|Height:||164 cm (5' 5'')|
|Birth Day:||July 17, 1899|
|Death Date:||March 30, 1986(1986-03-30) (aged 86)
Stanford, New York, U.S.
|Birth Place:||New York City, United States|
|#2||James Cagney Jr.||Children||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|#3||Frances Willard Vernon||Spouse||N/A||N/A||N/A|
As per our current Database, James Cagney died on March 30, 1986(1986-03-30) (aged 86)
Stanford, New York, U.S..
|Height||Weight||Hair Colour||Eye Colour||Blood Type||Tattoo(s)|
|164 cm (5' 5'')||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
James Francis "Jimmy" Cagney was born in 1899 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. His biographers disagree as to the actual location: either on the corner of Avenue D and 8th Street, or in a top-floor apartment at 391 East 8th Street, the address that is on his birth certificate. His father, James Francis Cagney Sr. (1875–1918), was of Irish descent. At the time of his son's birth, he was a bartender and amateur boxer, although on Cagney's birth certificate, he is listed as a telegraphist. His mother was Carolyn Elizabeth (née Nelson; 1877–1945); her father was a Norwegian ship’s captain, and her mother was Irish.
Cagney was born in 1899 (prior to the widespread use of automobiles) and loved horses from childhood. As a child, he often sat on the horses of local deliverymen and rode in horse-drawn streetcars with his mother. As an adult, well after horses were replaced by automobiles as the primary mode of transportation, Cagney raised horses on his farms, specializing in Morgans, a breed of which he was particularly fond.
The red-haired, blue-eyed Cagney graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, in 1918, and attended Columbia College, where he intended to major in Art. He also took German and joined the Student Army Training Corps, but he dropped out after one semester, returning home upon the death of his father during the 1918 flu pandemic.
While working at Wanamaker's Department Store in 1919, a colleague saw him dance and informed Cagney about a role in the upcoming production, Every Sailor. A wartime play in which the chorus was made up of servicemen dressed as women that was originally titled Every Woman. Cagney auditioned for the chorus, although considering it a waste of time, as he knew only one dance step, the complicated Peabody, but he knew it perfectly. This was enough to convince the producers that he could dance, and he copied the other dancers' moves and added them to his repertoire while waiting to go on. He did not find it odd to play a woman, nor was he embarrassed. He later recalled how he was able to shed his own naturally shy persona when he stepped onto the stage: "For there I am not myself. I am not that fellow, Jim Cagney, at all. I certainly lost all consciousness of him when I put on skirts, wig, paint, powder, feathers and spangles."
In 1920, Cagney was a member of the chorus for the show Pitter Patter, where he met Frances Willard "Billie" Vernon. They married on September 28, 1922, and the marriage lasted until his death in 1986. Frances Cagney died in 1994. In 1941 they adopted a son whom they named James Francis Cagney III, and later a daughter, Cathleen "Casey" Cagney. Cagney was a very private man, and while he was willing to give the press opportunities for photographs, he generally spent his personal time out of the public eye.
Had Cagney's mother had her way, his stage career would have ended when he quit Every Sailor after two months; proud as she was of his performance, she preferred that he get an education. Cagney appreciated the $35 a week he was paid, which he later remembered as "a mountain of money for me in those worrisome days." In deference to his mother's worries, he got a job as a brokerage house runner. This did not stop him from looking for more stage work, however, and he went on to audition successfully for a chorus part in the William B. Friedlander musical Pitter Patter, for which he earned $55 a week. (He sent $40 to his mother each week.) So strong was his habit of holding down more than one job at a time, he also worked as a dresser for one of the leads, portered the casts' luggage, and understudied for the lead. Among the chorus line performers was 16-year-old Frances Willard "Billie" Vernon; they married in 1922.
