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James Cagney Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (5) | Trivia (65) | Personal Quotes (23) | Salary (12)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 17 July 1899New York City, New York, USA
Date of Death 30 March 1986Stanfordville, New York, USA  (heart attack following illness from diabetes)
Birth NameJames Francis Cagney
Nicknames The Professional Againster
Jimmy
Height 5' 6½" (1.69 m)

Mini Bio (1)

One of Hollywood's preeminent male stars of all time (eclipsed, perhaps, only by "King" Clark Gable and arguably by Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy), and the cinema's quintessential "tough guy", James Cagney was also an accomplished--if rather stiff--hoofer and easily played light comedy. Ending three decades on the screen, he retired to his farm in Stanfordville, New York (some 77 miles/124 km. north of his New York City birthplace), after starring in Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961). He emerged from retirement to star in the 1981 screen adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel "Ragtime" (Ragtime (1981)), in which he was reunited with his frequent co-star of the 1930s, Pat O'Brien, and which was his last theatrical film and O'Brien's as well). Cagney's final performance came in the title role of the made-for-TV movie Terrible Joe Moran (1984), in which he played opposite Art Carney.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Bill Takacs <kinephile@aol.com>

Spouse (1)

Frances Cagney (28 September 1922 - 30 March 1986) (his death) (2 children)

Trade Mark (5)

Famous for his gangster roles he played in the 1930s and 1940s (which made his only Oscar win as the musical composer/dancer/actor George M.Cohan most ironic).
Diminutive but nimble frame
Unmistakable rapid-fire speaking voice
Wise-cracking New Yorker persona
Compelling intensity

Trivia (65)

