James Cagney’s legacy as a screen legend has been captured through his roles in classic films like Public Enemy, White Heat and Yankee Doodle Dandy. While most audiences remember the actor as a gangster, his lengthy film career shows that Cagney was a crazily versatile actor who flourished in roles spanning the genres. Today, we’re celebrating what would have been Cagney’s 119th birthday.
In a fact that seems unsurprising, James Cagney hit Hollywood almost as films began to talk. His earliest film credits are listed as 1930 and within a year, Cagney secured the first of his well-remembered roles when he appeared in the early talkie, Public Enemy. From that point, Cagney’s career exploded. He appeared in multiple films a year, many of which still remembered by contemporary audiences.
As his career evolved, Cagney took a more targeted approach to choosing his roles. As his name grew in the industry, he took fewer parts. However, with a mind towards producing his own movies (Cagney was an early example of performers to jump into this) each feel more targeted to his star persona.
Cagney slowed down in the 1960s with his last screen credit coming in 1984.
James Cagney passed away in 1986 at the age of 86.