Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943)

125-126 mins | Biography, Musical | 2 January 1943

Director:

Michael Curtiz

Cinematographer:

James Wong Howe

Editor:

George Amy

Production Designer:

Carl Jules Weyl

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

George M. Cohan wrote and produced more than thirty-five plays, many of them with his partner Sam H. Harris, and composed more than 500 songs. Modern critics have attributed his importance to the fact that his theatrical career survived and helped define the transition from vaudeville to the American musical play. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1936 and died on 5 Nov 1942. Apart from leading an unsuccessful fight against the Actors Equity Association during their strike in 1919, his life was so oriented toward the theater that associate producer William Cagney, star James Cagney's brother, and writer Robert Buckner complained in memos reproduced in a modern source, "He had no outside interests. His only objective was success, and he achieved it with monotonous annual regularity...." When Cohan objected to the way certain parts of his life were portrayed in the screenplay, Buckner, William Cagney and executive producer Hal B. Wallis explained in a letter dated 29 Aug 1941 that many biographical films produced by Warner Bros. took some liberty with the facts, thereby gaining dramatic interest. "Under your construction...the story is concerned largely with your chronology of productions, interspersed with personal scenes....We believe that the deep-dyed Americanism of your life is a much greater theme than the success story."
       According to memos included in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, Cohan was opposed to any portrayal of his private domestic life. He specifically objected to the character of "Mary," the screenwriters' largely invented romantic interest. In answer to his objections, Cagney, Buckner and executive producer Hal B. Wallis explained in the same letter "...The love story ... More Less

