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James Cagney
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Birth Name: James Cagney
Date of Birth: July 17, 1899
James Cagney Photo

The American gangster film, and the output of Warner Bros. in its most influential decade, would be unimaginable without the contributions of James Cagney. One of talking pictures' first generation of actors, Cagney forever romanticized the figures of the criminal and the con artist with his jittery physical dynamism and breakneck staccato vocal patterns. Raised in New York City's tough Yorkville neighborhood, Cagney was a veteran of settlement house revues, vaudeville and five years of Broadway when he came to Warner Bros. in 1930. Cagney, Bette Davis and Edward G. Robinson, all signed to long-term contracts during this period, became the core of the studio's stock company, which also included character and supporting players such as Alan Jenkins and Frank McHugh. After playing several featured roles Cagney attained instant and lasting fame with his role as vicious gunman Tom Powers in William Wellman's "The Public Enemy" (1931). "The Public Enemy"'s story of a wisecracking hood who seemed to delight in violence indelibly stamped the gangster genre. Along with "Little Caesar" (1931) and "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" (1932), the picture cemented Warner Bros.' position as a major studio. Between 1930 and 1941, Cagney made 38 films at Warner Bros. While most were crime and action dramas or comedies, quickly produced on modest budgets and featuring few other box office "names," many have become genre classics. Several, including "Angels With Dirty Faces" (1938) and "The Roaring Twenties" (1939), remain seminal works in American film history. Cagney reached a creative peak with "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942), a biopic based on the life of composer George M. Cohan. A sentimental masterpiece, the film drew on Cagney's prodigious dancing talents, largely unexploited at Warner Bros. (except for the marvelous "Footlight Parade" 1933), and brought him the Academy Award for best actor. A series of well-publicized salary disputes at Warner Bros. led to Cagney's forming an independent production company, Cagney Productions. Headed by James and his brother William, a former actor, the firm was based on terms developed in James's last Warner Bros. contract and gave him unprecedented leeway in choosing vehicles and participating in profits. It proved a failure, releasing only three films through United Artists, but was nevertheless a path-breaking model which many others in the industry would soon follow. In 1949 Cagney made an explosive return to Warner Bros. in the Raoul Walsh-directed "White Heat", playing Cody Jarrett, a violent, Freudianized update of the Tom Powers character in "The Public Enemy". Like the earlier film, "White Heat" was both profitable and enormously influential. Throughout the 1950s Cagney played sardonic and often villainous characters for several studios, in films occasionally produced by Cagney Productions. The decade also saw his only directing assignment, "Short Cut To Hell" (1957), and his last musical, the uneven but sometimes delightful "Never Steal Anything Small" (1959). After a bravura performance in Billy Wilder's ironic farce "One, Two, Three" (1961), Cagney retired. The following years saw him receive many honors, including the 1974 Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute--the second such award ever given. His good friend and neighbor, director Milos Forman, lured him from retirement for "Ragtime" (1981), but Cagney's own desires to perform again were hampered by increasing ill health. He made only one more appearance before his death, the made-for-TV movie "Terrible Joe Moran" (1984).

Big Breakdowns: Hollywood Bloopers of the 1930s
James Cagney Scrapbook (1998)
Classic Bloopers (1990)
Ronnie Dearest: The Lost Episodes (1988)
James Cagney: That Yankee Doodle Dandy (1986)
Terrible Joe Moran (1984)
Hollywood Outtakes and Rare Footage (1983)
Ragtime (1981)
Arizona Bushwackers (1967)
One, Two, Three (1961)
The Gallant Hours (1960)
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
Shake Hands with the Devil (1959)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
Short Cut to Hell (1957)
These Wilder Years (1956)
Tribute to a Badman (1956)
Link in the Chain (1955)
Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
The Seven Little Foys (1955)
Mister Roberts (1955)
Run for Cover (1955)
A Lion Is in the Streets (1953)
What Price Glory? (1952)
Come Fill the Cup (1951)
Starlift (1951)
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)
The West Point Story (1950)
White Heat (1949)
The Time of Your Life (1948)
The Return of Video Yesterbloop (1947)
13 Rue Madeleine (1946)
Blood on the Sun (1945)
Celebrity Propaganda (1944)
Johnny Come Lately (1943)
Show Business at War (1943)
Captains of the Clouds (1942)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
City for Conquest (1940)
The Fighting 69th (1940)
Golden Gloves (1940)
Torrid Zone (1940)
Each Dawn I Die (1939)
The Oklahoma Kid (1939)
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
Boy Meets Girl (1938)
Great Guy (1936)
Something to Sing About (1936)
Ceiling Zero (1935)
Devil Dogs of the Air (1935)
G-Men (1935)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Frisco Kid (1935)
The Irish in Us (1935)
He Was Her Man (1934)
Here Comes the Navy (1934)
Jimmy the Gent (1934)
The St. Louis Kid (1934)
Footlight Parade (1933)
Lady Killer (1933)
Hard to Handle (1933)
The Mayor of Hell (1933)
Picture Snatcher (1933)
The Crowd Roars (1932)
Taxi! (1932)
Winner Take All (1932)
Blonde Crazy (1931)
The Public Enemy (1931)
Other Men's Women (1931)
Smart Money (1931)
The Millionaire (1931)
The Doorway to Hell (1930)
Sinner's Holiday (1930)

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