Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Yankee Doodle Dandy
Yankee Doodle Dandy poster.jpeg
Film poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
William Cagney
Written by Robert Buckner
Edmund Joseph
Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
Starring James Cagney
Joan Leslie
Walter Huston
Richard Whorf
Music bySongs:
George M. Cohan
Ray Heindorf
Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by George Amy
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • May 29, 1942 (1942-05-29)(New York City) [1]
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11,800,000 [2]

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan, known as "The Man Who Owned Broadway". [3] It stars James Cagney, Joan Leslie, Walter Huston, and Richard Whorf, and features Irene Manning, George Tobias, Rosemary DeCamp, Jeanne Cagney, and Vera Lewis. Joan Leslie's singing voice was partially dubbed by Sally Sweetland.

Biographical film Film genre

A biographical film, or biopic, is a film that dramatizes the life of a non-fictional or historically-based person or people. Such films show the life of a historical person and the central character's real name is used. They differ from films "based on a true story" or "historical drama films" in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a single person's life story or at least the most historically important years of their lives.

Musical film film genre

Musical film is a film genre in which songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, sometimes accompanied by dancing.

George M. Cohan American composer and playwright

George Michael Cohan, known professionally as George M. Cohan, was an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and theatrical producer.


The film was written by Robert Buckner and Edmund Joseph, and directed by Michael Curtiz. According to the special edition DVD, significant and uncredited improvements were made to the script by the twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.

Robert Buckner was an American film screenwriter, producer and short story writer.

Michael Curtiz American director

Michael Curtiz was a Hungarian-born American film director, recognized as one of the most prolific directors in history. He directed classic films from the silent era and numerous others during Hollywood's Golden Age, when the studio system was prevalent.

Julius J. Epstein Jewish American writer

Julius J. Epstein was an American screenwriter, who had a long career, best remembered for his screenplay, written with his twin brother, Philip, and Howard E. Koch, of the film Casablanca (1942), for which the writers won an Academy Award. It was adapted from an unpublished play, Everybody Comes to Rick's, written by Murray Bennett and Joan Alison.

In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

National Film Registry selection of films for preservation in the US Library of Congress

The National Film Registry (NFR) is the United States National Film Preservation Board's (NFPB) selection of films deserving of preservation. The NFPB, established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, was reauthorized by acts of Congress in 1992, 1996, 2005, and again in October 2008. The NFPB's mission, to which the NFR contributes, is to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America's film heritage. The 1996 law also created the non-profit National Film Preservation Foundation which, although affiliated with the NFPB, raises money from the private sector.

Library of Congress (de facto) national library of the United States of America

The Library of Congress (LOC) is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the de facto national library of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The Library is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; it also maintains the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. The Library's functions are overseen by the Librarian of Congress, and its buildings are maintained by the Architect of the Capitol. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Library of Congress as the largest library in the world, and the library describes itself as such. Its "collections are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages."


In the early days of World War II, Cohan comes out of retirement to star as President Roosevelt in the Rodgers and Hart musical I'd Rather Be Right. On the first night, he is summoned to meet the president at the White House, who presents him with a Congressional Gold Medal (in fact, this happened several years previously). Cohan is overcome and chats with Roosevelt, recalling his early days on the stage. The film flashes back to his supposed birth on July 4, whilst his father is performing on the vaudeville stage.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Rodgers and Hart American songwriting partnership

Rodgers and Hart were an American songwriting partnership between composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and the lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895–1943). They worked together on 28 stage musicals and more than 500 songs from 1919 until Hart's death in 1943.

<i>Id Rather Be Right</i> musical

I'd Rather Be Right is a musical with a book by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and music by Richard Rodgers. The story is a Depression-era political satire set in New York City, about Washington politics and political figures, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The plot centers on Peggy Jones and her boyfriend Phil, who needs a raise in order for them to get married. The President steps in and solves their dilemma.

Cohan and his sister join the family act as soon as they can learn to dance, and soon The Four Cohans are performing successfully. But George gets too cocky as he grows up and is blacklisted by theatrical producers for being troublesome. He leaves the act and hawks his songs unsuccessfully around to producers. In partnership with Sam Harris, another struggling writer, he finally interests a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer/dancer.

Sam H. Harris American theatre owner and producer

Sam H. Harris was a Broadway producer and theater owner.

As his star ascends, he persuades his now struggling parents to join his act, eventually vesting some of his valuable theatrical properties in their name.