In 1924, after years of touring and struggling to make money, Cagney and Vernon moved to Hawthorne, California, partly for Cagney to meet his new mother-in-law, who had just moved there from Chicago, and partly to investigate breaking into the movies. Their train fares were paid for by a friend, the press officer of Pitter Patter, who was also desperate to act. They were not successful at first; the dance studio Cagney set up had few clients and folded, and Vernon and he toured the studios, but there was no interest. Eventually, they borrowed some money and headed back to New York via Chicago and Milwaukee, enduring failure along the way when they attempted to make money on the stage.
Cagney secured his first significant nondancing role in 1925. He played a young tough guy in the three-act play Outside Looking In by Maxwell Anderson, earning $200 a week. As with Pitter Patter, Cagney went to the audition with little confidence he would get the part. At this point, he had had no experience with drama. Cagney felt that he only got the role because his hair was redder than that of Alan Bunce, the only other red-headed performer in New York. Both the play and Cagney received good reviews; Life magazine wrote, "Mr. Cagney, in a less spectacular role [than his co-star] makes a few minutes silence during his mock-trial scene something that many a more established actor might watch with profit." Burns Mantle wrote that it "...contained the most honest acting now to be seen in New York."
Playing opposite Cagney in Maggie the Magnificent was Joan Blondell, who starred again with him a few months later in Marie Baumer's new play, Penny Arcade. While the critics panned Penny Arcade, they praised Cagney and Blondell. Al Jolson, sensing film potential, bought the rights for $20,000. He then sold the play to Warner Bros., with the stipulation that they cast Cagney and Blondell in the film version. Retitled Sinners' Holiday, the film was released in 1930. It starred Grant Withers and Evalyn Knapp. Joan Blondell recalled that when they were casting the film studio head Jack Warner believed that she and Cagney had no future and that Withers and Knapp were destined for stardom. Cagney was given a $500-a-week, three-week contract with Warner Bros.
Warner Brothers' succession of gangster movie hits, in particular Little Caesar with Edward G. Robinson, culminated in the 1931 film The Public Enemy. Due to the strong reviews he had received in his short film career, Cagney was cast as nice-guy Matt Doyle, opposite Edward Woods as Tom Powers. However, after the initial rushes, the actors switched roles. Years later, Joan Blondell recalled that a few days into the filming, Director William Wellman turned to Cagney and said “Now you’re the lead, kid!” “Jimmy’s charisma was so outstanding,” she added. The film cost only $151,000 to make, but it became one of the first low-budget films to gross $1 million.
Having learned about the block-booking studio system that virtually guaranteed the studios huge profits, Cagney was determined to spread the wealth. He regularly sent money and goods to old friends from his neighborhood, though he did not generally make this known. His insistence on no more than four films a year was based on his having witnessed actors—even teenagers—regularly being worked 100 hours a week to turn out more films. This experience was an integral reason for his involvement in forming the Screen Actors Guild in 1933.
Cagney returned to the studio and made Hard to Handle in 1933. This was followed by a steady stream of films, including the highly regarded Footlight Parade, which gave Cagney the chance to return to his song-and-dance roots. The film includes show-stopping scenes with Busby Berkeley-choreographed routines. His next notable film was 1934's Here Comes the Navy, which paired him with Pat O'Brien for the first time. The two would have an enduring friendship.
This somewhat exaggerated view was enhanced by his public contractual wranglings with Warner Bros. at the time, his joining of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933, and his involvement in the revolt against the so-called "Merriam tax". The "Merriam tax" was an underhanded method of funnelling studio funds to politicians; during the 1934 Californian gubernatorial campaign, the studio executives would "tax" their actors, automatically taking a day's pay from their biggest earners, ultimately sending nearly half a million dollars to the gubernatorial campaign of Frank Merriam. Cagney (as well as Jean Harlow) publicly refused to pay and Cagney even threatened that, if the studios took a day's pay for Merriam's campaign, he would give a week's pay to Upton Sinclair, Merriam's opponent in the race.
Cagney was accused of being a communist sympathizer in 1934, and again in 1940. The accusation in 1934 stemmed from a letter police found from a local Communist official that alleged that Cagney would bring other Hollywood stars to meetings. Cagney denied this, and Lincoln Steffens, husband of the letter's writer, backed up this denial, asserting that the accusation stemmed solely from Cagney's donation to striking cotton workers in the San Joaquin Valley. William Cagney claimed this donation was the root of the charges in 1940. Cagney was cleared by U.S. Representative Martin Dies Jr. on the House Un-American Activities Committee.