Cagney's first job as an entertainer was as a female dancer in a chorus line.
According to his authorized biography, Cagney, although of Irish and Norwegian extraction, could speak Yiddish since he had grown up in a heavily Jewish area in New York. He used to converse in Yiddish with Jewish performers like Sylvia Sidney.
Ranked #45 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
Brother of actor-producer William Cagney and of actress Jeanne Cagney.
Films co-starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien were these nine: Here Comes the Navy (1934), Devil Dogs of the Air (1935), The Irish in Us (1935), Boy Meets Girl (1938), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Torrid Zone (1940), The Fighting 69th (1940), Ceiling Zero (1936), as well as their finale together, four decades later, Ragtime (1981).
American Film Institute Life Achievement Award
Interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York, USA.
(1942-1944) President of Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
Convinced decorated war hero Audie Murphy to go into acting.
His widow Frances (nicknamed 'Bill') outlived Cagney by eight years, dying aged 95 in 1994.
Father of actor James Cagney Jr.
Pictured on a 33¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series, issued 22 July 1999.
Had two adopted children, Cathleen "Cassie" and James Jr.
Was best friends with actors Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh.
Earned a Black Belt in Judo.
He was voted the 14th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Extraordinarily (for Hollywood), he never cheated on his wife Frances, resulting in a marriage that lasted 64 years (ending with his death). The closest he came was nearly giving into a seduction attempt by Merle Oberon while the two stars were on tour to entertain WWII GIs.
Despite the common perception that he was full-blooded Irish of origin this was not all-together true. His grandfather was from Norway, but as he told an interviewer shortly before his death in 1986: "My mother's father, my Grandpa Nelson, was a Norwegian sea captain, but when I tried to investigate those roots I didn't get very far, for he had apparently changed his name to another one that made it impossible to identify him within the rest of the population."
Was of Irish-Norwegian origin.
His electric acting style was a huge influence on future generations of actors. Actors as diverse as Clint Eastwood and Malcolm McDowell point to him as their number one influence to become actors.
Lived in a Gramercy Park building in New York City that was also occupied by Margaret Hamilton and now boasts Jimmy Fallon as one of its tenants.
Though most Cagney imitators use the line "You dirty rat!", Cagney never actually said it in any of his films.
According to James Cagney's autobiography Cagney By Cagney, (Published by Doubleday and Company Inc 1976, and ghost written by show biz biographer Jack McCabe), a Mafia plan to murder Cagney by dropping a several hundred pound klieg light on top of him was stopped at the insistence of George Raft. Cagney at that time was president of the Screen Actors Guild, and was determined not to let the mob infiltrate the industry. Raft used his many mob connections to cancel the hit.
He was voted the 11th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
Named the #8 greatest Actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends List by The American Film Institute
According to his autobiography his brother Bill (who was also his manager) actively pursued the role of Cohan in the ultra-patriotic film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) as a way of removing the taint of Cagney's radical activities in the 1930s, when he was a strong Roosevelt liberal. When Cohan himself learned about Cagney's background as a song-and-dance man in vaudeville, he okay-ed him for the project.
Lost the role of Knute Rockne to his friend Pat O'Brien when the administration of Notre Dame - which had approval over all aspects of the filming - nixed Cagney because of his support of the far-left (and anti-Catholic) Spanish Republic in the then-ongoing Spanish Civil War.
Originally a very left-wing Democrat activist during the 1930s, Cagney later switched his viewpoint and became progressively more conservative with age. He supported his friend Ronald Reagan's campaigns for the Governorship of California in 1966 and 1970, as well as his Presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1984. President Reagan delivered the eulogy at Cagney's funeral in 1986.
His performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) is ranked #6 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His performance as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy (1931) is ranked #57 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) is ranked #88 on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time.
Often said that he did not understand the method actors like Marlon Brando. Cagney admitted that he used his own personal experiences to help create his performances and encouraged other actors to do so, but he did not understand actors who felt a need to go to the extreme length that method actors went to.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986- 1990, pages 149-152. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
To protest the quality of scripts he was given at Warner Brothers, instead of violating his contract by refusing to appear in a picture he reputedly used his appearance to get even. In Jimmy the Gent (1934) he got an ugly crew-cut to make himself look like the hoodlum Warners wanted him to play. In movies like He Was Her Man (1934) he grew a thin mustache to upset thin-mustachioed studio boss Jack L. Warner.
Encouraged by his mother to take up boxing as a hobby. She thought it was a necessary skill to have, especially in the rough Eastside section of New York City where he grew up. She would often show up and watch him take on neighborhood kids in a street fight. However when he wanted to become a professional boxer, she disapproved. She started to put on a pair of boxing gloves and told him "If you want to become a professional fighter, then your first fight will have to be against me". He abandoned the idea of doing boxing professionally from that moment on.
Inspiration for the Madonna song, "White Heat", from her album, True Blue.
Turned down Stanley Holloway's role as Eliza's father in My Fair Lady (1964).
Turned down the lead role in The Jolson Story (1946), which went to Larry Parks.
At the time of filming of White Heat (1949), Special Effects were not yet using squibs (tiny explosives that simulate the effects of bullets). The producers employed skilled marksmen who used low velocity bullets to break windows or show bullets hitting near the characters. In the factory scene, Cagney was missed by mere inches.
Broke a rib while filming the dance scene in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) but continued dancing until it was completed.
He once claimed that problems with Horst Buchholz had convinced him to retire from acting.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan at a ceremony at the White House on 26 March 1984.
Along with Rita Hayworth, is mentioned by name in the Tom Waits song "Invitation To The Blues".
In his autobiography, he mentions that while in the chorus of the musical "Pitter Patter", he earned $55 a week, of which he sent $40 a week home to his mother. As his salary increased, so did the amount he sent back home. In The Public Enemy (1931), he earned $400 a week, sending over $300 back home. Until his mother passed, he never kept more than 50% of his earnings.
Often left the set early claiming he was too ill to continue filming in order to ensure an extra day of filming so that the extras and the film crew, whom he thought woefully underpaid, could get an additional day's salary.
Wrote that of the sixty-two films he made, he rated Love Me or Leave Me (1955) costarring Doris Day among his top five.
Two grandchildren, from daughter Kathleen, Verniey Lee and Christina May Thomas.
He is the father-in-law of screenplay writer Jack W. Thomas, who married his daughter Cathleen on February 17, 1962.
Grandfather of actor James Cagney IV.
Great grandfather of actress Fiona Cagney.
Great-great uncle of Brian Harrison Mack.
Great uncle of Pattee Mack.
"Cagney! The Musical," an original biographical stage work written by Peter Colley and directed by Bill Castellino, had its world premiere in March 2009 at the Florida Stage theatre in Manalapan, Florida. Robert Creighton starred as Cagney, both he and the show received good to excellent reviews and the run soon sold out, setting a record for the theatre.
Part of the first group of major stars to join the Screen Actors Guild in October 1933 as member number 50. Before his Guild presidency, he served nearly a decade on the Board and as First Vice President. Cagney was elected Guild president in September 1942.
Although closely associated with his friend Pat O'Brien who co-starred with Cagney in 9 movies, Cagney actually made more movies with his other close friend Frank McHugh. 11 in total which included: The Crowd Roars (1932), Footlight Parade (1933), Here Comes the Navy (1934), Devil Dogs of the Air (1935), The Irish in Us (1935), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), Boy Meets Girl (1938), The Roaring Twenties (1939), The Fighting 69th (1940), City for Conquest (1940), A Lion Is in the Streets (1953).
Cagney and best friends Frank McHugh & Pat O'Brien, were known collectively and affectionately as the 'Irish Mafia' and would often be seen out together around Hollywood nightclubs having a quiet drink and a chat. Other members of this close knit social group included actors Lynne Overman, Ralph Bellamy, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Allen Jenkins and Spencer Tracy.
Once worked as a waiter.
A studio changed his birth date from 1899 to 1904 to capitalize on his youthful appearance.
In 1973 he was offered the title role in the comedy Harry and Tonto but Cagney, who was then 74 year-old and hadn't starred in a feature film since 1961, didn't want to come out of retirement. The role, and the Best Actor Oscar, would go to Art Carney.
He refused payment for his cameo in The Seven Little Foys (1955) even though he spent ten days learning his complicated tap routine for the film.
He was originally intended for the role of Robin Hood in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) but left Warner Brothers who then shelved the film for 3 years.
Cagney was repeatedly sought out for roles after his initial "retirement" in 1961. He was sorely tempted to accept the plum supporting role as Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964) and Francis Ford Coppola visited him at his New York farm for a role (presumably Capt. McCluskey) in The Godfather (1972). He was flattered that the screenplay for Harry and Tonto (1974) was specifically written for him but also flatly refused. Although he returned to the screen as a narrator for two minor efforts in 1966 and 1968, it was his doctor that convinced him it would be therapeutic to return to the screen for Ragtime (1981). A proposed project that had would have had him starring as an elderly Wyatt Earp set in Los Angeles in the 1920's was in development prior to his death.
Offers of important parts in "The Paper Chase" and "The Godfather Part II" did not tempt Cagney out of retirement.
New York Mayor Ed Koch presented Cagney with the keys to the city on November 17, 1981.
Actor Charles Durning admired James Cagney and said he learned everything directly from Cagney.