Cohan retires, but returns to the stage several times, culminating in the role of the U.S. president. As he leaves the White House, after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from the president, he performs a tap dance down a set of interior stairs (which Cagney thought up before the scene was filmed and performed with no rehearsal). Outside, he joins a military parade, where the soldiers are singing "Over There", and, at first, he isn't singing. Not knowing that Cohan is the song's composer, one of them asks if he knows the words. Cohan's response is a smile and then joins in the singing.

Over There song performed by Billy Murray

"Over There" is a 1917 song written by George M. Cohan, that was popular with the United States military and public during both world wars. It was a patriotic song designed to galvanize American young men to enlist in the army and fight the "Hun". The song is best remembered for a line in its chorus: "The Yanks are coming."


Uncredited Roles

Cast notes:

Premiere at New York's Hollywood Theatre on May 29, 1942. Tickets were available only to those who bought war bonds. Former New York governor Al Smith and his wife are in the horse-drawn carriage. Yankee Doodle Dandy premiere.JPG
Premiere at New York's Hollywood Theatre on May 29, 1942. Tickets were available only to those who bought war bonds. Former New York governor Al Smith and his wife are in the horse-drawn carriage.
James Cagney as George M. Cohan performing "The Yankee Doodle Boy" from Little Johnny Jones James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy trailer.jpg
James Cagney as George M. Cohan performing "The Yankee Doodle Boy" from Little Johnny Jones

Background and production

Cagney, like Cohan, was an Irish-American who had been a song-and-dance man early in his career. His unique and seemingly odd presentation style, of half-singing and half-reciting the songs, reflected the style that Cohan himself used. His natural dance style and physique were also a good match for Cohan. Newspapers at the time reported that Cagney intended to consciously imitate Cohan's song-and-dance style, but to play the normal part of the acting in his own style. Although director Curtiz was known as a taskmaster, he also gave his actors some latitude. Cagney and other players came up with a number of "bits of business", as Cagney called them, meaning improvised lines or action in theater parlance. [6]

A number of the biographical particulars of the movie are Hollywood-ized fiction, such as omitting the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried, and combining Cohan's two wives Ethel and Agnes into a single character named Mary, and taking some liberties with the chronology of Cohan's life and the order of his parents' deaths. In one scene, after Cohan suffers a flop with an atypical non-musical drama, "Popularity," he composes a telegram apologizing to the public. He then walks out of the Western Union office to find newspaper sellers announcing the torpedoing of the Lusitania. In reality, the failed play was staged in 1906, and the Lusitania's sinking occurred in 1915. [7]

Nevertheless, care was taken to make the sets, costumes, and dance steps match the original stage presentations. Twice, Cagney sprained an ankle while mastering Cohan's stiff-legged dance style. This effort was aided significantly by a former associate of Cohan's, Jack Boyle, who knew the original productions well. Boyle also appeared in the film in some of the dancing groups.

Cagney, as Cohan, is shown performing as a singing and dancing version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although it was well known, the reality of Roosevelt's use of a wheelchair after polio was not emphasized at the time. In the film, Roosevelt never leaves his chair when meeting Cohan.

Cohan himself served as a consultant during the production of the film. Due to his failing health, his actual involvement in the film was rather limited. However, Cohan did see the film before he died (from cancer) and approved of Cagney's portrayal. [8] Because of fears over Cohan's failing health, Warner Brothers moved up the scheduled gala premiere from July 4 to May 29; the original date had been chosen because of the film's patriotic theme and because Cohan really had been born on the Fourth of July as he wrote in the lyrics of his "Yankee Doodle Dandy." In the end, Cohan lived for several more months after the film's release.

The movie poster for this film was the first ever produced by noted poster designer Bill Gold.

