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James Cagney ACTOR


James Francis Cagney Jr. was born on July 17th, 1899 in Manhattan, New York City.  His father was Irish American and a bartender and amateur boxer and his mother, Carolyn was half Irish and half Norwegian.   He was the second of seven children and lost two siblings early on in life.  He grew up in a life of poverty and was a very sickly child.  James was introduced to tap dancing early on as a young boy which later contributed to his success as an actor. 

However, even with the lack of funds during his upbringing, Cagney did manage to graduate from Stuyvesant High School in 1918 in New York city.  He even went on to attend the Columbia College of Columbia University with a goal to major in art.  While in school he studied German and also joined the student Army training Corps.  However, after only one semester he was forced to drop out and return home to his family to grieve the loss of his father due to the 1918 flu epidemic.

Due to his family's current financial situation, Cagney had to work all sorts of jobs to help financially assist.  He worked as an architect, a copy boy for a newspaper, a library custodian, a bellhop and a night doorman.  He also followed in his fathers footsteps portraying a talent in boxing.  He was even a runner up in the New York State lightweight title.  James wanted to go professional, but his mother would not allow that.  Cagney also was quite a talented baseball player and had dreams of joining the major leagues at one point. 

Cagney did however, also have a talent for performing.  He decided to try and pursue this with his first role on the chorus line, "Every Sailor" (1919).  Among the chorus line performers was Frances Willard 'Billie' Vernon, whom Cagney ended up marrying in 1922. 

Cagney went on to spend a couple years traveling in Vaudeville and also worked as a comedian to make an income to support his family.  His salary was $50 per week in which he sent more then half back home to his mother.  Cagney was married in 1922 and moved with his wife to California  in 1924 to meet his new mother and law and try to break into show business.  However, his first atempt failed and the couple returned to New York. 

Cagney's first major acting role was in 1925 and continued to work on stage in various other productions.  Cangney had built a reputation as a good dance teacher, and so when he was cast as the lead in Grand Street Follies of 1928 he was also appointed the choreographer. The show received rave reviews and was followed by Grand Street Follies of 1929.  He finally had the chance to play the lead in, "Penny Arcafe" (1929) and received raved reviews yet again.  Warner Brothers approached him and signed him for a $500 per week salary contract for originally a three week provision only , which soon turned into a seven year contract.

Receiving good reviews for his first film, Cagney was cast in his second film role in, "Doorway to Hell" (1930) which was a hit financially and helped grown the publics interest in his career.  He did work on four other films before having a breakthrough role while under contract with Warner Brothers. on "The Public Enemy" (1931) also starring Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke, Frankie Darro, Robert Emmett O'Connor and Frank Coghlan Jr.  He also was cast in "Smart Money" (1931) co-starring with Edward G. Robinson, Margaret Livingston and an uncredited Boris Karloff

Cagney had a diffuclt time working with Warner Brothers and actualy walked out several times, however he would return upon improved conditions and terms.   He even had a law suit against Warner brothers that won.  Cagney was constantly presured by Warner Borthers to promote their films, even films he did not star in.  It was a contant battle between the two.  Cagney's bother in New York took over the role of his agent and fought to finally get him a pay raise of $1000 per week.  When Cagney returned from New York he starred in the film, "Taxi" (1932) starring with Loretta Young and Guy Kibbee, where he danced on screen and the film was prasied by critics.  He followed with starring roles in a steady stream of films such as, "Hard to Handle" (1933) with Mary Brian, a Busby Berkeley musical spectacular "Footlight Parade" (1933) starring alongside Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh and Guy Kibbee and "Here Comes The Navy" (1934) starring with Pat O'Brien, Gloria Stuart and Frank McHugh

Cagney also showed the true definition of a ganster role in, "G Men" (1934) starring Ann Dvorak, Robert Armstrong, Margaret Lindsay, Barton MacLane, Addison Richards, Ward Bond, Raymond Hatton, Regis Toomey, Monte Blue and the film debut of character actor Lloyd Nolan.  He was continuously having issues with Warner Brothers.  He felt that he deserved $4000 per week along with other actors of his level, Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks and Kay Francis but Warner Brothers refused and again he walked out.  Following a six month suspension, the actor was given a deal of an improved salary of $3000 per week and a guarantee of no more then four films a year.

In 1935 cagney was listed as one of the ten top money makers in Hollywood and was beginning to get cast in other roles besides gangster portraying characters.  Cagney did one more movie in 1935, "Ceiling Zero" which he filmed with Pat O'Brien and Stu Erwin.  O'Brien received top billing for this film, a true breach of contract between Cagney and Warner Brothers and once again another lawsuit was underway.