Personal Quotes (23)

There's not much to say about acting but this. Never settle back on your heels. Never relax. If you relax, the audience relaxes. And always mean everything you say.
All I try to do is to realise the man I'm playing fully, then put as much into my acting as I know how. To do it, I draw upon all that I've ever known, heard, seen or remember.
My biggest concern is that doing a rough-and-tumble scene I might hurt someone accidentally.
[in the early 1960s] In this business you need enthusiasm. I don't have enthusiasm for acting anymore. Acting is not the beginning and end of everything.
They need you. Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it.
Where I come from, if there's a buck to be made, you don't ask questions, you go ahead and make it.
With me, a career was the simple matter of putting groceries on the table.
Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man. Those few words tell as much about me professionally as there is to tell.
I hate the word "superstar". I have never been able to think in those terms. They are overstatements. You don't hear them speak of [William Shakespeare] as a superpoet. You don't hear them call Michelangelo a superpainter. They only apply the word to this mundane market.
You know, the period of World War I and the Roaring Twenties were really just about the same as today. You worked, and you made a living if you could, and you tried to make the best of things. For an actor or a dancer, it was no different then than today. It was a struggle.
My father was totally Irish, and so I went to Ireland once. I found it to be very much like New York, for it was a beautiful country, and both the women and men were good-looking.
[about his most famous misquoted line] I never actually said, "Nnng-you dirty ra-at!" What I actually said was [imitating Cary Grant] "Judy! Judy! Judy!"
Learn your lines, find your mark, look 'em in the eye and tell 'em the truth.
[about The Public Enemy (1931)] What not many people know is that right up to two days before shooting started, I was going to play the good guy, the pal. Edward Woods played it in the end.
Learn your lines ... plant your feet ... look the other actor in the eye ... say the words ... mean them.
The lovers of hate, born in fear - Find no release from tension - They spend their lives in a permanent state - Of miserable apprehension.
When I was younger, if someone had told me I had only two years to live, I'd have gone to an island that was really country--and just rocked it out by myself. But if someone told me the same thing today, I believe I'd probably travel--just to get away from all the noise and nonsense we are surrounded with.
The things the world most needs are simplicity, honesty and decency--and you find them more often in the country than in the city. My feeling for the country goes beyond sense. I don't like to be in the cities at all. I like to be where animals are--and thing growing.
[Telegram sent to House Ways and Means Committee regarding No Runways on Vacation Isle - 1969] For more than 30 years I have watched Martha's Vineyard go downhill as a place of natural wonder and peaceful haven. Now they are talking of runways for jets. Is there to be no end to the destruction of all that is natural and worthwhile? Please give it some thought.
[in 1931] I'm sick of guns and beating up women. Movies should be entertaining, not bloodbaths.
I still think of myself essentially as a vaudevillian, as a song and dance man. The vaudevillians I knew by and large were marvelous people. Ninety percent of them had no schooling, but they had a vivid something or other about them that absolutely riveted an audience's attention. Those vaudevillians knew something that ultimately I came to understand and believe - that audiences are the ones who determine material. They buy the tickets.
[on his Hollywood arrival] I came out here on a three week guarantee, and I stayed, to my absolute amazement, for thirty-one years.
The thing is to try to give the audience something to take away with them. That's what I always wanted to do.

Salary (12)

Sinners' Holiday (1930) $500 /week
Sinners' Holiday (1930) $500 /week (three-week shoot)
The Doorway to Hell (1930) $400 /week
The Public Enemy (1931) $400 /week
Blonde Crazy (1931) $450 /week
Taxi! (1932) $1,400 per week
Hard to Handle (1933) $3,000 /week
Great Guy (1936) $100,000
Something to Sing About (1937) $100,000
Boy Meets Girl (1938) $5,000 /week
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) $150,000
The Roaring Twenties (1939) $12,500 /week

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