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Cagney Got It Right

May 2024
1min read

Hats off to Fred Andersen for his finely detailed celebration of Yankee Doodle Dandy , James Cagney, and George M. Cohan (July/August). Andersen gets so much of this grand story right, from crediting Cohan with inventing American musical comedy to noting that the great song-and-dance man really was born on the Fourth of July.

However, Andersen is wrong to suggest that James Cagney made up the memorable scene in which Cohan tweaks and teases his theatrical rival Eddie Foy. This verbal joust came nearly verbatim from an article that appeared in the Brooklyn-Eagle on December 23,1907. The screenwriter Robert Buckner found the old clipping in April 1941 when he interviewed Cohan and consulted the splendid Robinson Locke collection of theatrical scrapbooks at the New York Public Library. Buckner’s transcription of this dialogue appears in his notes for the screenplay, which today are preserved by the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research.

Oddly, the words of this playful tête-à-tête took on such a life of their own that in the 1987 book Hollywood Anecdotes , authors Paul F. Boiler, Jr., and Ronald L. Davis inaccurately attributed the conversation to Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks!

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