Friday, October 12, 2007
I've long admired his cocky attitude and herky-jerky movements, the epitome of rough and tumble manhood. Cagney's energetic acting style with staccato delivery and raspy voice became synonymous with the Hollywood "tough guy" role. Will Rogers once said of him, "Every time I see him work, it looks to me like a bunch of firecrackers going off all at once." He was a Warner Brothers mainstay for many years as the studio was setting the standard for crime drama (gangster flicks). He made 38 films for Warners between 1930 and 1941. However, Mr. Cagney was not content to play just one kind of part and proved his versatility by portraying George M. Cohan in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy, for which he won a well deserved Oscar for his singing and dancing, as well as his acting. He also was a great light comedian in such films as The Strawberry Blonde and The Bride Came C.O.D..
James Francis Cagney, Jr., born on July 17, 1899, was the child of an Irish father and Norwegian mother and was raised on New York's Lower Eastside. He did many odd jobs to support his family. He worked as a waiter, poolroom racker, and even as a female impersonator. He joined the chorus of the Broadway show Pitter-Patter and did a vaudeville tour with Frances, his wife. In the mid 1920's Cagney had begun to play leads on Broadway. He was quite successful in the musical Penny Arcade and was cast in the renamed film version Sinner's Holiday. He was signed to a contract by Warner Brothers and his role as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy made him a star. He went on to star in such classics as Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, White Heat, Love Me or Leave Me and Man of a Thousand Faces. He directed 1957's Short Cut to Hell. Cagney retired in 1961 after making the farce One, Two, Three. He received the AFI's Life Achievement Award in 1974, was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1980, and in 1984 received the United States government's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. His autobiography Cagney on Cagney was published in 1975. He made a big screen comeback in 1981's Ragtime and starred in the small screen movie "Terrible Joe Moran" in 1984. He died of a heart attack on his farm in upstate New York on March 30, 1986. President Ronald Reagan delivered the eulogy at his funeral and said, "America lost one of her finest artists".