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JAMES CAGNEY - AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED 07/03/1979 - HFSID 290083

Signed letter filled with recollections of playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and of Cohan's reaction to the film. Cagney's account, brimming with colorful anecdotes, illuminates a landmark of film history.

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JAMES CAGNEY Signed letter filled with recollections of playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and of Cohan's reaction to the film. Cagney's account, brimming with colorful anecdotes, illuminates a landmark of film history. Typed Letter signed: "J. Cagney", 2 pages 7¼x10½. Verney Farm, Staffordville, New York, 1979 July 3. To "Dear Mr. McGilligan", in full: "In answer to your recent letter, all the information you mention regarding the Cohan contribution to 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' is quite accurate. There was never a script submitted to Mr. Cohan. He sent a friend out, who was a lawyer, to view the rough cut. My brother Bill escorted Mr. Raftery to a projection room, and sat him down in a big comfortable chair. Inasmuch as the script had not been submitted, my brother was full of misgivings, feeling the lawyer would step all over it. My brother was wrong. About twenty minutes into the film it really got to Mr. Raftery. As he sat on the other end of the room, my brother could feel the lounge vibrating as he realized Mr. Raftery was crying. Bill knew he was home free then. The other obstacle was in reference to Cohan's first wife, Ethel Levy. There was no mention of her, so she was left out of the script to oblige Mr. Cohan. He gave his complete approval and never went to court about it. That about covers my acquaintance with Mr. Cohan. He was a fine actor, and knew his business thoroughly, and used his personal mannerisms sparingly. An interesting light on the way the film reached the Cohan family, and this may be apocryphal. Warner Bros. sent a print up to his home and he and his wife sat in the projection room and viewed the picture. After the lights went up, Mrs. Cohan, who had not gotten out of her wheelchair in years, got up and walked over and said to George, 'George you were fine.' She had accepted me as George so completely. Now that may be all fraudulent, but I thought you should know it. It is interesting if true. Did you ever see Cohan in 'Ah Wilderness'? He was simply marvelous. It was truly a great performance. His mannerisms, which were a holdover from earlier times, were not in evidence when he was doing that job. I just thought of something else. There was a group of us who used to have dinner every Tuesday night years back. When I say 'we' it was people who had worked with Cohan: Spencer Tracy, Frank Morgan, Ralph Bellamy, and Pat O'Brien. When it was announced that I was to play Cohan, I told the boys what my plans for him were. I did play him as straight as I could, in the off stage sequences, and used his mannerisms only when the opportunities presented themselves, without dragging them in unnecessarily. Apparently that worked, because they all agreed that was a sensible approach. I also forgot to mention that in that last viewing by Cohan and his wife, he was dying then of cancer of the bladder. He was lifted by one of his retainers and transported to the john to relieve himself, four or five times during the showing. That's what I was told. He approved of what he saw, apparently, and then it was allowed to go into distribution without any further bother from the family. I trust this is enough for you to use on the jacket, or as much of this letter as you feel you need. All the best. Sincerely". James Cagney (1899-1986, born in New York City), who appeared in leading roles on Broadway from the mid-1920s, gained film stardom, legendary tough guy status and an iconic pineapple-to-the-puss scene in Public Enemy (1931). In addition to his Best Actor Oscar for Yankee Doodle Dandy, he received two additional Oscar nominations in the category for Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and Love Me Or Leave Me (1955). After years of health problems, Cagney made a successful film comeback in Ragtime (1981). Yankee Doodle Dandy, the musical film portrait of composer, singer and actor George M. Cohan (1878-1942), won four Oscars, including Cagney's as Best Actor and three more related to the musical score. It notched five more nominations, including Best Film and Best Director (Michael Curtiz). The film is included in the American Film Institute's listing of 100 greatest American films (at #79), and is #18 on AFI's roster of film musicals. Another interesting reference in Cagney's letter is to his circle of actor friends known to press as "the Irish mafia." Patrick McGilligan, the letter's recipient, is a noted film biographer, who has published studies of Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, among others. His biography Cagney: the Actor as Auteur, was published in 1980. Normal mailing folds. Fine condition. Previously authenticated by PSA/DNA.

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