George M. Cohan wrote and produced more than thirty-five plays, many of them with his partner Sam H. Harris, and composed more than 500 songs. Modern critics have attributed his importance to the fact that his theatrical career survived and helped define the transition from vaudeville to the American musical play. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1936 and died on 5 Nov 1942. Apart from leading an unsuccessful fight against the Actors Equity Association during their strike in 1919, his life was so oriented toward the theater that associate producer William Cagney, star James Cagney's brother, and writer Robert Buckner complained in memos reproduced in a modern source, "He had no outside interests. His only objective was success, and he achieved it with monotonous annual regularity...." When Cohan objected to the way certain parts of his life were portrayed in the screenplay, Buckner, William Cagney and executive producer Hal B. Wallis explained in a letter dated 29 Aug 1941 that many biographical films produced by Warner Bros. took some liberty with the facts, thereby gaining dramatic interest. "Under your construction...the story is concerned largely with your chronology of productions, interspersed with personal scenes....We believe that the deep-dyed Americanism of your life is a much greater theme than the success story."
       According to memos included in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, Cohan was opposed to any portrayal of his private domestic life. He specifically objected to the character of "Mary," the screenwriters' largely invented romantic interest. In answer to his objections, Cagney, Buckner and executive producer Hal B. Wallis explained in the same letter "...The love story can be changed as you wish, to bring the girl in more casually and to delay the courtship and marriage very much as you have indicated...." In real life, Cohan married twice, the first time to actress Ethel Levey and the second time to Agnes Mary Nolan, a chorus girl who had been a member of his company for three years. Cohan wanted the character of "Mary" introduced late in the film so that his first wife would have no grounds for believing that the character was based on her. According to a 2 Aug 1944 Var article, Levey later unsuccessfully sued Warner Bros. for violation of her "rights of privacy" in making the film. New York Federal Judge William Bondy stated that "the introduction of fictional characters and a large fictional treatment of Cohan's life may hurt Miss Levey's feelings but they do not violate her rights of privacy."
       In a 9 Oct 1943 letter to Joseph Karp of the Warner Bros. legal department that is included in the Warner Bros. Collection, Buckner objected to giving Julius and Philip Epstein screen credit for their contribution to the film, protesting that ninety percent of the construction and seventy percent of the dialogue had been written by him. The Epsteins eventually relinquished onscreen credit on the condition that their friend Edmund Joseph remain in the credits. According to news items in HR , the studio was interested in assigning a role to Philip Reed, and cinematographer Sol Polito substituted for James Wong Howe while the latter was ill. Memos in the Warner Bros. Collection add the following information about the production: Hal Wallis wanted to cast Irene Manning in the role of "Mary," and Donald Crisp was considered for the role of "The President." Makeup artist Perc Westmore planned to use masks to age the characters throughout the film. This idea was vetoed by Wallis. According to a news item in LAT on 28 Dec 1941, Cagney's dance instructor, Johnny Boyle, was a former member of the Cohan and Harris Minstrels.
       Press notes included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library add the following information about the production: Cagney was Cohan's own choice to play him on screen. When "Over There" was introduced by Nora Bayes at Camp Merritt, Long Island (Cohan remembered the location as Fort Myer) in 1917, all the lights went out during the performance, but the show continued after the headlights of nearby parked cars and trucks were turned on the stage. This incident is reproduced in the film, with Frances Langford, billed as "The Singer," performing the song. Technical advisor William Collier, Sr. was in many musicals with Cohan. Daily production reports note that filming was completed in fifty-eight days, ten days behind schedule. A real horse was used in the "Little Johnny Jones" number, and among the many other musical numbers in the film were extravagant productions of "Give My Regards To Broadway," "You're A Grand Old Flag," "Over There," and "Yankee Doodle Dandy," as well as Cagney's more intimate rendering of the love song "Mary." Cagney was several years older than Rosemary DeCamp, who played his mother, and actress Joan Leslie was only seventeen. This was the only film role in which Walter Huston sang and danced, and this was the first time James Cagney appeared in a film with his sister Jeanne.
       Instead of tickets for the film's New York City premiere, Warner Bros. sold war bonds, ranging in price from $25 to $25,000. A 1 Jun 1942 news item notes that over 1,554 people bought bonds and raised over $5,000,000 for the war effort. The item adds that similar openings were planned for other cities, including Los Angeles and London. A premiere performance to benefit the Mexican Red Cross was held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. A 27 May 1942 HR news item notes that the premiere would be broadcast over WMCA from 8-8:30 p.m. and members of the cast would be interviewed by actress Helen Twelvetrees.
       Modern sources add the following information: Although the contract between Cohan and Warner Bros. stipulated that he compose three new songs for the film, these songs were never written. The filmmakers worked rapidly in order to complete the film before the ailing Cohan died. They held a special screening for Cohan and his wife Agnes, but Cohan lived long enough to read the film's rave reviews. The idea of a film about Cohan had made the rounds of the studios--Fred Astaire was at one time considered for the role--but Cagney, who had twice been falsely labeled a Communist, took the role of "Cohan" partly because he and his brother William believed that performing in an obviously patriotic film such as this would deflect political criticism. Cagney recreated his role as "George M. Cohan" in the 1955 Paramount film The Seven Little Foys , directed by Melville Shavelson. In the film, Cagney as "Cohan," dances a duet with Bob Hope as "Eddie Foy." Yankee Doodle Dandy was one of The FD Ten Best Pictures of 1943 and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Director Michael Curtiz and editor George Amy were also nominated for Oscars; Walter Huston received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor; and Robert Buckner was nominated for Best Original Story. James Cagney won his only Academy Award for his performance in this film. Ray Heindorf and Heinz Roemheld received an Oscar for Best Music Scoring, although Roemheld does not receive a credit on the film. The film also earned an Oscar for Best Sound Recording. Yankee Doodle Dandy was ranked 98th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 100th position it held on AFI's 1997 list. The picture was also ranked 18th on AFI's list of the Greatest Movie Musicals. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
30 May 1942.
---
Film Daily
1 Jun 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 41
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 41
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 May 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 42
p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 42
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 43
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Jun 42
p. 699.
New York Times
30 May 42
p. 9.
Variety
3 Jun 42
p. 8.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
David Willock
Bud McCallister
Ed Keane
Al Herman
Jackie Salling
Elliot Sullivan
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dial dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Orig story
Contr to scr
Contr to scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Photog
2d cam
Asst cam
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orch arr
Orch arr
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Mont
DANCE
Dance numbers staged and dir
Dance numbers staged and dir
James Cagney's dances
PRODUCTION MISC
SOURCES
SONGS
"The Yankee Doodle Boy," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Over There," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Mary's a Grand Old Name," "So Long, Mary," "The Warmest Baby in the Bunch," "Harrigan," "Oh, You Wonderful Girl," "Blue Skies," "Belle of the Barber's Ball," "Like the Wandering Minstrel," "You Remind Me of My Mother," "In a Kingdom of our Own," "The Love Nest," "Nellie Kelly, I Love You," "I Was Born in Virginia," "Billie," music and lyrics by George M. Cohan
"Off the Record," music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, additional lyrics by Jack Scholl
"Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone)," traditional.
DETAILS
Release Date:
2 January 1943
Premiere Information:
New York premiere: 29 May 1942
Production Date:
3 December 1941--10 February 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
2 January 1943
Copyright Number:
LP11830
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
125-126
Length(in feet):
11,347
Country:
United States
PCA No:
7929
SYNOPSIS

