|Yankee Doodle Dandy|
Movie poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
|Written by||Robert Buckner
Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
George M. Cohan
|Cinematography||James Wong Howe|
|Edited by||George Amy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan, known as “The Man Who Owned Broadway”. It stars James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Richard Whorf, and features Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney, and Vera Lewis. Joan Leslie’s singing voice was partially dubbed by Sally Sweetland.
The film was written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph, and directed by Michael Curtiz. According to the special edition DVD, significant and uncredited improvements were made to the script by the famous “script doctors”, twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.
In the early days of World War II, Cohan comes out of retirement to star as President Roosevelt in the Rodgers and Hart musical I’d Rather Be Right. On the first night, he is summoned to meet the President at the White House, who presents him with a Congressional Gold Medal (in fact, this happened several years previously). Cohan is overcome and chats with Roosevelt, recalling his early days on the stage. The film flashes back to his supposed birth on July 4, whilst his father is performing on the vaudeville stage.
Cohan and his sister join the family act as soon as they can learn to dance, and soon The Four Cohans are performing successfully. But George gets too cocky as he grows up and is blacklisted by theatrical producers for being troublesome. He leaves the act and hawks his songs unsuccessfully around to producers. In partnership with another struggling writer, Sam Harris, he finally interests a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer/dancer.
As his star ascends, he persuades his now struggling parents to join his act, eventually vesting some of his valuable theatrical properties in their name.
Cohan retires, but returns to the stage several times, culminating in the role of the U.S. President. As he leaves the White House, after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from the President, he performs a tap dance down a set of interior stairs (which Cagney thought up before the scene was filmed and performed with no rehearsal). Outside, he joins a military parade, where the soldiers are singing “Over There“, and, at first, he isn’t singing. Not knowing that Cohan is the song’s composer, one of them asks if he knows the words. Cohan’s response is a smile and then joins in the singing.
- James Cagney as George M. Cohan
- Joan Leslie as Mary Cohan
- Walter Huston as Jerry Cohan
- Richard Whorf as Sam Harris
- Irene Manning as Fay Templeton
- George Tobias as Dietz
- Rosemary DeCamp as Nellie Cohan
- Jeanne Cagney as Josie Cohan
- Eddie Foy, Jr. as Eddie Foy, Sr.
- Frances Langford as Nora Bayes
- George Barbier as Erlanger
- S. Z. Sakall as Schwab
- Walter Catlett as Theatre Manager
- Minor Watson as Ed Albee
- Chester Clute as Harold Goff
- Odette Myrtil as Madame Bartholdi
- Douglas Croft as George M. Cohan (age 13)
- Patsy Lee Parsons as Josie Cohan (age 12)
- Captain Jack Young as President Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Audrey Long as Dietz and Goff’s Receptionist
- Clinton Rosemond as White House Butler
- Spencer Charters as Stage Manager in Providence
- Dorothy Kelly and Marijo James as Sister Act
- Henry Blair as George M. Cohan (age 7)
- Jo Ann Marlow as Josie Cohan (age 6)
- Thomas E. Jackson as Stage Manager
- Phyllis Kennedy as Fanny
- Pat Flaherty as White House Guard
- Leon Belasco as Magician
- Syd Saylor as Star Boarder
- William B. Davidson as Stage Manager in N.Y.
- Harry Hayden as Dr. Lewellyn
- Francis Pierlot as Dr. Anderson
- Charles Smith, Joyce Reynolds, Dick Chandlee, and Joyce Horne as Teenagers
- Frank Faylen as Sergeant
- Wallis Clark as President Theodore Roosevelt
- Georgia Carroll as Betsy Ross
- Joan Winfield as Sally
- Dick Wessel and James Flavin as Union Army Veterans
- Sailor Vincent as Schultz in “Peck’s Bad Boy”
- Fred Kelsey as Irish Cop in “Peck’s Bad Boy”
- George Meeker and Frank Mayo as Hotel Clerks
- Tom Dugan as Actor at railroad station
- Creighton Hale as Telegraph Operator
- Murray Alper as Wise Guy
- Garry Owen as Army Clerk
- Ruth Robinson as Nurse
- Eddie Acuff, Walter Brooke, Bill Edwards, and William Hopper as Reporters
- William Forrest as 1st Critic
- Eddie Kane as 2nd Critic
- Jack Mower as Backstage Actor in “Peck’s Bad Boy”
- Frank Sully as Army Recruiter
- James Flavin as Union Army Veteran #1 on Caisson
- In his role as adviser to the film, George M. Cohan, who admired Fred Astaire‘s work, let it be known that he preferred Astaire, who also bore a passing resemblance to him, to star in his life story. Warners first offered him the role but Astaire turned it down because Cohan’s eccentric, stiff-legged dancing was far removed from Astaire’s own, more fluid, style.
