Already have the schedule? No worries, I've got something fresh for you just below it. If you visit regularly you know that I love old newspapers and the tiny gems of information that they offer about a certain time and place. Today I seek out how the press covered Cagney in the immediate aftermath of his breakout hit "The Public Enemy."
Tuesday, August 14 - James Cagney - TCM Summer Under the Stars
- 6:00 am - Smart Money (1931) starring Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Evalyn Knapp
- 7:30 am - The Public Enemy (1931) starring James Cagney, Edward Woods, Jean Harlow
- 9:00 am - Lady Killer (1933) starring James Cagney, Mae Clarke, Leslie Fenton
- 10:30 am - G-Men (1935) starring James Cagney, Ann Dvorak, Margaret Lindsay
- 12:00 pm - Each Dawn I Die (1939) starring James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan
- 1:45 pm - The Fighting 69th (1940) starring James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, George Brent
- 3:30 pm - Captains of the Clouds (1942) starring James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Brenda Marshall
- 5:30 pm - A Lion Is in the Streets (1953) starring James Cagney, Barbara Hale, Anne Francis
- 7:00 pm - James Cagney: Top of the World (1992) Documentary
- 8:00 pm - City for Conquest (1940) starring James Cagney, Ann Sheridan, Arthur Kennedy
- 10:00 pm - White Heat (1949) starring James Cagney, Edmond O'Brien, Virginia Mayo
- 12:00 am - Footlight Parade (1933) starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler
- 2:00 am - One, Two, Three (1961) starring James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Arlene Francis
- 4:15 am - The Seven Little Foys (1955) starring Bob Hope, Milly Vitale, James Cagney
Note: All times EST
Remember last week when I ran NewspaperArchive searches by year in order to illustrate Sidney Poitier's sudden "discovery" by the press. Well, the rise to national prominence for James Cagney is even more starkly illustrated by the cumulative search results:
1927 - 3
1928 - 0
1929 - 1
1930 - 49
1931 - 1,140
1932 - 1,839
The three mentions in 1927 weren't even flattering. They were all the same syndicated story noting how Cagney was odd man out on Broadway, that being the title of play Lee Tracy was then starring in. Cagney was all set to play the Tracy role in the London production of the play when, according to columnist Wood Soanes, "opportunity sometimes knocks at unexpected moments."
Just not for Cagney. Tracy took a night off and his understudy Roy Lloyd filled in. He went over so well that London called Lloyd, not Cagney.
No, the national rise of Cagney wouldn't come until 1931 and it would be for the exact reason you'd expect: The Public Enemy.
Sure, there were mentions of Sinners' Holiday and The Doorway to Hell before then, but they were releases from late 1930 and so the papers didn't start pumping them full steam until early the next year. And until The Public Enemy there wasn't too much about Cagney in the papers beyond naming the part he played and saying he did so effectively, which was always the case.
After The Public Enemy the papers spent the rest of 1931 hyping follow-ups, Smart Money, in which Cagney takes a backseat to Edward G. Robinson as it was made prior to The Public Enemy's release, and, later on, Blonde Crazy with Joan Blondell.
"Young Actors On Road to Success"
This Robbin Coons article was an early bit of recognition for Cagney, making the syndicated rounds in late July 1931, a full three months after The Public Enemy was released.
Coons made some pretty good picks focusing on just three young men poised for success: Cagney, Clark Gable and Joel McCrea.
Almost prophetically Coons writes that "their rise, all in similarly spectacular fashion, may be significant as a curtain-ringer on the collar-ad type as the masculine idol of the movies."
He continues: "A year ago none of the trio cut any figure in the Hollywood parade. Today they are box-office names grown popular almost over night."
With staying power, Mr. Coons, that would have likely astounded you!
Up til Then
An unsigned "Up and Down the Rialtos" column from August 1931 gives a halfway decent Cagney biography up until that time. Oh, it makes him five years too young and doesn't have him born in quite the right place, but after those opening inaccuracies it's not bad. We'll skip to the good stuff:
Office boy on the New York Sun at 14. Then a bundle wrapper at a department store. From there cusodian of a branch of the public library. And then entered Columbia University. One of his former companions in the old days later was hanged for murder. Chorus boy in a musical comedy. Traveled tank-town vaudeville circuits for five years, making $12.50 a week. Maxwell Anderson's play, "Outside Looking In," gave him a big chance on Broadway. Then big-time vaudeville, more plays, better parts. Works in a gym, plays ball, boxes, swims, plays tennis. Tried to paint for a while and still has ambitions to do so seriously.
As to the earlier stuff, Cagney biographer John McCabe seems to speak directly to this column when he refutes:
It has been reported that James Cagney, Jr. was born in an apartment over his father's saloon at the corner of East Eighth Street and Avenue D, New York. This is not so. Cagney was born--on July 17, 1899-- in a small apartment on the top floor of a conventional brownstone at 391 East Eighty (5).
McCabe adds that his father didn't own the saloon until later and that he didn't own it for long anyway.
We'll cut it there for today for the rest of the Cagney biography is fairly well known. Be sure to click the colorful flaming image of Cagney in White Heat just to the right to check out other new Cagney material posted to other sites and blogs today.
I'll be back a little later today myself with a detailed look at TCM's 6:00 am feature, Smart Money. Enjoy the Cagney movies!
- Coons, Robbin. "Young Actors On Road to Success." Centralia Daily Chronicle 30 Jul 1931: 10. NewspaperArchive. Web. 14 Aug 2012.
- McCabe, John. Cagney. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1999.
- Soanes, Wood. "Curtain Calls." Oakland Tribune 31 Dec 1926: 4. NewspaperArchive. Web. 14 Aug 2012.
- "Up and Down the Rialtos." Syracuse Herald 19 Aug 1931: 10. NewspaperArchive. Web. 14 Aug 2012.
Crítica Retrô says
Great, Cliff! James is my favorite actor and I really envy your job of researching in press clippings from the past. The Public Enemy didn’t only skyrocketed Cagney’s career, but was a real acting lesson in the beggining of sound era.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks so much–Cagney was one of the tougher ones so far this month. There wasn’t much in the way of early and obscure clippings, mostly just the articles that have been hashed over again and again.
He’s a favorite here too!