James Cagney Biography
(This biography is short and there is so much more to his life. We suggest checking out books on his life from Amazon.com or maybe your local library.)

Jimmy Cagney's wife of 65 years, nicknamed "Bill" for Billie, summed him up as a "good man". He was the son of an Irish bartender and an Irish/Norwegian home maker.

He was a brother to actress Jeane Cagney and two brothers who became medical doctors. Another brother was his business partner.

James Cagney (born James Francis Cagney Jr.) made his way to Hollywood to try his hand at motion pictures in the 1930s. To him it was just a job to put groceries on the table. His real love was country living where he raised Morgan horses and painted in his later years.

When he was done acting for the day he made a beeline home out of the public eye. His friend Pat O'Brien called him "a far away fella" because he didn't often socialize.

He was best known for his rough and tumble gangster movies like Public Enemy which made him a genuine star. He thought of himself as a "song and dance" man. He was a brilliant, high energy dancer. He and his wife ran a dance studio in their 20s. Many people remember that he won an academy award for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy but not as many people know that he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.

He had a strong patriotic heart and an all consuming desire to see the environment preserved.
Once invited to speak to a group of college students, he chose, to thier chagrin, to speak on conservation rather than the 60 movies he was so well known for.

Born and raised in New York, he died on Easter morning of his 86th. year. His eulogy was given by President Reagan.

He was more than a "good man". He was a "great" man.

.....the great James Cagney

James Cagney was a fine artist as well. Click here to see some copies of his paintings>


Personal Quotes

There's not much to say about acting but this. Never settle back on your heels. Never relax. If you relax, the audience relaxes. And always mean everything you say.

All I try to do is to realise the man I'm playing fully, then put as much into my acting as I know how. To do it, I draw upon all that I've ever known, heard, seen or remember.

My biggest concern is that doing a rough-and-tumble scene I might hurt someone accidentally.

[in the early 1960s] In this business you need enthusiasm. I don't have enthusiasm for acting anymore. Acting is not the beginning and end of everything.

They need you. Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it.

Where I come from, if there's a buck to be made, you don't ask questions, you go ahead and make it.

With me, a career was the simple matter of putting groceries on the table.

Once a song and dance man, always a song and dance man. Those few words tell as much about me professionally as there is to tell.

I hate the word "superstar". I have never been able to think in those terms. They are overstatements. You don't hear them speak of Shakespeare as a superpoet. You don't hear them call Michelangelo a superpainter. They only apply the word to this mundane market.

You know, the period of World War I and the Roaring Twenties were really just about the same as today. You worked, and you made a living if you could, and you tried to make the best of things. For an actor or a dancer, it was no different then than today. It was a struggle.

My father was totally Irish, and so I went to Ireland once. I found it to be very much like New York, for it was a beautiful country, and both the women and men were good-looking.

[1931] I'm sick of carrying guns and beating up women.

[about his most famous misquoted line] I never actually said, "Nnng-you dirty ra-at!" What I actually said was [imitating Cary Grant] "Judy! Judy! Judy!"

Learn your lines, find your mark, look 'em in the eye and tell 'em the truth.

[about The Public Enemy (1931)] What not many people know is that right up to two days before shooting started, I was going to play the good guy, the pal. Edward Woods played it in the end.

Learn your lines ... plant your feet ... look the other actor in the eye ... say the words ... mean them.

The lovers of hate, born in fear - Find no release from tension - They spend their lives in a permanent state - Of miserable apprehension.

When I was younger, if someone had told me I had only two years to live, I'd have gone to an island that was really country--and just rocked it out by myself. But if someone told me the same thing today, I believe I'd probably travel--just to get away from all the noise and nonsense we are surrounded with.

The things the world most needs are simplicity, honesty and decency--and you find them more often in the country than in the city. My feeling for the country goes beyond sense. I don't like to be in the cities at all. I like to be where animals are--and things growing.

[Telegram sent to House Ways and Means Committee regarding No Runways on Vacation Isle - 1969] For more than 30 years I have watched Martha's Vineyard go downhill as a place of natural wonder and peaceful haven. Now they are talking of runways for jets. Is there to be no end to the destruction of all that is natural and worthwhile? Please give it some thought.