James Francis Cagney, Jr. was born July 17, 1899 and he passed away March 30, 1986. He was an American actor who started out as a dancer in vaudeville and went on to star on both on stage and in film. In his first professional acting performance, Cagney danced costumed as a woman in the chorus line of the 1919 revue Every Sailor. Cagney spent until 1925 in vaudeville as a dancer and comedian, until he got his first break. Four years later Cagney landed the lead in the 1929 play Penny Arcade. After rave reviews, Warner Bros. signed him for an initial $400-a-week, three-week contract to reprise his role; this was quickly extended to a seven-year contract. He is best remembered for playing multifaceted tough guys in movies such as The Public Enemy (1931), Taxi! (1932), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and White Heat (1949).
Cagney’s seventh film, The Public Enemy, became one of the most influential gangster movies of the period. He became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and one of Warner Bros.’ biggest contracts. In 1938, he received his first Academy Award for Best Actor nomination, for Angels with Dirty Faces for his subtle portrayal of the tough guy/man-child Rocky Sullivan. In 1942, Cagney won the Oscar for his energetic portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. He was nominated a third time in 1955 for Love Me or Leave Me.
Cagney walked out on Warner Bros. several times over the course of his career, each time returning on much improved personal and artistic terms. In 1935, he sued Warners for breach of contract and won. This was one of the first times an actor prevailed over a studio on a contract issue. He worked for an independent film company for a year while the suit was being settled—and established his own production company, Cagney Productions, in 1942, before returning to Warners four years later. In reference to Cagney’s refusal to be pushed around, Jack L. Warner called him “the Professional Against.” Cagney also made numerous morale-boosting troop tours before and during World War II and was president of the Screen Actors Guild for two years.
Cagney retired from acting and dancing in 1961 to spend time on his farm with his family. He exited retirement, 20 years later, for a part in the 1981 movie Ragtime, mainly to aid his recovery from a stroke.
Cagney’s life continues to entertain with Robert Creighton playing Cagney, the new hit musical about Hollywood’s tough guy in tap shoes, playing over 117th performance at The Westside Theater, Upstairs (407 West 43rd Street, between 9th & 10th Aves.). Performances are Tuesday at 7PM, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8PM, with matinees Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 2PM, and Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are $89.00 (including a $1.50 facility fee). Premium seats are available for $109. Call Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200.For more information, please visit www.CagneyTheMusical.com.