Name at birth: James Francis Cagney, Jr.
James Cagney caught the public's attention as a tough-talking gangster in 1931's The Public Enemy. Cagney was originally a song-and-dance man in vaudeville and spent much of the 1920s onstage in New York. Fast-talking, energetic and animated, he became known for his streetwise gangster movie roles, but it was his singing and dancing as composer George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) that earned him an Oscar as best actor. His later films were not as memorable or successful, but Cagney's star power never diminished and he became an icon of the silver screen. He returned from a 20-year retirement in 1981 take a small role in Ragtime. Cagney's 1976 autobiography was titled Cagney By Cagney.
Cagney was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Cagney and Reagan appeared together in the 1938 film Boy Meets Girl.