Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy Birthday: James Cagney, Jr.

James Cagney, Jr. (July 17, 1899 – March 30, 1986). He is best remembered for playing tough guys. Although, in his first professional acting performance, he danced dressed as a woman in the chorus line of the 1919 revue Every Sailor. 

He spent several years in vaudeville as a hoofer and comedian, until he got his first major acting part in 1925.  Before landing the lead in the 1929 play Penny Arcade. After which Warner Bros. signed him for an initial $500-a-week, three-week contract to reprise his role.. this was extended to a seven-year contract.

Cagney's seventh film, The Public Enemy, became one of the most influential gangster movies of the period. Best known for its grapefruit scene, the film thrust Cagney into the spotlight, making him one of Warners' 
Hollywood's biggest stars.

In 1938, he received his first Academy Award for Best Actor nomination, for Angels with Dirty Faces, before winning in 1942 for his portrayal of George M. Cohan in, Yankee Doodle Dandy. 

He was nominated a third time in 1955 for Love Me or Leave Me. Cagney retired for twenty years in 1961, spending time on his farm, before returning for a part in Ragtime.

Cagney walked out on Warners several times and each time coming back on better personal and artistic terms. In 1935, he sued Warners for breach of contract and won. This was one of the first times an actor had beaten a studio over a contract issue.

He worked for an independent film company for a year while the suit was being settled, and also established his own production company, Cagney Productions, in 1942, before returning to Warners again four years later. Cagney, also made numerous morale-boosting troop tours before and during World War II, and was president of the Screen Actors Guild for two years.

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