AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Yankee Doodle Dandy
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Jan 1943
Duration (in mins):  125-126
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Cast: James Cagney  (George M. Cohan)
  Joan Leslie  (Mary Cohan)
  Walter Huston  (Jerry Cohan)
 

Summary: 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. 

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Director: Michael Curtiz (Dir)
  Hugh MacMullan (Dial dir)
  Frank Heath (Asst dir)
  George Tobin (2d asst dir)
Producer: Jack L. Warner (Exec prod)
  Hal B. Wallis (Exec prod)
  William Cagney (Assoc prod)
Writer: Robert Buckner (Scr)
  Edmund Joseph (Scr)
  Robert Buckner (Orig story)
  Julius J. Epstein (Contr to scr)
  Philip G. Epstein (Contr to scr)

Subject Major: Actors and actresses
  George M. Cohan
  Family relationships
  Patriotism
  Playwrights
  Songwriters
 
Subject Minor: Congressional Medal of Honor
  Dancers
  Fourth of July
  Irish Americans
  New York City--Broadway
  "Over There" (Song)
  Parades
  Romance
  Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  Theatrical producers
  Vaudevillians
  World War I

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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.
 
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