Happy birthday, Irish-American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer, and theatrical producer George Michael Cohan. His life and music were depicted in the Oscar-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the 1968 musical George M! A statue of Cohan in Times Square, New York City commemorates his contributions to American musical theatre.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on July 3, 1878, to Irish Catholic parents Jeremiah “Jere” (Keohane) Cohan (1848-1917) and Helen “Nellie” Costigan Cohan (1854-1928). The Baptismal Certificate from St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church indicated that Cohan was born on July 3, but he and his family always asserted that he was “Born on July Fourth!” His paternal ancestors were from County Cork, Ireland. The original surname was O’Caomhan, but it was changed to Keohane, which eventually became Cohan; the grandmother was a Breen; and someone was from Ballymena, County Antrim. Family were touring vaudeville performers – “The Four Cohans”; therefore, he began acting at the age of eight.
Spouses: Grace Ethel Fowler Levey (m 1899-1907), Agnes Mary Nolan (m 1907-1942). GMC authored, produced, and performed in over 36 Broadway musicals. Wrote 40 plays and collaborated on the development of 150 others. Took part in over a thousand performances, penned over five hundred songs, created over fifty stage productions, and acted in films until the 1930s, while continuing to play as a headliner until 1940. Considered the “Father of American Musical Comedy” and known as “The Man Who Owned Broadway.”
James Cagney played Cohan in the 1942 biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy and in the 1955 film The Seven Little Foys. Cagney won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Dandy.
Mickey Rooney played Cohan in Mr. Broadway, a television special broadcast on May 11, 1957. The same month, Rooney released a 78 RPM record featuring Rooney singing Cohan’s best-known songs on the A-side.
On November 5, 1942, GMC died of cancer at the age of 64 in Manhattan; his burial at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was attended by thousands, including prominent politicians, and the honorary pallbearers were “Broadway’s leading names”; he was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.