Born James Frances Cagney, Jr in 1899 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to parents of Irish descent. He was the second of seven children and attributed his health problems to their poverty. He graduated from High School in 1918 and went to Columbia College of Columbia University where he studied German. Unfortunately he dropped out after one semester.
He held various jobs and was even a really good street fighter. By 1919 he was tap dancing his way in theatre productions. He continued to build a stage presence before he landed his first on screen role in 1930's Sinners Holiday~a crime drama which also starred Joan Blondell.
And so Cagney's career began a succession of gangster movie hits. His first big hit was in 1931, The Public Enemy. I will be spotlighting this film this month for all of you-it is a must see Cagney film! He continued to do gangster films throughout the 1930's and even tried comedy in 1938 in Boy Meets Girl. It was met with mixed reviews because audiences grew accustomed to seeing Cagney in tough guy roles. He often collaborated with Humphrey Bogart and Pat O'Brien.
It ins in his Oscar winning performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) where he shows the world and all of Hollywood exactly what he was made of. Cagney acts, sings, and dances in this American biographical musical playing the role of real-life American song & dance man, George M. Cohan.
He continued to act and perform until 1981 and retired at the ripe young age of eight-one! He is best known for gangster roles and there is no doubt that the tough guy image on screen forever changed Hollywood. But he would star in so many other films and really shine in many other roles other than a tough guy. Some examples are in; The Fighting 69th (1940), Mister Roberts (1955), and Man of a Thousand Faces (1957).
There is little to be said about Cagney personal life. He was married to Frances Vernon in 1922, with whom he remained with for the rest of his life. He was a very private man and spent his life out of the spotlight. Something you don't often see in today's modern Hollywood.
He had two children that were adopted, both who have since passed. He owned his own piece of land and enjoyed farming and horses. He was also an avid sailor and a painter. He passed on in 1986 at the age of eighty-six and left behind a rich and diverse collection of film that we can enjoy over and over.
Cagney was one of a kind and his contributions to film still resonate today.