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George M. Cohan

George M. Cohan

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Also Known As: George Michael Cohan Died: November 5, 1942
Born: July 3, 1878 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Providence, Rhode Island, USA Profession: playwright, actor, screenwriter, songwriter, singer, dancer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A brash, jaunty songwriter and performer whose lasting contribution to Americana includes the songs "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "Over There", George M. Cohan virtually brought the Broadway musical into the 20th Century single-handedly. Before him, most musicals and comedies were either imported from Europe or based on European ideals. Cohan invented the wise-cracking, fast-talking show which eventually influenced the screwball comedy films of the 1930s and 40s. The son of actors, Cohan toured in vaudeville in the late 19th Century with his parents and older sister Josephine. He had his first success playing "Peck's Bad Boy" (1890) on tour, then brought his family to Broadway in 1901 with his own play, "The Governor's Son". From then on there was no stopping him: Cohan composed songs for, wrote, produced and directed shows in which he (and often his family) starred. While many critics derided these entertainments as flashy and corny, the public loved them. His biggest hits (often toured and revived) included "Little Johnny Jones" (1904), "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway" (1906), "The Little Millionaire" (1911), the thrillers "Seven Keys to Baldpate" (1913) and "The Tavern" (1921), "The Home...

A brash, jaunty songwriter and performer whose lasting contribution to Americana includes the songs "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "Over There", George M. Cohan virtually brought the Broadway musical into the 20th Century single-handedly. Before him, most musicals and comedies were either imported from Europe or based on European ideals. Cohan invented the wise-cracking, fast-talking show which eventually influenced the screwball comedy films of the 1930s and 40s.

The son of actors, Cohan toured in vaudeville in the late 19th Century with his parents and older sister Josephine. He had his first success playing "Peck's Bad Boy" (1890) on tour, then brought his family to Broadway in 1901 with his own play, "The Governor's Son". From then on there was no stopping him: Cohan composed songs for, wrote, produced and directed shows in which he (and often his family) starred. While many critics derided these entertainments as flashy and corny, the public loved them. His biggest hits (often toured and revived) included "Little Johnny Jones" (1904), "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway" (1906), "The Little Millionaire" (1911), the thrillers "Seven Keys to Baldpate" (1913) and "The Tavern" (1921), "The Home Towners" (1926) and "Gambling" (1929). In the 30s, Cohan successfully appeared in two shows he did not write: as the patriarch based on the author's actor father in Eugene O'Neill's comedy "Ah, Wilderness!" (1933); and as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "I'd Rather Be Right" (1937).

From 1906 through 1920, Cohan produced his plays with partner Sam Harris. His opposition to the Actor's Equity Strike of 1919 gained him some enmity in the theater world (just when his vogue was beginning to pass). But even in his lifetime, Cohan was generally well-liked and acknowledged to be an innovator and great talent.

Cohan had more success selling his work to the screen than he did in selling himself. Although he appeared in three silent films, "Broadway Jones" and "Seven Keys to Baldpate" (both 1917) and "Hit-the-Trail Holliday" (1918), and in two talkies, "The Phantom President" (1932) and "Gambling" (1934), he never achieved screen stardom. Cohan, however, supplied the stories for 30 films, including five versions of "Seven Keys to Baldpate."

Shortly after his death, Cohan was brilliantly portrayed by James Cagney in the award-winning biopic "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1943). Both Cagney and Spencer Tracy admitted that their brash screen personas owed more than a little to Cohan's personality. Though his plays are occasionally revived, his songs, notably "Yankee Doodle Dandy", "Mary", "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway", "Grand Old Flag" and "Harrigan", among others, remain standards to this day.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Gambling (1934) Al Draper
2.
 The Phantom President (1932) Theodore K. Blair/Peter [Doc] Varney
3.
 Hit-the-Trail Holliday (1918) Billy Holliday
4.
 Broadway Jones (1917) Broadway Jones
5.
 Seven Keys to Baldpate (1917) George Washington Magee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1890:
First big success, touring as "Peck's Bad Boy"
1894:
Sold first song, "Why Did Nellie Leave Home"
1901:
Broadway writing and acting debut, "The Governor's Son"
1904:
First Broadway hit, "Little Johnny Jones"; Cohan wrote and starred in the musical
1906:
Formed producing partnership with Sam Harris
1917:
Film acting debut, "Broadway Jones"
1919:
Attempted to mediate Actor's Equity Strike
1932:
Talking film debut, "The Phantom President"
1933:
Starred in first non-Cohan play, Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wildnerness!"
1941:
Last Broadway show, "The Return of the Vagabond"
1943:
Posthumously portrayed by James Cagney in "Yankee Doodle Dandy"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"He is a wit, and it shows in the odd little side twist to his sensitive mouth and in the glow of fun under his long lashes; it lies about his strong, thin jaw and in the set of his head upon his slightly stooped shoulders." --critic Amy Leslie quoted in "The Oxford Companion to American Theater"

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Ethel Levey. Vaudevillian, singer, comedian. Married in 1899; divorced in 1907; died on February 27, 1955 at age 72.
wife:
Agnes Nolan. Actor. Married in 1907; her brother-in-law was Sam Harris, Cohan's partner.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Jerry J Cohan. Actor. Died on August 1, 1917 at age 69.
mother:
Helen Cohan. Actor.
sister:
Josephine Cohan. Actor. Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1876; married actor Fred Niblo Sr; died in July 1916.
nephew:
Fred Niblo Jr. Actor. Son of sister Josephine; born in 1903; died in 1973.
daughter:
Georgette Cohan.
daughter:
Helen Cohan. Actor.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway"

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