During the months that passed, Cagney travelled to New York to locate a piece of property to put his other interest to use in the farming industry.  He spent most of 1936 to 1937 on his farm and only returned to Hollywood to film when he was offered work for an Independent Studio for $100,000 per film plus 10% of profits received.  He made two films while with Grand National, "Great Guy" (1936) also starring Mae Clarke, Edward Brophy and James Burke and "Something to Sing About" (1937) featuring William Frawley, Philip Ahn and Gene Lockhart and wife Kathleen Lockhart.  Both films received good reviews but the quality was not equivalent to Warner Brothers Standards and soon the company ran out of funds and closed.  

Cagney did return to Warner Brothers in 1938 and stayed till 1942.  He did receive his first Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor on his role on, "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) starring alongside Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart, George Bancroft, The Dead End Kids consisting of Billy Halop, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan and Gabriel Dell, "The Fighting 69th" (1940) starring with Pat O'Brien, George Brent, Alan Hale Sr., George Reeves, William Lundigan, Frank McHugh, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Dennis Morgan, Dick Foran, John Litel, William Hopper and Frank Coghlan Jr. and did eventually win the Best Actor Award for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942) co-starring Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney (his sister), Joan Leslie, George Tobias and Minor Watson.  During his first year back with Warner Brothers Cagney became the studio's highest earner bringing in an income of $324,000 annually.   

In 1942, again issues occured with Warner Brothers.  During the year the lawsuit was being settled Cagney worked on a couple Independent Films and even started his own production Company with his brother, Cagney productions in 1942.  Cagney also chose to spend some time relaxing on his farm and volunteered to join the USO.  He toured the US and entertained troops and was also elected as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1942. 

A year after he began his production company the first film was released, "Johnny Come Lately" (1943) co-starring Marjorie Main, Grace George, Hattie McDaniel and Marjorie Lord, which received mixed reviews.  Cagney then returned back to the USO and toured US military bases in the UK as well.  The second film produced by, Cagney Productions was," Blood on the Sun" (1945) also starring Sylvia Sidney, Hugh Beaumont, Porter Hall, Robert Montgomery, Wallace Ford, Frank Puglia and Rosemary DeCamp, however it was worse off then his first film released.   

Cagney decided to continue producing movies with his company and while negotiating the rights to his third film, he agreed to star in 20th Century Fox's, "13 Rue Madeleine" (1946) with Richard Conte, Annabella, Frank Latimore, Walter Abel, Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall and Sam Jaffe, for a salary of $300,000 for only two months of work.  This film was a success and Cagney was now even more excited to bring out production of his own company's third film, "The Time of Your Life" (1949) starring alongside William Bendix, Broderick Crawford, Wayne Morris, Jeanne Cagney and Ward Bond.  However, the film was a disaster, costed more to make then it earned and Cagney was forced to make Cagney Productions a unit of Warner Brothers.

The late 40's and early 50's followed with more starring roles. "White Heat" (1949) starring Edmond O'Brien, Virginia Mayo, Margaret Wycherly and Steve Cochran is said to be one of Cagney's most memorable roles.  His next film, "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" (1950) also starring Steve Brodie, Luther Adler, Barton MacLane John Litel, Ward Bond and William Frawley, was actually a film by Cagney Productions since joining forces with Warner Brothers.  The film was quite successful earning $500,000 to pay off Cagney's debt.  After completing their final film, "A Lion in the Streets" (1953) also starring Barbara Hale, Anne Francis, John McIntire, Lon Chaney Jr., Jeanne Cagney, James Millican, Frank McHugh and Ellen Corby, Cagney productions closed completely.

Cagney received his third nomnitation for, "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955) co-starring Doris Day and Cameron Mitchell and is known as one of his best films from his later career.  He followed with another starring role in, "Mister Roberts" (1955) starring with William Powell, Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, Philip Carey, Nick Adams and Ken Curtis, which again was another success and earned three Oscar Nominations for Best Picture, Best Sound Recording and Best Supporting Actor.

Cagney then took a chance at television on, "Soldiers from the War Returning" (1956), however he made it clear that television was not for him and he preferred eorking in the film industry.  He tried his hand next as a director for, "Short Cut to Hell" (1957) and he too decided afterwards that directing was boring and not for him.

His final musical to ever complete was, "Never Steal Anything Small" (1959) also starring Shirley Jones, Roger Smith, Nehemiah Persoff, Cara Williams, Royal Dano and Horace McMahon, and a year later he did a film in Ireland, "Shake Hands with the Devil" (1959) co-starring Don Murray, Glynis John, Dana Wynter and Michael Redgrave.  His career was beginning to slow down and he made one more film in the 60's, a biopic docudrama "The Gallant Hours" (1960) also starring Dennis Weaver, Vaughn Taylor, Les Tremayne, Richard Jaeckel, William Schallert, Carleton Young and Karl Swenson, and again another huge success.   He attempted to film one more time in 1961 on, "One, Two, Three" also starring Horst Buchholtz, Arlene Frances and Pamela Tiffin, however the film was released and he was so upset about how horrible it was that he decided it was definatly time to officially retire. 

