- Category : Actor
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Split - Small (8,20)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Obscuration 1
James Francis Cagney Jr. (July 17, 1899 – March 30, 1986) was an Academy Award-winning American film actor who won acclaim for a wide variety of roles, including the career-launching The Public Enemy, and won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1942 for his role in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Like James Stewart, Cagney became so familiar to audiences that they usually referred to him as "Jimmy" Cagney — a billing never found on any of his films.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Cagney eighth among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time.
Cagney was born on the Lower East Side to James Cagney Sr., an Irish American bartender and amateur boxer, and Carolyn Nelson; his maternal grandfather was a Norwegian ship captain while his maternal grandmother was an Irish American. He moved to Yorkville, Manhattan when he was about two years old. The red-haired, blue-eyed Cagney graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City in 1918 and attended Columbia University.
On September 28, 1922, he married dancer Frances Willard (aka: “Billie”) Vernon (1899 – 1994) with whom he remained for the rest of his life. They adopted a son, James Cagney Jr, and a daughter, Cathleen “Casey” Cagney.
Both his brother William, who was also a producer, and sister Jeanne were actors.
Cagney began his acting career in vaudeville and on Broadway. Al Jolson saw Cagney and Joan Blondell in a Broadway play, Penny Arcade, which only lasted three weeks. Jolson bought the rights to the play for $20,000 and sold the play to Warner Brothers with the stipulation that Cagney and Blondell be cast in the film version. Cagney and Blondell then moved to Hollywood to appear in the film version, titled Sinners' Holiday (1930), featuring Grant Withers.
Cagney went on to star in many films, making his name as a 'tough guy' in a series of crime films beginning with The Public Enemy (1931), which made him an immediate sensation. His career continued with Smart Money (1931), his only film with Edward G. Robinson (which was actually shot before The Public Enemy, but released later), Blonde Crazy (1931), and Hard to Handle (1933). He played one Shakespearean character on film - Nick Bottom in the 1935 screen version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Cagney later starred opposite supporting player Humphrey Bogart in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and The Roaring Twenties (1939).
Although he claimed to be never further to the political left than "a strong FDR Democrat", Cagney lost the role of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne in Knute Rockne, All American to his friend Pat O'Brien because Cagney had signed a petition in support of the anti-clerical Spanish Republican government in the then-ongoing Spanish Civil War. The Notre Dame administration, which controlled all aspects of the filming, denied Cagney the role. This was a major career disappointment for Cagney, who had hoped that playing the football legend would help break him out of gangster roles.
He won an Oscar playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). He returned to his gangster roots in Raoul Walsh's film White Heat (1949) and played a tyrannical ship captain opposite Jack Lemmon and Henry Fonda in Mister Roberts (1955). Cagney's health deteriorated substantially after 1979. Cagney's final appearance in a feature film was in Ragtime (1981), capping a career that covered over 70 films, although his last film prior to Ragtime had occurred 20 years earlier with Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961). During the long hiatus, Cagney rebuffed all film offers, including a substantial role in My Fair Lady as well as a blank check from Charles Bluhdorn at Gulf & Western to play Vito Corleone in The Godfather, to devote time to learning how to paint (at which he became very accomplished), and tending to his beloved farm in Stanfordville, New York. His roles in Ragtime and Terrible Joe Moran, a 1984 made-for-television movie, were designed to aid in his convalescence.
He was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild and its president from 1942 to 1944.
James Cagney was 5' 5" tall.
In 1974, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Film Institute. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, and in 1984 his friend Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The crypt of James Cagney in Gate of Heaven CemeteryJames Cagney died at his Dutchess County farm in Stanfordville, New York, aged 86, of a heart attack. He is interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York. His pallbearers included boxer Floyd Patterson, Mikhail Baryshnikov (who had hoped to play Cagney on Broadway), actor Ralph Bellamy and director Miloš Forman.
Cagney's lines in White Heat (“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”) were voted the 18th greatest movie quote by the American Film Institute.
It should be noted, however, that he never actually said, "You dirty rat!", a popular phrase associated with him. In his AFI speech, he evoked considerable laughter by remarking that what he really said was, "Judy, Judy, Judy!", another famous, wrongly-attributed line (in this case to Cary Grant). The phrase actually originated in the 1932 film Taxi!, in which Cagney said, "Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" often misquoted as "Come out, you dirty rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!"
As acting techniques became increasingly systematic (as in the case of "Method Acting"), Cagney was asked during the filming of Mister Roberts about his approach to acting. As Jack Lemmon related in the television special, "James Cagney: Top of the World", which aired on July 5, 1992, Cagney said that the secret to acting was simply this: "Learn your lines... plant your feet... look the other actor in the eye... say the words... mean them".
In the 1981 television documentary James Cagney: That Yankee Doodle Dandy , Cagney spoke of his well-known penchant for sarcasm, remarking in an onscreen interview, "Sex with another man? Real good!"
In his AFI speech, Cagney said that film producer Jack Warner had dubbed him "the professional againster."
Stanley Kubrick often stated that Cagney was among his favorite actors.
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According to his autobiography Cagney by Cagney, the Mafia had a contract on him whereby a studio light weighing 'several hundred pounds' was to "accidentally" fall on him. The hit was cancelled after George Raft, his co-star in Each Dawn I Die, used his Mob connections to save his friend.
Cagney invited World War II hero Audie Murphy to Hollywood in September 1945 after seeing Murphy's photo on the cover of the July 16 edition of Life Magazine.
According to an episode of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, first airing August 1, 2006, Cagney's "acting" career began in a New York drag show at the age of 17. According to Harvey's program, Cagney was only interested in the $35 the job paid.
Cagney spoke fluent Yiddish, a language he picked up during his boyhood in New York City. His fluency in the language helped him start in vaudeville.
His grandson, James Cagney IV, is an amateur actor appearing in several indie films, and works at Portland Maine Video store VideoPort.