In 1935 Cagney was listed as one of the Top Ten Moneymakers in Hollywood for the first time, and was cast more frequently in non-gangster roles; he played a lawyer who joins the FBI in G-Men, and he also took on his first, and only, Shakespearean role, as top-billed Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream alongside Joe E. Brown as Flute and Mickey Rooney as Puck
Cagney's last movie in 1935 was Ceiling Zero, his third film with Pat O'Brien. O'Brien received top billing, which was a clear breach of Cagney's contract. This, combined with the fact that Cagney had made five movies in 1934, again against his contract terms, caused him to bring legal proceedings against Warner Bros. for breach of contract. The dispute dragged on for several months. Cagney received calls from David Selznick and Sam Goldwyn, but neither felt in a position to offer him work while the dispute went on. Meanwhile, while being represented by his brother William in court, Cagney went back to New York to search for a country property where he could indulge his passion for farming.
In his autobiography, Cagney said that as a young man, he had no political views, since he was more concerned with where the next meal was coming from. However, the emerging labor movement of the 1920s and 1930s soon forced him to take sides. The first version of the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935 and growing tensions between labor and management fueled the movement. Fanzines in the 1930s, however, described his politics as "radical".
Cagney also became involved in political causes, and in 1936, agreed to sponsor the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. Unknown to Cagney, the League was in fact a front organization for the Communist International (Comintern), which sought to enlist support for the Soviet Union and its foreign policies.
During his first year back at Warner Bros., Cagney became the studio's highest earner, making $324,000. He completed his first decade of movie-making in 1939 with The Roaring Twenties, his first film with Raoul Walsh and his last with Bogart. After The Roaring Twenties, it would be a decade before Cagney made another gangster film. Cagney again received good reviews; Graham Greene stated, "Mr. Cagney, of the bull-calf brow, is as always a superb and witty actor". The Roaring Twenties was the last film in which Cagney's character's violence was explained by poor upbringing, or his environment, as was the case in The Public Enemy. From that point on, violence was attached to mania, as in White Heat. In 1939 Cagney was second to only Gary Cooper in the national acting wage stakes, earning $368,333.
Cagney announced in March 1942 that his brother William and he were setting up Cagney Productions to release films though United Artists. Free of Warner Bros. again, Cagney spent some time relaxing on his farm in Martha's Vineyard before volunteering to join the USO. He spent several weeks touring the US, entertaining troops with vaudeville routines and scenes from Yankee Doodle Dandy. In September 1942, he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.
Cagney became president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1942 for a two-year term. He took a role in the Guild's fight against the Mafia, which had begun to take an active interest in the movie industry. His wife, Billie Vernon, once received a phone call telling her that Cagney was dead. Cagney alleged that, having failed to scare off the Guild and him, they sent a hitman to kill him by dropping a heavy light onto his head. Upon hearing of the rumor of a hit, George Raft made a call, and the hit was supposedly canceled.
Almost a year after its creation, Cagney Productions produced its first film, Johnny Come Lately, in 1943. While the major studios were producing patriotic war movies, Cagney was determined to continue dispelling his tough-guy image, so he produced a movie that was a "complete and exhilarating exposition of the Cagney 'alter-ego' on film". According to Cagney, the film "made money but it was no great winner", and reviews varied from excellent (Time) to poor (New York's PM).
Cagney won the Academy Award in 1943 for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Cagney's portrayal of Cody Jarrett in the 1949 film White Heat is one of his most memorable. Cinema had changed in the 10 years since Walsh last directed Cagney (in The Strawberry Blonde), and the actor's portrayal of gangsters had also changed. Unlike Tom Powers in The Public Enemy, Jarrett was portrayed as a raging lunatic with few if any sympathetic qualities. In the 18 intervening years, Cagney's hair had begun to gray, and he developed a paunch for the first time. He was no longer a romantic commodity, and this was reflected in his performance. Cagney himself had the idea of playing Jarrett as psychotic; he later stated, "it was essentially a cheapie one-two-three-four kind of thing, so I suggested we make him nuts. It was agreed so we put in all those fits and headaches."