- James Cagney reprised the role of George M. Cohan in the movie The Seven Little Foys (1955), but agreed only on the condition that he receive no money – he did the film as a tribute to Eddie Foy. In Yankee Doodle Dandy, Eddie Foy, Jr. played the role of his own father. In The Seven Little Foys, Bob Hope portrayed Foy; Charley Foy (son of Eddie Foy, Jr.) served as a narrator.
- Actress Jeanne Cagney, who played the part of Cohan’s sister, was James Cagney’s real-life sister. Cagney’s brother, William Cagney, was the Associate Producer of the film.
- Rosemary DeCamp, who played the mother of George M. Cohan, was, in fact, 11 years younger than Cagney.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt was played by Captain Jack Young, a lookalike who is seen only from the back. An impressionist, Art Gilmore, provided the voice of Roosevelt, uncredited. Gilmore would narrate the Joe McDoakes film shorts produced by Warners, and became a well-known announcer on television through the 1970s.
- Uncredited cast members include Eddie Acuff, Murray Alper, Ward Bond, Walter Brooke, Georgia Carroll, Glen Cavender, Spencer Charters, Wallis Clark, William B. Davidson, Ann Doran, Tom Dugan, Bill Edwards, Frank Faylen, Pat Flaherty, James Flavin, William Forrest, William Gillespie, Joe Gray, Creighton Hale, John Hamilton, Harry Hayden, Stuart Holmes, William Hopper, Eddie Kane, Fred Kelsey, Vera Lewis, Audrey Long, Hank Mann, Frank Mayo, Lon McCallister, Edward McWade, George Meeker, Dolores Moran, Charles Morton, Jack Mower, Paul Panzer, Francis Pierlot, Clinton Rosemond, Syd Saylor, Frank Sully, Dick Wessel, Leo White, Mickey Daniels and Dave Willock.
Background and production
Cagney was a fitting choice for the role of Cohan since, like Cohan, he was an Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man early in his career. His unique and seemingly odd presentation style, of half-singing and half-reciting the songs, reflected the style that Cohan himself used. His natural dance style and physique were also a good match for Cohan. Newspapers at the time reported that Cagney intended to consciously imitate Cohan’s song-and-dance style, but to play the normal part of the acting in his own style. Although director Curtiz was famous for being a taskmaster, he also gave his actors some latitude. Cagney and other players came up with a number of “bits of business”, as Cagney called them, meaning improvised lines or action in theater parlance.
A number of the biographical particulars of the movie are Hollywood-ized fiction, such as omitting the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried, and combining Cohan’s two wives Ethel and Agnes into a single character named Mary, and taking some liberties with the chronology of Cohan’s life and the order of his parents’ deaths). Nevertheless, care was taken to make the sets, costumes, and dance steps match the original stage presentations. Twice, Cagney sprained an ankle while mastering Cohan’s stiff-legged dance style. This effort was aided significantly by a former associate of Cohan’s, Jack Boyle, who knew the original productions well. Boyle also appeared in the film in some of the dancing groups.
Cagney, as Cohan, is shown performing as a singing and dancing version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although it was well known, the reality of Roosevelt’s use of a wheelchair after polio was not emphasized at the time. In the film, Roosevelt never leaves his chair when meeting Cohan.
Cohan himself served as a consultant during the production of the film. Due to his failing health, his actual involvement in the film was rather limited. However, Cohan did see the film before he died (from cancer) and approved of Cagney’s portrayal. Because of fears over Cohan’s failing health, Warner Brothers moved up the scheduled gala premiere from July 4 to May 29; the original date had been chosen because of the film’s patriotic theme and because Cohan really had been born on the Fourth of July as he wrote in the lyrics of his “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” In the end, Cohan lived for several more months after the film’s release.
- “Overture” – Played by Orchestra behind titles.
- “Keep Your Eyes Upon Me (The Dancing Master)” – Sung and Danced by Walter Huston, then Sung and Danced by Henry Blair.
- “While Strolling Through the Park One Day“ – Sung and Danced by Jo Ann Marlowe.
- “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” – Danced by James Cagney, Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.
- “I Was Born in Virginia” – Sung and Danced by James Cagney, Jeanne Cagney, Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp.
- “The Warmest Baby in the Bunch” – Sung and Danced by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
- “Harrigan“ – Sung and Danced by James Cagney and Joan Leslie.
- “The Yankee Doodle Boy“ – Sung and Danced by James Cagney, Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland) and Chorus.
- “Give My Regards To Broadway“ – Sung and Danced by James Cagney and Chorus.
- “Oh You Wonderful Girl / Blue Skies, Gray Skies / The Belle of the Barbers’ Ball” – Sung by James Cagney, Jeanne Cagney, Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp.
