James Cagney

James Cagney


When studio boss Darryl Zanuck viewed the first unedited scenes of “The Millionaire,” in 1931 with Jimmy Cagney, he thought he made a huge mistake in hiring Cagney. Cagney’s performance in the film, according to Zanuck, well, sucked. As far as Zanuck was concerned, Cagney was a failure. It was the ad-lib that won Cagney his career.


Cagney did not know the cameras had stopped running one time, and he looked directly at the director and sneered, “Who wrote this crappy dialogue anyway?” Zanuck loved that tough guy image and cast Jimmy for the studio’s next film, “The Public Enemy.” As we all know this movie made him a star.


Lucky for Cagney his “lower east side,” attitude shined through and through when he thought the camera’s had stopped rolling.  And it is that “don’t mess me,” swagger we know and remember him for.  I’ve have always thought that actors who bring in a lot of who they really are into the roles they play are the much more successful ones. And Cagney proves my point.

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One Response to “Jimmy Cagney: How a “Failure” Became an Overnight Success!”

  1. Interesting anecdote! His scene in ‘The Millionaire’ is far and away the best part of the movie in my book, I must say!

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