Yankee Doodle Dandy

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For the song, see The Yankee Doodle Boy. For the fast food chain, see Yankee Doodle Dandy (restaurant).
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Yankee Doodle Dandy poster.jpeg
Movie poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Jack 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 by Songs:
George M. Cohan
Ray Heindorf
Heinz Roemheld
(both uncredited)
Cinematography James Wong Howe
Edited by George Amy
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • June 6, 1942 (1942-06-06)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $11,800,000[1]

Yankee Doodle Dandy is a 1942 American biographical musical film about George M. Cohan, known as "The Man Who Owned Broadway".[2] 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.

The movie 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 famous "script doctors," twin brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.

Background and production[edit]

Cagney was a fitting choice for the role of Cohan since, like Cohan, he 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 famous for being a taskmaster, he also gave his actors some latitude, and Cagney and other players improvised a number of "bits of business," as Cagney called them.

Although a number of the biographical particulars of the movie are Hollywood-ized fiction (omitting the fact that Cohan divorced and remarried, for example, and taking some liberties with the chronology of Cohan's life and the order of his parents' deaths), care was taken to make the sets, costumes and dance steps match the original stage presentations. 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.

Cohan is shown performing as a singing and dancing version of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The reality of Roosevelt's confinement to a wheelchair due to polio was kept from the general public at the time. In the film, Roosevelt never leaves his chair when meeting Cohan.

The movie poster for this film was the first ever produced by noted poster designer Bill Gold. This movie also has an inside joke about movies: when Cohan "retires" in the 1930s and several teenagers (who know nothing about his career) ask him if he had ever been in the movies, he remarks that he had been an actor in the "legitimate theater."

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.[3]


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.

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 producers. In partnership with another struggling writer, Sam Harris, he finally interests a producer and they are on the road to success. He also marries Mary, a young singer/dancer.

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, he performs a dance step down the 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". Not knowing that Cohan is the song's composer, they jokingly invite him to join in, which he does.


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.

Musical numbers[edit]

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. "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.
10. "Mary's a Grand Old Name" - Sung by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
11. "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway" - Sung by James Cagney.
12. "Mary's a Grand Old Name" (reprise 1) - Sung by Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland).
13. "Mary's a Grand Old Name" (reprise 2) - Sung by Irene Manning.
14. "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway / So Long, Mary" - Sung by Irene Manning and Chorus.
15. "You're a Grand Old Flag" - Performed by James Cagney and Chorus.
16. "Like the Wandering Minstrel" - Sung by James Cagney and Chorus.
17. "Over There" - Sung by Frances Langford, James Cagney and Chorus.
18. "A George M. Cohan Potpouri" - Sung by Frances Langford.
19. "Off the Record" - Performed by James Cagney.
20. "Over There" - Sung by James Cagney and Chorus.
21. "The Yankee Doodle Boy" - Played by Orchestra behind end credits.


Box office[edit]

The film nearly doubled the earnings of Captains of the Clouds, Cagney's previous effort, bringing in more than $6 million in rentals to Warner Bros. 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.[10] According to Variety magazine, the film earned $4.8 million in theatrical rentals through its North American release.[11]

Awards and honors[edit]

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.[12] 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

Patriotic themes[edit]

A popular myth about this movie, or at least a stretching of the truth, was that it was written in response to accusations that James Cagney was a Communist. Supposedly, Cagney learned that he was in danger of being blacklisted for having Communist sympathies, so he decided to make the most patriotic movie he possibly could and thus clear his name. This myth has its chronology a bit askew, as the McCarthy Era did not begin until the early 1950s. Also, the Second Red Scare did not begin until the late 1940s, well after the film was made. In other versions of this legend, either Robert Buckner or Edmund Joseph were the accused. Cagney was, however, accused of being a Communist in a California grand jury trial in 1940, and this may have had an influence on the story.[13]

The DVD specials discuss this story in some detail. Congressman Martin Dies was investigating possible Communist influence in Hollywood in 1940; he in fact had a cordial meeting with Cagney. The actor reassured him that, although he was a liberal and supported Roosevelt's New Deal, he was also a patriot who had nothing to do with Communism. That was the end of it, except that Cagney's producer-brother William saw the Cohan story as a good opportunity to dispel any possible concerns about Cagney's loyalty. It was not written in response to the Dies investigation, as Cohan himself had been shopping his own story around for a while before Jack Warner bought the rights, and Cohan retained final approval on all aspects of the film.

As the DVD also points out, production on the film was just a few days old when the Attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. The film's cast and crew resolved to make an uplifting, patriotic film. It was timed to open around Memorial Day in 1942, and was regarded as having achieved its goal in grand fashion.


Yankee Doodle Dandy was adapted as a radio play on the October 19, 1942 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring James Cagney with Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable.


In 1986, Yankee Doodle Dandy was the first computer-colorized film released by entrepreneur Ted Turner.


  1. ^ Box Office Information for Yankee Doodle Dandy. The Numbers. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  2. ^ George M. Cohan at the Internet Broadway Database
  3. ^ Yankee Doodle Dandy
  4. ^ Jeanne Cagney at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ William Cagney at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ Rosemary DeCamp at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ Yankee Doodle Dandy at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Full cast and credits at Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ Little Johnny Jones at the Internet Broadway Database
  10. ^ Sklar, Robert (1992). City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-691-04795-2. 
  11. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  12. ^ "The 15th Academy Awards (1943) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-13. 
  13. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (1975). "5". Cagney: The Actor as Auteur. New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc. ISBN 0-498-01462-2. 

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