Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
George M. Cohan was often derided for the unflagging patriotism of his plays and songs. Yet the tunes which led to him receiving the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to World War I morale, would be called into service once again to lift a nation at war. This time the platform for their popularity would not be one of his plays, but a biopic that started filming the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Yankee Doodle Dandy starts with Cohan’s triumphant return to stage portraying FDR in “I’d Rather Be Right”. Summoned to the White House, a nervous Cohan relates to the President his life story from his earliest days in vaudeville to his unrivalled success on Broadway. Writing, composing, producing and starring in a multitude of plays, Cohan was the whole show…. as is James Cagney in his Oscar-winning performance.
Whether it be expertly mimicking Cohan’s style of dancing and song delivery, matching wits with Eddie Foy Jr or tugging on the heartstrings opposite Walter Huston, Cagney’s dynamism demands your attention whenever he appears on screen. Showcasing his performance in the best possible light, Michael Curtiz recreates the vaudeville and Broadway numbers within the realistic confines of a stage. In his renowned mangling of the English language, the director considered Yankee Doodle Dandy to be the "pinochle" of his career.
It was a favourite of Cagney’s as well. In 1955 he returned to the role when he cameoed as Cohan in the Eddie Foy biopic Seven Little Foys.
Mary is a fictional character. George M. Cohan was actually married twice, the first time to actress Ethel Levey and the second time to chorus girl Agnes Mary Nolan. In fact, Cohan wanted the character of Mary to be introduced later in the film so that his first wife could not claim the character was based on her.
Josie was not George’s younger sister. She was born two years before George.
George M. Cohan's mother died after his father.
George M. Cohan was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal (not the Congressional Medal of Honor) the year before he portrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the stage play "I'd Rather Be Right", not after it opened.
“Popularity”, Cohan’s first non-musical play, ran for 24 performances in 1906, nine years before the Lusitania was sunk.
In keeping with Cohan’s advice to a group of passing youngsters that he didn’t appear in the movies, there are no scene recreations in this biopic. In reality, Cohan starred in three silent movies (which were based on stage plays he wrote and starred in) and two sound films.