Don’t Wear Silver in the Winter

People always want to hear about stars and the lives they led in the Golden Age of Hollywood. You rarely know the people in their families and they are usually identified as the wife of said star. But in her book, Don’t Wear Silver in the Winter, Janet Cantor Gari, daughter of comedian Eddie Cantor, gives us an intimate look at Ida Tobias Cantor, a beautiful, no nonsense lady who showed that she was just as funny as her famous husband. Ida Tobias was the first child of David and Rachel Tobias to be born in New York in 1892 (three older sisters were born in Russia; the two youngest sisters were also born in New York). Growing up, Ida was athletic and popular at school. One day, while she was in the school yard, a young man peeked through the fence, saw her and fell in love immediately. It was Ida who convinced young Izzy Kanter that if he was going to be an actor, Eddie would be a more appropriate name. Married June 9, 1914, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon in London, where Eddie and his partner, Al Lee, were booked for a tour. Their oldest daughter, Margie, was conceived in London, and according to Ida, was the reason Margie had “the best enunciation in the family.” Four more daughters followed: Natalie, Edna, Marilyn and Janet. The first nine years of Janet’s life were split between Central Park in New York and summers spent in California. Ms. Gari fills her book with stories about growing up in California. Marilyn and Janet were raised more by their older sisters than by their mother. But there was plenty of special times spent with her mother, especially during shopping trips for school clothes, which would be followed by hot fudge sundaes. Ida was an expert seamstress, and often made the same dress for each daughter. She loved to crochet and knit, which she would do while she and Eddie sat in their living room watching television. An avid card player, Ida took her games very seriously. Eddie was banned from the games because he always made jokes whenever he was losing. When she was sixteen, Ms. Gari confided in her mother that she had a crush on comedian Danny Kaye. One evening, at a dinner party being held at Jack Benny’s house, Ida managed to get Danny in the den and engaged him in a conversation, allowing young Janet to gaze for a long time at Mr. Kaye while the two of them talked. Despite their wonderful life in California, Ms. Gari missed living in New York, and as soon as she graduated high school, she moved back. It was there that she met her future husband. They planned to elope to New Jersey, but her mother surprised them by showing up the day before the wedding. Ida arranged for their reception to be held at the Plaza. As the newlyweds got on the elevator to go to the reception, they were surprised to see Eddie, whom Ida had called the day before to make sure he was there for their daughter’s special day. Even though she could be very proper at times, Ida had a lot of fun at home with her family and friends. The Cantors were often invited to costume parties: once, she went as George Washington, and he went as Martha. She would say things that made everyone laugh, most of the time doing so unintentionally. Eddie was always playing jokes on her and she always went along with them good-naturedly. Eddie and Ida were very healthy, but when Eddie had a heart attack in 1952, things slowly began to go wrong. Ida didn’t let her own heart problems slow her down. But after the tragic death of their oldest daughter, Margie, in 1959, they both seemed to just give up. Ida passed away in 1962 and Eddie died just two years later. Don’t Wear Silver in the Winter is a daughter’s loving tribute to a mother who was complex at times, but always full of witty sayings, and who showed her children she loved them in her own special way. 

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