- “Mary’s a Grand Old Name“ – Sung by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
- “Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway“ – Sung by James Cagney.
- “Mary’s a Grand Old Name“ (reprise 1) – Sung by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
- “Mary’s a Grand Old Name“ (reprise 2) – Sung by Irene Manning.
- “Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway“ (reprise) – Sung by Chorus.
- “So Long, Mary” – Sung by Irene Manning and Chorus.
- “You’re a Grand Old Flag“ – Performed by James Cagney and Chorus.
- “Like the Wandering Minstrel” – Sung by James Cagney and Chorus.
- “Over There“ – Sung by Frances Langford, James Cagney and Chorus.
- “A George M. Cohan Potpouri” – Sung by Frances Langford.
- “Off the Record” – Performed by James Cagney.
- “Over There“ (reprise) – Sung by James Cagney and Chorus.
- “The Yankee Doodle Boy“ (reprise) – Played by Orchestra behind end credits.
Cagney had initially been opposed to a biopic of George M. Cohan’s life, having disliked Cohan since the Actors’ Equity Strike in 1919, in which he sided with the producers. In 1940, Cagney was named, along with 15 other Hollywood figures, in the grand jury testimony of John R. Leech, the self-described ‘chief functionary’ of the Los Angeles Communist Party who had been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The New York Times printed the allegation that Cagney was a communist on its front page. Cagney refuted the accusation and Martin Dies, Jr. made a statement to the press clearing Cagney. William Cagney, one of the film’s producers, is reported to have said to his brother that “we’re going to have to make the goddamndest patriotic picture that’s ever been made. I think it’s the Cohan story”.
The film nearly doubled the earnings of Captains of the Clouds (1942), Cagney’s previous effort, bringing in more than $6 million in rentals to Warner Bros.
This made it the biggest box office success in the company’s history up to that time. The star earned his contractual $150,000 salary and nearly half a million dollars in profit sharing. According to Variety magazine, the film earned $4.8 million in theatrical rentals through its North American release.
Contemporary reviews were highly positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said that film patrons would do well to see it, for “you will find as warm and delightful a musical picture as has hit the screen in years, a corking good entertainment and as affectionate, if not as accurate, a film biography as has ever—yes, ever—been made … there is so much in this picture and so many persons that deserve their meed of praise that every one connected with it can stick a feather in his hat and take our word—it’s dandy!” Variety called the film “as entertaining as any top filmusical ever made … James Cagney does a Cohan of which the original George M. might well be proud.” Harrison’s Reports wrote: “Excellent! Audiences should find this musical comedy, which is based on the life of George M. Cohan, one of the most sparkling and delightful musical pictures that have ever been brought to the screen. Much of its entertainment value is due to the exceptionally fine performance of James Cagney, whose impersonation of Mr. Cohan is uncanny—his gestures, his talk, and his dancing, are done to perfection.” John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film “a complete delight, an extravaganza of tunes the country has liked for decades,” although he considered it “dubious” as a biography of Cohan.
Awards and honors
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Cagney), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound Recording (Nathan Levinson). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Walter Huston), Best Director, Best Film Editing for George Amy, Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Story. In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
American Film Institute recognition
- 1998: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – #100
- 2004: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs – #71
- 2005: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes:
- “My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.” – #97
- 2006: AFI’s 100 Years of Musicals – #18
- 2006: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers – #88
- 2007: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #98
- Yankee Doodle Dandy was adapted as a radio play on the October 19, 1942 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring James Cagney with Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable.
- George M! is a stage musical, also based on the life of George M. Cohan, opening on Broadway in 1968.
- “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. American Film Institute. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Box Office Information for Yankee Doodle Dandy. The Numbers. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
- George M. Cohan at the Internet Broadway Database
- “Loading…” Classicfilmboy.com. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
- Little Johnny Jones at the Internet Broadway Database
- “Learning the Lingo”. Cengage.com. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
- “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
- McGilligan, Patrick (1982). Cagney: The Actor as Auteur. San Diego: A.S. Barnes & Company. pp. 145–8.
- ““101 Pix Gross in Millions““. Variety. 6 January 1943. p. 58. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
- Sklar, Robert (1992). City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-691-04795-2.
- “All-Time Top Grossers”, Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
- Crowther, Bosley (May 30, 1942). “Movie Review – Yankee Doodle Dandy”. The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- “Variety“. New York. Variety, Inc.: 8 June 3, 1942.
- “‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ with James Cagney”. Harrison’s Reports: 92. June 6, 1942.
- Mosher, John (June 6, 1942). “The Current Cinema”. The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. pp. 76–77.
- “The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners”. oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
- “Players to Open Season With ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy‘“. Harrisburg Telegraph. October 17, 1942. p. 19. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.