James Cagney & the Real George M. Cohan as YANKEE DOODLE DANDY – Live!

Happy Fourth of July! What better way to celebrate Independence Day than by visiting one of the most patriotic movies to come out of Old Hollywood. Timing is everything – YANKEE DOODLE DANDY was in production when the bombs fell over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By the time the film was in theaters, America was in the thick of the Second World War and this movie’s message could not have been more appealing:

Joan Leslie as Mary and James Cagney as George M. Cohan try to impress unimpressed music publishers with the song, “Harrigan.”

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY premiered in late May 1942 but didn’t go into general theatrical release until the fall that year. In anticipation of the general release, radio’s Screen Guild Theater opened its new season on October 19, 1942, with a half-hour adaptation of the movie starring most of the film’s cast including James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, Jeanne Cagney, Richard Whorf, and C.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall. Even “FDR” shows up and with more dialogue than he has in the film version! Best of all, those wonderful Warners orchestrations arranged by Leo Forbstein, Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld were used in the radio version. Just click on the arrow below to hear the complete live broadcast:

Here is the REAL George M. Cohan circa 1932 when he was about 54. Compare his expression with that of Cagney in the photo above. Jimmy C. worked hard to imitate the mannerisms and tics of George M. including talking out of the side of his mouth and duplicating Cohan’s unique “stiff-legged” dancing technique:

Recorded performances by the real George M. Cohan are few and elusive. He made a handful of acoustical records in the 1910s, along with a few silent films, and two talkies in the early 30s. But none of this limited material shows Cohan performing any of his hit songs. Fortunately, ASCAP, the music union, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1939 and staged an impressive array of legendary songwriters performing their own hits in Carnegie Hall, New York. NBC radio broadcast the concert of October 4, 1939, so you only have to click on the arrow below to hear George M. singing a couple of his all-time hits. The music interludes where the audience goes wild is because the 61 year-old Cohan is dancing!

One of many examples of poster art to promote the film:

One the best-remembered moments in the film and radio broadcast – “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you.”

More poster art with Frances Langford joining Cagney in singing “Over There,” Cohan’s inspiring patriotic song he wrote in 1917 during the First World War:

Cohan sheet music was republished in conjunction with the film but no commercial records of any songs from the film were made by Cagney or anybody else connected with the movie:

As noted, Cagney worked hard to capture the personality of George M. but studio publicity seemed more intent on promoting the Cagney persona:

Finally, as a sort of Fourth of July bonus, OHIC brings you the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso in his rendition of George M. Cohan’s WWI song:

Click on the arrow below to hear Caruso sing (in English and then in French) “Over There” as recorded on July 11, 1918:

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