LES Alum: James Cagney

The Legendary Actor James Cagney 

James Francis Cagney was born July 17, 1899 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan either on the corner of Avenue D and 8th Street or in a top-floor apartment at 391 East Eighth Street, the address that his birth certificate indicates in New York City, to Carolyn ( Nelson) and James Francis Cagney, Sr.who was of Irish descent and was a bartender and amateur boxer. Considered as one of Hollywood's preeminent male stars of all time, James Cagney was also an accomplished dancer and easily played light comedy.  He is best remembered for playing multifaceted tough guys in movies such as The Public Enemy (1931), Taxi! (1932), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and White Heat (1949), and was typecast or limited by this view earlier in his career. The Public Enemy, became one of the most influential gangster movies of the period, notable for a famous scene in which Cagney pushes a grapefruit against Mae Clarke's face, the film thrust him into the spotlight.


In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among its list of greatest male stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.  Orson Welles said of Cagney, "[he was] maybe the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera", and Stanley Kubrick considered him to be one of the best actors of all time.


In 1938, he received his first Academy Aware for Best Actor nomination, for Angels with Dirty Faces, for his subtle portrayal of the tough guy/man-child Rocky Sullivan. In 1942, Cagney won the Oscar for his energetic 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 from acting and dancing in 1961 to spend time on his farm with his family. He came out of retirement 20 years later for a part in the movie Ragtime (1981), mainly to aid his recovery from a stroke. Cagney died at his Dutchess County farm in Stanfordville, New York, on Easter Sunday 1986, of a heart attack. He was 86 years old.  A funeral Mass was held at Manhattan's St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church. The eulogy at the funeral was given by his close friend, who was also the President of the United States at the time, Ronald Reagan. His pallbearers included the boxer Floyd Patterson, the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (who had hoped to play Cagney on Broadway), actor Ralph Bellamy, and the director Miloš Forman. He was interred in a crypt in the Garden Mausoleum at Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York.