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One Of America''s True Film Icons, And Very Quiet In Real Life
"Jimmy Cagney personified the 20th century American big-city male," it was stated here near the end of this Biography program. Yet, this man of urban roots from New York City lived out the last third of his life in a very rural area and was pleased to do so. Always a pretty private man who enjoyed his solitude with long rides in a carriage or automobile, he also was dynamic in real life and electrifying on screen. Yet, in another paradox, the man who was typecast by Warner Brothers has the rough-tough hoodlum, preferred to be a kindly song- and-dance man.
Like many people in his era, Cagney grew up poor on the streets of the big city and began his show business career in vaudeville. His first job was playing a chorus girl! Later, as he honed his vaudeville skills, he wound up getting notices for his dramatic ability. He wound up going cross-country to Hollywood in 1930....and film history was about to be made. He made 62 films over the next 31 years.
Beginning with "The Public Enemy" (1931) , he starred for Warner Brothers as the urban gangster. WB made money on every one of Cagney's films but the actor quickly got tired of being stereotyped and overworked.\
Much of his career wound up being some battles with the famous studio. He would leave, but fail on his own projects, come back to Warners and be put in the same kind of roles, quit again, only to return once more. In between, however, he reached a milestone doing what he really liked: being a song-and- dance man as George M. Cohan in the famous "Yankee Doodle Dandy," which won him an Academy Award.
Other segments of this show focused on the tireless and selfless work he did during World War II to help the Allied cause. Once, he spent two straight months in Britain entertaining the U.S. troops. After the war, he and a small group of actors kept mostly to themselves and stayed out of Hollywood. Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Frank McHugh and Dick Powell were dubbed "The Irish Mafia."
When it looked like his career was about done, Warners "rescued" it with "White Heat" in 1949 where Cagney played the wacked-out "Cody Jarrett." After another hiatus, he came back with several more films in the mid '50s, but by 1961 he had enough and retired. After 20 years, he came back for a small role in the 1980 film "Ragtime."
Cagney loved living in a modest rural setting with his horses. He spent many hours quietly painting. He was a fine artist, something a lot of people didn't know. They show some of his paintings in this episode, and they are excellent.
He was married to "Willie" and to no one else, another rarity in Hollywood and was a generous guy, giving to many charities and causes.
Cagney was so dynamic and versatile an actor that I think, to do him justice, you'd need a good two-hour program on him, but this "Biography" effort was still a good one.
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