Cagney remained retired for about twenty years and spent his winters in Los Angeles and his summers at Vernans farm in New York and his other farm at Martha's Vineyard.  In 1977 he had a minor stroke which caused him to be unable to participate in doing the many things he loved such as horse back riding and even painting. 

In 1981 encouraged by his wife, Cagney accepted one more role on a film, "Ragtime" (1981) co-starring Moses Gunn, Howard Rollins, Elizabeth McGovern, Mary Steenburgen and Samuel L. Jackson and one more final appearane on televisions, "Terrible Joe Moran" (1984) starring with Art Carney, Ellen Barkin and Lawrence Tierney before finally retiring 100%.

With his wife, Frances Willard Vernon, they adopted a son, James Cagney Jr. in 1941 and then a daughter Cathleen Cagney.

During his lifetime he received many awards and achivements such as The Life Achievment Award of the American Film Institute in 1974 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980 along with a Presendential Medal of Freedom Award presented to him by his friend Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Cagney died at his Dutchess County farm in Stanfordville, New York, in 1986, of a heart attack.  He is interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.

The American Film Institute (AFI) designated James Cagney as the 8th greatest male movie actor of all time and he was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the Moving Picture Industry.


1981   Ragtime 
1961   One, Two, Three 
1960   The Gallant Hours 
1959   Shake Hands With the Devil 
1958   Never Steal Anything Small 
1957   Man of a Thousand Faces 
1956   Tribute to a Bad Man 
1955   A Link in the Chain 
1955   Love Me or Leave Me 
1955   Mister Roberts 
1955   The Seven Little Foys 
1953   A Lion is in the Streets 
1952   What Price Glory
1950   Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye 
1950   The West Point Story 
1949   White Heat 
1949   The Time of Your Life 
1946   13 Rue Madeleine 
1945   Blood on the Sun 
1943   Johnny Come Lately 
1942   Captains of the Clouds 
1942   Yankee Doodle Dandy 
1941   The Bride Came C.O.D. 
1941   The Strawberry Blonde 
1940   City for Conquest 
1940   The Fighting 69th 
1939   Each Dawn I Die 
1939   The Oklahoma Kid 
1939   The Roaring Twenties 
1938   Angels with Dirty Faces 
1938   Boy Meets Girl 
1937   Something to Sing About 
1936   Ceiling Zero 
1936   Great Guy 
1935   Devil Dogs of the Air 
1935   G Men 
1935   A Midsummer Night's Dream 
1933   Footlight Parade 
1933   Lady Killer 
1932   Taxi!
1931   Blonde Crazy 
1931   The Public Enemy
1930   Doorway To Hell 

Matinee Classics - 13 Rue Madeleine
Matinee Classics - Angels With Dirty Faces starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft and the Dead End Kids
Matinee Classics - Angels With Dirty Faces starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft and the Dead End Kids
Matinee Classics - A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Ian Hunter, Verree Teasdale, Hobart Cavanaugh, Dick Powell, Ross Alexander, Olivia de Havilland, Jean Muir, Grant Mitchell, Frank McHugh, Dewey Robinson, James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Hugh Herbert, Otis Harlan, Arthur Treacher, Victor Jory, Anita Louise, Nini Theilade, Mickey Rooney, Katherine Frey, Helen Westcott, Fred Sale and Billy Barty
Matinee Classics - A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Ian Hunter, Verree Teasdale, Hobart Cavanaugh, Dick Powell, Ross Alexander, Olivia de Havilland, Jean Muir, Grant Mitchell, Frank McHugh, Dewey Robinson, James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Hugh Herbert, Otis Harlan, Arthur Treacher, Victor Jory, Anita Louise, Nini Theilade, Mickey Rooney, Katherine Frey, Helen Westcott, Fred Sale and Billy Barty
Matinee Classics - The Bride Came C.O.D. starring James Cagney, Bette Davis, Stu Erwin, Eugene Pallette, Jack Carson, George Tobias, William Frawley and Harry Davenport
Matinee Classics - Angels With Dirty Faces starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft and the Dead End Kids
Matinee Classics - James Francis Cagney
Matinee Classics - Arch Oboler's Plays radio - James Cagney
Matinee Classics - The Public Enemy starring James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Beryl Mercer, Donald Cook, Mae Clarke, Leslie Fenton, Robert Emmett O'Connor, Murray Kinnell, Frank Coghlan Jr., Frankie Darro, Snitx Edwards, Douglas Gerrard, Robert Homans, Eddie Kane, Mia Marvin, Sam McDaniel, Helen Parrish, Lee Phelps, Russ Powell, Purnell Pratt, Lucille Ward, Nanci Price, Landers Stevens, Charles Sullivan, William H. Strauss, Adele Watson, Clark Burroughs, George Daly, Rita

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