Dear MMD: In answer to Ed Berlin's query regarding Eddie Cantor's
blackface minstrel scene, it is featured in "Kid Millions" (Samuel
Goldwyn, '34) where Eddie sings "I Want To Be a Minstrel Man" and
"Mandy", along with George Murphy, Ethel Merman and Harriet Lake (soon
to be Ann Sothern). Cantor appeared in blackface in all of his movies,
except, I believe, "Strike Me Pink."
And if the innocuous representation of an authentic minstrel show
offends one in "Kid Millions" (currently available on VHS and laserdisc
on the Goldwyn Label), one would probably really be offended by
Cantor's portrayal of:
a black eunuch in a Roman bath in the '33 blockbuster "Roman
Scandals" with Ruth Etting and the beautiful Gloria Stuart (yeah,
his portrayal of a black cook in the '30 blockuster musical
"Whoopie" (with dance sequences directed by Busby Berkeley, and
featuring a 13-year old Betty Grabel);
a singing black waiter in the provocative '31 "Palmy Days",
again with sexy pre-code Berkeley dance numbers and Betty;
and his portrayal of yet another black singer lost in a sea of
Goldwyn Girl coeds in the '32 hit "The Kid From Spain", (Berkeley
numbers), co-starring the late Robert Young.
Regardless of these scenes, these movies should satisfy the musical
cravings of all MMDers as they feature some of the finest, snappiest
tunes from the very early sound musical era. As I say, I believe they
are innocuous entertainments, of their era, and taken in that light,
harmless if you have an open mind.
There is a better representation of minstrel shows, however, out on
video, and that is the MGM/UA VHS release of the 1930 musical "Mammy",
where star Al Jolson literally steals the show in a show all about
minstrels. It's an authentic, spectacular recreation of an era that has
Okay, so Jolson is in blackface throughout, but his electricity
just crackles through. Here him sing "Who Paid the Rent for Mrs.
Rip Van Winkle?" and "Why Do They Take the Nightboat to Albany?",
and just enjoy.
Unfortunately, even Jolson and Busby Berkeley pushed the envelope
in tasteless black stereotypes in the otherwise terrific "Wonderbar"
(WB, '34), with the beautiful Dolores Del Rio, and Dick Powell).
"Goin' to Heaven On a Mule", I believe, should be the example Mr. Berlin
should show his audience with regards to offensive black stereotypes
pushed to extremes that would never be seen again.
If you have not seen it, do so! It's available on laserdisc in
"The Jolson Collection" from Turner/MGM/UA, with a whopping,
over $100, price tag.