Actor and songwriter George M. Cohan is impersonating President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the musical show I'd Rather Be Right , by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, when he is summoned to meet the president at the White House. In response to the president's questions, George tells him the story of his life: George was born on the Fourth of July, 1878 to Jerry and Nellie Cohan, a pair of vaudeville actors. A short time later, his sister Josie is born and soon the family is touring the country as "The Four Cohans." The family gets a big break when they are hired to star in Peck's Bad Boy . At thirteen, George, the star of the play, is a success, but his self-importance is responsible for losing the Cohans several bookings. Several years later, George, now a young man, meets aspiring singer Mary when he is playing the part of an old man and she comes backstage to ask his sage advice about breaking into show business. The Cohans and Mary, who soon learns George's real age, go to New York, where George tries to sell the songs he has written. When he learns that The Four Cohans are losing work because of his reputation for imperious behavior, he pretends that his play has been sold so that the others will accept a booking without him. Later, in a bar, George overhears Sam H. Harris talking with Schwab, a potential backer, and offers him his new musical, Little Johnny Jones . Sam and George become partners and produce a ... +


Actor and songwriter George M. Cohan is impersonating President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the musical show I'd Rather Be Right , by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, when he is summoned to meet the president at the White House. In response to the president's questions, George tells him the story of his life: George was born on the Fourth of July, 1878 to Jerry and Nellie Cohan, a pair of vaudeville actors. A short time later, his sister Josie is born and soon the family is touring the country as "The Four Cohans." The family gets a big break when they are hired to star in Peck's Bad Boy . At thirteen, George, the star of the play, is a success, but his self-importance is responsible for losing the Cohans several bookings. Several years later, George, now a young man, meets aspiring singer Mary when he is playing the part of an old man and she comes backstage to ask his sage advice about breaking into show business. The Cohans and Mary, who soon learns George's real age, go to New York, where George tries to sell the songs he has written. When he learns that The Four Cohans are losing work because of his reputation for imperious behavior, he pretends that his play has been sold so that the others will accept a booking without him. Later, in a bar, George overhears Sam H. Harris talking with Schwab, a potential backer, and offers him his new musical, Little Johnny Jones . Sam and George become partners and produce a number of plays that feature George's popular formula of success stories laced with patriotism. In the meantime, George proposes to Mary, Josie becomes engaged, and the older Cohans buy a farm and retire. It is the end of The Four Cohans and George takes this opportunity to write Popularity , a serious play. It fails miserably, but news of its failure is wiped out of the papers by the sinking of the Lusitania by the Germans in 1915. When the U.S. enters the war, George tries to enlist, but at thirty-nine, is too old to be a soldier. Unable to fight, George writes the inspirational song "Over There." After World War I, Cohan writes more shows. Josie and Nellie die and then George's father Jerry dies. Feeling his age, George dissolves his partnership with Sam so that he and Mary can take a much-needed rest. They travel to Europe and Asia, and end up on the Cohan farm. George pretends to enjoy his life, but he hates being out of the limelight. After a group of teenagers see George reading Variety and think that the headline "Stix Nix Hix Pix" is a form of jive talk, George realizes how much he still wants to be performing and gladly accepts Sam's offer to star in I'd Rather be Right . The president has listened quietly to George's story and now presents him with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his songs "Over There" and "It's a Grand Old Flag." George is the first actor to receive this honor, and he responds as he used to when he was with The Four Cohans, "My mother thanks you; my father thanks you; my sister thanks you; and I thank you." When George leaves the White House, a parade of soldiers and a band march by singing "Over There," and George proudly joins them. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.