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James Cagney

Jimmy Cagney was part of the Legends of Hollywood USPS stamp series.
Jimmy Cagney was part of the Legends of Hollywood USPS stamp series.

James Francis Cagney, Jr. (July 17, 1899March 30, 1986) was an American film actor.

Born in Yonkers, New York, Cagney graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York City in 1918.

He worked in vaudeville and on Broadway, marrying the dancer Frances Willard (aka: "Billie") Vernon on September 28, 1922. When Warner Brothers bought the film rights to the play Penny Arcade they took Cagney and his co-star Joan Blondell from the stage to the screen in Sinner's Holiday (1930).

Cagney went on to star in numerous films, making his name as a 'tough guy' in a series of crime films such as The Public Enemy (1931), Blonde Crazy (1931) and Hard to Handle (1933). He went on to better things including Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), an Academy Award-winning role in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), White Heat (1949), ("Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"), and Mister Roberts (1955).

He was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild and president of the Guild from 1942-44.

Cagney's final appearance on film was in Ragtime in 1981, capping a career that covered over seventy films, although his last film prior to Ragtime had been 20 years earlier in 1961 with Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three. During this hiatus Cagney rebuffed all film offers, including a substantial one in My Fair Lady, to devote time to learning how to paint (at which he became very accomplished), and tending to his beloved farm in Stanfordville, New York.

In 1974 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Film Institute and in 1984 his friend Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Cagney's health deteriorated substantially after 1979, and the role in Ragtime, as well as a later television appearance in 1984, was designed to aid in his convalescence.

James Cagney died aged 86 of a heart attack while ill with diabetes in Stanfordville, New York and is interred in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York. As a tribute to his myriad talents and interests, his pallbearers included boxer Floyd Patterson, ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, actor Ralph Bellamy, and film director Milos Forman.

The stereotypical impression of James Cagney involves wearing a trenchcoat and a hat and sneering "You dirty rat!", a line he never said. The origin of this is from the 1932 film Taxi! where Cagney delivered the line "Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!" often misquoted as "Come out, you dirty rat, or I'll give it to you through the door!".


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Last updated: 08-31-2005 12:06:19
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