His next film, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, was another gangster movie, which was the first by Cagney Productions since its acquisition. While compared unfavorably to White Heat by critics, it was fairly successful at the box office, with $500,000 going straight to Cagney Productions' bankers to pay off their losses. Cagney Productions was not a great success, however, and in 1953, after William Cagney produced his last film, A Lion Is in the Streets, the company came to an end.
In 1955 Cagney replaced Spencer Tracy on the Western film Tribute to a Bad Man for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He received praise for his performance, and the studio liked his work enough to offer him These Wilder Years with Barbara Stanwyck. The two stars got on well; they had both previously worked in vaudeville, and they entertained the cast and crew off-screen by singing and dancing.
In 1955, having shot three films, Cagney bought a 120-acre (0.49 km) farm in Stanford, Dutchess County, New York, for $100,000. Cagney named it Verney Farm, taking the first syllable from Billie's maiden name and the second from his own surname. He turned it into a working farm, selling some of the dairy cattle and replacing them with beef cattle. He expanded it over the years to 750 acres (3.0 km). Such was Cagney's enthusiasm for agriculture and farming that his diligence and efforts were rewarded by an honorary degree from Florida's Rollins College. Rather than just "turning up with Ava Gardner on my arm" to accept his honorary degree, Cagney turned the tables upon the college's faculty by writing and submitting a paper on soil conservation.
In 1956 Cagney undertook one of his very rare television roles, starring in Robert Montgomery's Soldiers From the War Returning. This was a favor to Montgomery, who needed a strong fall season opener to stop the network from dropping his series. Cagney's appearance ensured that it was a success. The actor made it clear to reporters afterwards that television was not his medium: "I do enough work in movies. This is a high-tension business. I have tremendous admiration for the people who go through this sort of thing every week, but it's not for me."
Later in 1957, Cagney ventured behind the camera for the first and only time to direct Short Cut to Hell, a remake of the 1941 Alan Ladd film This Gun for Hire, which in turn was based on the Graham Greene novel A Gun for Sale. Cagney had long been told by friends that he would make an excellent director, so when he was approached by his friend, producer A. C. Lyles, he instinctively said yes. He refused all offers of payment, saying he was an actor, not a director. The film was low budget, and shot quickly. As Cagney recalled, "We shot it in twenty days, and that was long enough for me. I find directing a bore, I have no desire to tell other people their business".
In 1959 Cagney played a labor leader in what proved to be his final musical, Never Steal Anything Small, which featured a comical song and dance duet with Cara Williams, who played his girlfriend.
Cagney's career began winding down, and he made only one film in 1960, the critically acclaimed The Gallant Hours, in which he played Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey. The film, although set during the Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific Theater during World War II, was not a war film, but instead focused on the impact of command. Cagney Productions, which shared the production credit with Robert Montgomery's company, made a brief return, though in name only. The film was a success, and The New York Times' Bosley Crowther singled its star out for praise: "It is Mr. Cagney's performance, controlled to the last detail, that gives life and strong, heroic stature to the principal figure in the film. There is no braggadocio in it, no straining for bold or sharp effects. It is one of the quietest, most reflective, subtlest jobs that Mr. Cagney has ever done."
For his contributions to the film industry, Cagney was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 with a motion pictures star located at 6504 Hollywood Boulevard.
Cagney's son married Jill Lisbeth Inness in 1962. The couple had two children, James IV and Cindy. James Cagney III died from a heart attack on January 27, 1984 in Washington, D.C, two years before his father's death. He had become estranged from his father and had not seen or talked to him since 1982.
Cagney's daughter Cathleen married Jack W. Thomas in 1962. She, too, was estranged from her father during the final years of his life. She died on August 11, 2004.
Cagney was diagnosed with glaucoma and began taking eye drops, but continued to have vision problems. On Zimmermann's recommendation, he visited a different doctor, who determined that glaucoma had been a misdiagnosis, and that Cagney was actually diabetic. Zimmermann then took it upon herself to look after Cagney, preparing his meals to reduce his blood triglycerides, which had reached alarming levels. Such was her success that, by the time Cagney made a rare public appearance at his American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement award ceremony in 1974, he had lost 20 pounds (9.1 kg) and his vision had improved. Charlton Heston opened the ceremony, and Frank Sinatra introduced Cagney. So many Hollywood stars attended—said to be more than for any event in history—that one columnist wrote at the time that a bomb in the dining room would have ended the movie industry. In his acceptance speech, Cagney lightly chastised the impressionist Frank Gorshin, saying, "Oh, Frankie, just in passing, I never said 'MMMMmmmm, you dirty rat!' What I actually did say was 'Judy, Judy, Judy!'"—a joking reference to a similar misquotation attributed to Cary Grant.
In 1974 Cagney received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. Charlton Heston, in announcing that Cagney was to be honored, called him "...one of the most significant figures of a generation when American film was dominant, Cagney, that most American of actors, somehow communicated eloquently to audiences all over the world ...and to actors as well."
While at Coldwater Canyon in 1977, Cagney had a minor stroke. After he spent two weeks in the hospital, Zimmermann became his full-time caregiver, traveling with Billie Vernon and him wherever they went. After the stroke, Cagney was no longer able to undertake many of his favorite pastimes, including horseback riding and dancing, and as he became more depressed, he even gave up painting. Encouraged by his wife and Zimmermann, Cagney accepted an offer from the director Miloš Forman to star in a small but pivotal role in the film Ragtime (1981).
Cagney's frequent co-star, Pat O'Brien, appeared with him on the British chat show Parkinson in the early 1980s and they both made a surprise appearance at the Queen Mother's command birthday performance at the London Palladium in 1980. His appearance on stage prompted the Queen Mother to rise to her feet, the only time she did so during the whole show, and she later broke protocol to go backstage to speak with Cagney directly.
By 1980, Cagney was contributing financially to the Republican Party, supporting his friend Ronald Reagan's bid for the presidency in the 1980 election. As he got older, he became more and more conservative, referring to himself in his autobiography as "arch-conservative". He regarded his move away from liberal politics as "a totally natural reaction once I began to see undisciplined elements in our country stimulating a breakdown of our system... Those functionless creatures, the hippies ... just didn't appear out of a vacuum."
He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, and a Career Achievement Award from the U.S. National Board of Review in 1981. In 1984 Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Cagney made a rare TV appearance in the lead role of the movie Terrible Joe Moran in 1984. This was his last role. Cagney's health was fragile and more strokes had confined him to a wheelchair, but the producers worked his real-life mobility problem into the story. They also decided to dub his impaired speech, using the impersonator Rich Little. The film made use of fight clips from Cagney's boxing movie Winner Take All (1932).
Cagney died of a heart attack at his Dutchess County farm in Stanford, New York, on Easter Sunday 1986; he was 86 years old. A funeral Mass was held at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan. The eulogy was delivered by his close friend, Ronald Reagan, who was also the President of the United States at the time. His pallbearers included boxer Floyd Patterson, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (who had hoped to play Cagney on Broadway), actor Ralph Bellamy, and director Miloš Forman. Governor Mario M. Cuomo and Mayor Edward I. Koch were also in attendance at the service.
In 1999 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 33-cent stamp honoring Cagney.
On May 19, 2015, a new musical celebrating Cagney, and dramatizing his relationship with Warner Bros., opened off-Broadway in New York City at the York Theatre. Cagney, The Musical then moved to the Westside Theatre until May 28, 2017.
Currently, James Cagney is 122 years, 10 months and 6 days old. James Cagney will celebrate 123rd birthday on a Sunday 17th of July 2022.
Find out about James Cagney birthday activities in timeline view here.