You don’t psych yourself up for these things, you do them…. I’m acting for the audience, not for myself, and I do it as directly as I can. ” (James Cagney)
A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history’s most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors’ American Legends series, listeners can get caught up to speed on the lives of America’s most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known.
When the American Film Institute assembled a list of its top 100 actors of all time at the close of the 20th century, one of the top 10 was James Cagney, an actor whose acting and dancing talents spawned a stage and film career that spanned over five decades and once compelled Orson Welles to call him “maybe the greatest actor to ever appear in front of a camera.” Indeed his portrayal of “The Man Who Owns Broadway”, George M. Cohan, earned him an Academy Award in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy. As famed director Milos Forman once put it, “I think he’s some kind of genius. His instinct, it’s just unbelievable. I could just stay at home. One of the qualities of a brilliant actor is that things look better on the screen than the set. Jimmy has that quality.”
Ultimately it was portraying tough guys and gangsters in the 1930s that turned Cagney into a massive Hollywood star, and they were the kinds of roles he was literally born to play after growing up rough in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century.