Musical numbers

  1. "Overture" – Played by Orchestra behind titles.
  2. "Keep Your Eyes Upon Me (The Dancing Master)" – Sung and Danced by Walter Huston, then Sung and Danced by Henry Blair.
  3. "While Strolling Through the Park One Day" – Sung and Danced by Jo Ann Marlowe.
  4. "At a Georgia Camp Meeting" – Danced by James Cagney, Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp and Jeanne Cagney.
  5. "I Was Born in Virginia" – Sung and Danced by James Cagney, Jeanne Cagney, Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp.
  6. "The Warmest Baby in the Bunch" – Sung and Danced by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
  7. "Harrigan" – Sung and Danced by James Cagney and Joan Leslie.
  8. "The Yankee Doodle Boy" – Sung and Danced by James Cagney, Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland) and Chorus.
  9. "Give My Regards To Broadway" – Sung and Danced by James Cagney and Chorus.
  10. "Oh You Wonderful Girl / Blue Skies, Gray Skies / The Belle of the Barbers' Ball" – Sung by James Cagney, Jeanne Cagney, Walter Huston and Rosemary DeCamp.
  11. "Mary's a Grand Old Name" – Sung by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
  12. "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway" – Sung by James Cagney.
  13. "Mary's a Grand Old Name" (reprise 1) – Sung by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
  14. "Mary's a Grand Old Name" (reprise 2) – Sung by Irene Manning.
  15. "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway" (reprise) – Sung by Chorus.
  16. "So Long, Mary" – Sung by Irene Manning and Chorus.
  17. "You're a Grand Old Flag" – Performed by James Cagney and Chorus.
  18. "Like the Wandering Minstrel" – Sung by James Cagney and Chorus.
  19. "Over There" – Sung by Frances Langford, James Cagney and Chorus.
  20. "A George M. Cohan Potpouri" – Sung by Frances Langford.
  21. "Off the Record" – Performed by James Cagney.
  22. "Over There" (reprise) – Sung by James Cagney and Chorus.
  23. "The Yankee Doodle Boy" (reprise) – Played by Orchestra behind end credits.


Cagney had initially been opposed to a biopic of George M. Cohan's life, having disliked Cohan since the Actors' Equity Strike in 1919, in which he sided with the producers. In 1940, Cagney was named, along with 15 other Hollywood figures, in the grand jury testimony of John R. Leech, the self-described 'chief functionary' of the Los Angeles Communist Party who had been subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The New York Times printed the allegation that Cagney was a communist on its front page. Cagney refuted the accusation and Martin Dies, Jr. made a statement to the press clearing Cagney. William Cagney, one of the film's producers, is reported to have said to his brother that "we're going to have to make the goddamndest patriotic picture that's ever been made. I think it's the Cohan story". [9]


Box office

The film nearly doubled the earnings of Captains of the Clouds (1942), Cagney's previous effort, bringing in more than $6 million in rentals to Warner Bros. [10]

This made it the biggest box-office success in the company's history up to that time. The star earned his contractual $150,000 salary and nearly half a million dollars in profit sharing. [11] According to Variety , the film earned $4.8 million in theatrical rentals through its North American release. [12]

Critical reception

Contemporary reviews were highly positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said that film patrons would do well to see it, for "you will find as warm and delightful a musical picture as has hit the screen in years, a corking good entertainment and as affectionate, if not as accurate, a film biography as has ever—yes, ever—been made ... there is so much in this picture and so many persons that deserve their meed of praise that every one connected with it can stick a feather in his hat and take our word—it's dandy!" [13] Variety called the film "as entertaining as any top filmusical ever made ... James Cagney does a Cohan of which the original George M. might well be proud." [14] Harrison's Reports wrote: "Excellent! Audiences should find this musical comedy, which is based on the life of George M. Cohan, one of the most sparkling and delightful musical pictures that have ever been brought to the screen. Much of its entertainment value is due to the exceptionally fine performance of James Cagney, whose impersonation of Mr. Cohan is uncanny—his gestures, his talk, and his dancing, are done to perfection." [15] John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film "a complete delight, an extravaganza of tunes the country has liked for decades," although he considered it "dubious" as a biography of Cohan. [16]

Awards and honors

The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Cagney), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound Recording (Nathan Levinson). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Walter Huston), Best Director, Best Film Editing for George Amy, Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Story. [17] In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

American Film Institute recognition


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  2. Box Office Information for Yankee Doodle Dandy. The Numbers. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  3. George M. Cohan at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. "Loading..." Classicfilmboy.com. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  5. Little Johnny Jones at the Internet Broadway Database
  6. "Learning the Lingo". Cengage.com. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  7. https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/george-m-cohan-5829
  8. "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  9. McGilligan, Patrick (1982). Cagney: The Actor as Auteur. San Diego: A.S. Barnes & Company. pp. 145–8.
  10. ""101 Pix Gross in Millions"". Variety. 6 January 1943. p. 58. Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  11. Sklar, Robert (1992). City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 130. ISBN   0-691-04795-2.
  12. "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  13. Crowther, Bosley (May 30, 1942). "Movie Review - Yankee Doodle Dandy". The New York Times . Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  14. "Variety". New York. Variety, Inc.: 8 June 3, 1942.
  15. "'Yankee Doodle Dandy' with James Cagney". Harrison's Reports : 92. June 6, 1942.
  16. Mosher, John (June 6, 1942). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker . New York: F-R Publishing Corp. pp. 76–77.
  17. "The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  18. "Players to Open Season With 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 17, 1942. p. 19. Retrieved May 28, 2015 via Newspapers.com. Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg