Tag Archives: James Cagney

New York – Yankee Doodle Dandied

“Ben, why are there footprints on the wall in the living room”

My mother’s words rose to the surface of my memory as I stood standing in the middle of Times Square in New York. I had just taken this picture of the bronze  George M. Cohan (1879-1942) statue.

It is seventy years since the actor and producer died. Famous for writing songs like “Over There” and “Give My Regards to Broadway” and of course “(I’m a)  Yankee Doodle Dandy” (it is also seventy years since James Cagney played him in the highly successful movie/biopic of the same name).

Yankee Doodle Dandy” (directed by Michael Curtiz who, in the same year, also directed Casablanca) was my first introduction to Cagney. He went on to win his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Cohan. The argumentative, sympathetic and heroic role stood out from the litany of gangster characters that had made him so popular. The Academy has a tendency to choose such out-of-character performances to applaud popular actors, i.e. Denzil Washington in Training Day.

I didn’t know Cagney had such a history of movies behind him as I watched this as a teenager in the 1980s.  The story of Cohan unfolded before me; it is a compelling mixture of biography and a history of the first half of the 20 century on Broadway.

It was Cohan’s own invention that song and dance numbers moved the plot forward as opposed to interrupting them as had previously been the preference. In this way the movie is a fitting tribute to Cohan’s legacy.While a handful of biopics have been made about his life, “Yankee Doodle Dandy” remains the superior work.

The production took particular care to recreate his Broadway performances in detail and Cagney managed to mimic Cohan’s half speaking/half singing style as well as capturing his unique dance moves.

Cagney’s real life sister Jeanne Cagney played his on screen sibling and he took up the role of George M. Cohan again 13 years later for “The Seven Little Foys”.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy” was one of the top ten grossing movies in 1942, still it took liberties with Cohan’s life story, for instance, passing over his first marriage.

As Cohan was dying, he viewed Cagney’s performance and is quoted as saying “My God what an act to follow!!”

So why were their footprints on the living room wall?

I apologised to Mum and then to explain rewound the video it to this scene. I suggested that as she had introduced me to the movie she might have to take some responsibility. Really she should have known I would have attempted to recreate the move at the end of this clip.

Yankee Doodle Dandy 1.26 min clip on youtube.