George M. Cohan
George Michael Cohan was an American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and theatrical producer.
Cohan began his career as a child, performing with his parents and sister in a vaudeville act known as "The Four Cohans". Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals. Cohan wrote more than 50 shows and published more than 300 songs during his lifetime, including the standards "Over There", "Give My Regards to Broadway", "The Yankee Doodle Boy" and "You're a Grand Old Flag". As a composer, he was one of the early members of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). He displayed remarkable theatrical longevity, appearing in films until the 1930s and continuing to perform as a headline artist until 1940.
Cohan was born in 1878 in Providence, Rhode Island, to Irish Catholic parents. A baptismal certificate from St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church (which gave the wrong first name for his mother) indicated that Cohan was born on July 3, but he and his family always insisted that he had been "born on the Fourth of July!" His parents were traveling vaudeville performers, and he joined them on stage while still an infant, first as a prop, learning to dance and sing soon after he could walk and talk.
Cohan earned acclaim as a serious actor in Eugene O'Neill's only comedy Ah, Wilderness! (1933) and in the role of a song-and-dance President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Rodgers and Hart's musical I'd Rather Be Right (1937). The same year, he reunited with Harris to produce a play titled Fulton of Oak Falls, starring Cohan. His final play, The Return of the Vagabond (1940), featured a young Celeste Holm in the cast.
In 1940, Judy Garland played the title role in a film version of his 1922 musical Little Nellie Kelly. Cohan's mystery play Seven Keys to Baldpate was first filmed in 1916 and has been remade seven times, most recently as House of the Long Shadows (1983), starring Vincent Price. In 1942, a musical biopic of Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, was released, and James Cagney's performance in the title role earned the Best Actor Academy Award. The film was privately screened for Cohan as he battled the last stages of abdominal cancer, and he commented on Cagney's performance: "My God, what an act to follow!" Cohan's 1920 play The Meanest Man in the World was filmed in 1943 with Jack Benny.
Books by George M. Cohan
Seven Keys to Baldpate is a 1913 play by George M. Cohan based on a novel by Earl Derr Biggers. The dramatization was one of Cohan's most innovative plays. It baffled some audiences and critics but became a hit, running for nearly a year in New York,...