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James Cagney Quotes


James Cagney
  • Mini Bio
  • Name: James Francis Cagney
  • Born: 17th July 1899, New York City, U.S.
  • Died: 30th March 1986, Stanford, New York, U.S.
  • Resting place: Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York, U.S.
  • Occupation: Actor and dancer
  • Nicknames: The Professional Againster and Jimmy
  • Height: 5' 6½" (1.69 m)
  • Famous for: Playing gangster roles with a wise cracking and compelling intensity
  • Influenced: Charles Durning, Michael J. Fox, Clint Eastwood and Malcolm McDowell all cited Cagney as there inspiration to become actors
  • Awards: He won an Oscar for best actor for his role as George M. Cohan in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942, the same role also earned him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
  • Trivia: In an extraordinary (for a Hollywood star) turn of events he never once cheated on his wife Frances which saw them live a happily married life that lasted 64 years until his death
  • Scroll down for full bio and many great quotes

"Come out and take it, you dirty, yellow-bellied rat, or I'll give it to you through the door"

James Cagney

"Those vaudevillians knew something that ultimately I came to understand and believe - that audiences are the ones who determine material. They buy the tickets"

James Cagney

"I probably was one of the few fellas in the business who had done any degree of boxing and street fighting and who looked as if he had done it"

James Cagney

"The lovers of hate, born in fear - Find no release from tension - They spend their lives in a permanent state - Of miserable apprehension"

James Cagney

"Outside of my family, the prime concern of my life has been nature and its order, and how we have been savagely altering that order"

James Cagney

"I came out here on a three week guarantee, and I stayed, to my absolute amazement, for thirty-one years" [about Hollywood]

James Cagney

"Talent was not nurtured, it was consumed. We did our job. If anyone was practicing art, I never saw it"

James Cagney

"Where I come from, if there's a buck to be made, you don't ask questions, you go ahead and make it"

James Cagney

"I'm here to dance a few jigs, sing a few songs, say hello to the boys, and that's all"

James Cagney

"With me, a career was the simple matter of putting groceries on the table"

James Cagney

"One shouldn't aspire to stardom - one should aspire to doing the job well"

James Cagney

"Never settle back on your heels. Never relax. If you relax, the audience relaxes. And always mean everything you say"

James Cagney

"You don't psych yourself up for these things, you do them... I'm acting for the audience, not for myself"

James Cagney

"I know you’re a smart lawyer, very smart, but don’t get smart with me"

James Cagney

"The kind of fellows I play, pretty girls don’t write to"

James Cagney

"All the kids today have cars, it seems. When I was young you were lucky to have a bike"

James Cagney

"Absorption in things other than self is the secret of a happy life"

James Cagney

"I have an idea that the Irish possess a built-in don't-give-a-damn that helps them through all the stress"

James Cagney

"Find your mark, look the other fellow in the eye, and tell the truth"

James Cagney

"I'm sick of carrying guns and beating up women"

James Cagney

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James Cagney Biography

Before James Cagney's rise to prominence as one of the 20th century's most iconic actors he learned his trade in Vaudeville as a dancer and a comedian. After securing his first movie role in the 1930 film Sinners' Holiday his fast talking New York accent became a trademark of his style as he delivered his lines with an intensity that oozed on screen charisma.

Cagney got somewhat typecast in the early 1930's for gangster roles and despite excelling in this genre he always yearned to play different roles to enhance his acting repertoire.



It was ironic that his only academy award for best actor came in a musical dramatisation of the life of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy whereby he danced his way to his Oscar in 1942.

He also had a love of farming and in 1961 he retired from the silver screen to concentrate on his upstate New York farm. After his death in 1986 his long time friend Ronald Reagan, who was the U.S. president at the time, read the eulogy at his funeral which was held at the St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan.

He was undoubtedly one of the best actors of his generation with the actor and director Orson Welles going further by describing him as "maybe the greatest actor to ever appear in front of a camera". The greatest actors are often responsible for some fantastic one liners so here is my compilation of 20 of the best James Cagney quotes.

Quotes About James Cagney

The actress Doris Day rated him highly: "The most professional actor I've ever known. He was always 'real'"

Jack Lemmon shared this assessment: "One of the keys to Cagney’s superiority as an actor is that he’s a master of observation"

The actor Will Rogers described his acting as intense: "Every time I see him work, it looks to me like a bunch of firecrackers going off all at once"

President Ronald Reagan paid tribute at the time of his death: "I have lost a dear friend of many years today and America has lost one of her finest artist"

Jimmy Stewart was impressed to say: "He`s been one of the biggest names of all in motion pictures. He was tremendously versatile as far as acting was concerned"

The director Milos Forman was praiseful: "I think he's some kind of genius. His instinct is just unbelievable. I could just stay at home. One of the qualities of a brilliant actor is that things look better on the screen than on the set. Jimmy had that quality"

The novelist Graham Greene knew what to expect of his performance: "Mr. Cagney, of the bull-calf brow, is as always a superb and witty actor"

Time Magazine review in 1941 describing his Academy Award winning role: "Smart, alert, hard-headed, Cagney is as typically American as Cohan himself... It was a remarkable performance, probably Cagney's best, and it makes Yankee Doodle a dandy"

Warner Brothers publicity department's gritty description of his character Cody Jarrett in the 1949 movie White Heat: "Homocidal paranoiac with a mother fixation"


James Cagney image quote