J J Cagney Biography & Facts
James Francis Cagney Jr. (; July 17, 1899 – March 30, 1986) was an American actor, dancer and film director. On stage and in film, Cagney was known for his consistently energetic performances, distinctive vocal style, and deadpan comic timing. He won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of performances. He is remembered for playing multifaceted tough guys in films such as The Public Enemy (1931), Taxi! (1932), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), The Roaring Twenties (1939), City for Conquest (1940) and White Heat (1949), finding himself typecast or limited by this reputation earlier in his career. He was able to negotiate dancing opportunities in his films and ended up winning the Academy Award for his role in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). In 1999 the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among its list of greatest male stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Orson Welles described Cagney as "maybe the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera".In his first professional acting performance in 1919, Cagney was costumed as a woman when he danced in the chorus line of the revue Every Sailor. He spent several years in vaudeville as a dancer and comedian, until he got his first major acting part in 1925. He secured several other roles, receiving good notices, before landing the lead in the 1929 play Penny Arcade. Al Jolson saw Cagney in the play and bought the movie rights, before selling them to Warner Bros. with the proviso that James Cagney and Joan Blondell be able to reprise their stage roles in the movie. After rave reviews, Warner Bros. signed him for an initial $400-a-week, three-week contract; when the executives at the studio saw the first dailies for the film, Cagney's contract was immediately extended.
Cagney's fifth film, The Public Enemy, became one of the most influential gangster movies of the period. Notable for a famous scene in which Cagney pushes half a grapefruit against Mae Clarke's face, the film thrust him into the spotlight. He became one of Hollywood's leading stars and one of Warner Bros.' biggest contracts. In 1938 he received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his subtle portrayal of the tough guy/man-child Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces. 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 with Doris Day. Cagney retired from acting and dancing in 1961 to spend time on his farm with his family. He came out of retirement 20 years later for a part in the movie Ragtime (1981), mainly to aid his recovery from a stroke.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 Warner 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, establishing his own production company, Cagney Productions, in 1942 before returning to Warner seven years later. In reference to Cagney's refusal to be pushed around, Jack L. Warner called him "the Professional Againster". Cagney also made numerous USO troop tours before and during World War II and served as president of the Screen Actors Guild for two years.
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 the second of seven children, two of whom died within months of their births. He was sickly as an infant—so much so that his mother feared he would die before he could be baptized. He later attributed his sickly health to the poverty his family endured. The family moved twice while he was still young, first to East 79th Street, and then to East 96th Street. He was confirmed at St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan; his funeral service would eventually be held in the same church.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.Cagney held a variety of jobs early in his life: junior architect, copy boy for the New York Sun, book custodian at the New York Public Library, bellhop, draughtsman, and night doorkeeper. He gave all his earnings to his family. While Cagney was working for the New York Public Library, he met Florence James, who helped him into an acting career. Cagney believed in hard work, later stating, "It was good for me. I feel sorry for the kid who has too cushy a time of it. Suddenly he has to come face-to-face with the realities of life without any mama or papa to do his thinking for him."He started tap dancing as a boy (a skill that eventually contributed to his Academy Award) and was nicknamed "Cellar-Door Cagney" after his habit of dancing on slanted cellar doors. He was a good street fighter, defending his older brother Harry, a medical student, when necessary. He engaged in amateur boxing, and was a runner-up for the New York state lightweight title. His coaches encouraged him to turn professional, but his mother would not allow it. He also played semi-professional baseball for a local team, and entertained dreams of playing in the Major Leagues.His introduction to films was unusual. When visiting an aunt who lived in Brooklyn, opposite Vitagraph Studios, Cagney would climb over the fence to watch the filming of John Bunny movies. He became involved in amateur dramatics, starting as a scenery boy for a Chinese pantomime at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House (one of the first settlement houses in the nation) where his brother Harry performed and Florence James directed. He was initially content working behind the scenes and had no interest in performing. One night, however, Harry became ill, and although Cagney was not an understudy, his photographic memory of rehearsals enabled him to stand in for his brother without making a single mistake.
1919–1930: Early career
In 1919, while Cagney was working at Wanamaker's Department Store, a colleague saw him dance and informed him about a role in the upcoming production, Every Sailor. It was a wartime play in which the .... Discover the J J Cagney popular books. Find the top 100 most popular J J Cagney books.