticulously according to visuals from historical postcards and photographs, the show reinvents the atmosphere and tastes of Atlantic City in the 1920s. Eddie Cantor, the American actor, singer, and songwriter, was very popular at the time. Played by the talented Stephen DeRosa, Eddie adds much authentic entertainment to the heavy drama. I have enjoyed many hearty laughs at his humorous songs and sarcastic jokes.
Then a number of happy coincidences occurred a few weeks ago. Here is the story.
While I was browsing our rare book backlog in the vault, I randomly picked up a book titled Between the Acts. Behold! This 1930 pocket size book was written by Eddie Cantor, and he had left an affectionate note on the book: “To my pal Bennie whose encouragement makes these things possible.” Imagine how thrilled I was at that moment, holding a book that Eddie himself had held and given to his close friend!
But, who is Bennie? Would it be Benjamin Holzman?
Then I opened the book sitting next to Between the Acts, which happened to be Ziegfeld: the Great Glorifier, a 1934 biography of Florenz Ziegfeld co-authored by Eddie Cantor and David Freedman. Voilà, another signed book from Eddie to Ben! Here he writes: “To Ben, my second wife. Love, Eddie.” What a classic Eddie humor! More so, the book was stamped “Return to B. F. Holzman” on the endpapers.
The pieces are coming together…
Recently I put the finding aid for the Benjamin Holzman Papers into the LINUS catalog, and I learned that Holzman was Eddie’s personal business manager during the 1930s. Eddie also worked closely with Florenz Ziegfeld on many theater endeavors. After a quick chat with Dr. Clay Stalls, our Manuscripts Curator who processed the Holzman Papers, he confirmed that Bennie or Ben was indeed Benjamin Holzman.
The Holzman Papers contain more materials relating to Eddie Cantor, such as theater programs, film stills, sheet music, and photographs of Eddie with his wife Ida and daughters. In fact, our senior student assistant Rachel Deras and Dr. Stalls have just worked on a Flickr project for this collection.