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James Cagney on TV: How His Star Power Went Beyond the Big Screen

By    |   Tuesday, 14 Apr 2015 07:10 PM

James Cagney’s career on the big screen took off in the 1930s, where he became one of the most beloved stars of Hollywood’s Glamour Days.

Later, he made guest appearances on various TV shows as himself, including “What’s My Line” (1960), the British interview show “Parkinson,” and the televised Queen Mother’s birthday celebration. In 1980 he appeared on Tom Snyder’s “Celebrity Spotlight” on NBC, along with Carroll O’Connor, Erik Estrada, and Priscilla Presley.

In his earliest dramatic performance on TV, Cagney appeared on "Robert Montgomery Presents Your Lucky Strike Theatre" in 1956. According to TV.com, Cagney played "an Army sergeant who escorts the body of a fellow sergeant to his hometown" in the episode "Soldier From Wars Returning."

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Cagney’s distinctive voice can be recognized in the 1966 TV movie, “The Ballad of Smokey the Bear,” according to Unseen Films.

In the tradition of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," this was a Rankin-Bass holiday animation that was released for Thanksgiving and the Smokey the Bear balloon that was debuting in the Macy's parade that year.

Although the Smokey appeared hardly at all, this half-hour special is an origin story of America's favorite woodland fire preventionist, which Cagney told through narration and dialog and song from the title character's fictional older brother bear.

In 1984, Cagney accepted the lead role in “Terrible Joe Moran,” another made-for-TV movie, which was the last role of his career.

According to IMDb, the script was originally written for a female lead, and Katharine Hepburn was cast as the retired tennis star. She declined the role, and the story was rewritten for Cagney as a retired boxer.

As Cagney’s health was declining, he was unable to project much of the dialog, so impressionist Rich Little provided voice-overs to complete the project.

Gone, but not forgotten, the likeness of James Cagney appeared in a TV commercial in 1992, six years after his death. The Coca-Cola Co. used footage of Cagney from "The Public Enemy," colorized it, and spliced it into a Diet Coke ad that also featured clips of Humphrey Bogart and Louis Armstrong among live actors and Elton John.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the spot was controversial because it was seen as exhuming the stars' likenesses and profiting off them without their consent.

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James Cagney’s career on the big screen took off in the 1930s, where he became one of the most beloved stars of Hollywood’s Glamour Days. Later, he made guest appearances on various TV shows as himself. Cagney only made a few dramatic turns on TV, including the final film credit of his career.
james cagney, tv, star, power
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2015-10-14
Tuesday, 14 Apr 2015 07:10 PM
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