Jimmy Cagney: Great American, Great Actor

What was it about Jimmy Cagney that made him so beloved by so many fans? Read on for a bit about his magic and charm.
Born in The Yorkville section of Manhattan, New York on July 19, 1899, to Irish and Norwegian parents, James Cagney entered show business shortly after World War One. He auditioned for a group of vaudevillians who were seeking dancers and singers and while he could do neither, he somehow managed to land the job for 35 dollars a week. The red-haired blue-eyed, five-eight, 180 pound Cagney graduated from Stuyvesant High School and attended Columbia University.

The world of Vaudeville was his home until 1929 when he left for Broadway to star with Joan Blondell in “Penny Arcade.” A subsequent offer to go to Hollywood for a screen test landed him a part in the 1930 film, “Sinners Holiday.” He became typecast as the mean little gangster even though his talents far exceeded the roles assigned to him. He begged the studio to give him other parts, claiming that he “was tired of beating up on women,” but his success in these roles as indicated by “Angels With Dirty Faces”, “White Heat,” “Public Enemy” and “The Roaring Twenties,” mired him there at least for a while.
In 1942 Cagney found the role that would change the course of his career forever. “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, which was the life story of colorful showman, Geroge M. Cohan, featured his wonderful dancing. His performance earned him an Academy Award. Cohan himself approved of Cagney as the portayer of his very significant life shortly before his own death in November of that same year.
Cagney retired from the cinema in 1961 and moved to his 800-acre ranch in Dutchess County, New York, with his wife, Frances (“Bill”) Willard Cagney whom he had married in 1921. He returned to the movies only once in 1980 to make the film, Ragtime, with his old friend, Pat O’ Brien. The master of improvisation died on March 30, 1986, leaving a legacy of more than seventy films and millions of adoring fans all over the world.

What are some of YOUR favorite Cagney films?

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About Marjorie Dorfman

Marjorie Dorfman is a freelance writer and former teacher originally from Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of New York University School of Education, she now lives in Doylestown, PA, with quite a few cats that keep her on her toes at all times. Originally a writer of ghostly and horror fiction, she has branched out into the world of humorous non-fiction writing in the last decade. Many of her stories have been published in various small presses throughout the country during the last twenty years. Her book of stories, "Tales For A Dark And Rainy Night", reflects her love and respect for the horror and ghost genre.