George M(ichael) Cohan



  • (1878 - 1942) American actor, songwriter, dancer, playwright, and manager.The pint-sized entertainer was US vaudeville's greatest showman and the embodiment of brash flag-waving patriotism. In 1940 President Roosevelt presented him with a Congressional Medal, the nation's highest civilian award, for writing the wartime songs 'Over There' and 'It's A Grand Old Flag', and in 1959 New York erected a statue to him at the corner of Broadway and 46th Street.

    His other songs included 'I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'GiveMy Regards To Broadway'. He could not write music and had to whistlehis tunes to a transcriber. Cohan also needed peace and quiet to compose;after he became famous, he would sometimes hire a carriage on a trainto work overnight, not caring what the destination was.

    Cohan was born on July 3 but always gave the date as July4, Independence Day. As a child, he appeared on stage with his parentsand sister as 'The Four Cohans' and soon began writing songs and skits.He made his adult debut at the Savoy Theatre in his own play, TheGovernor's Son (1901). Later hits included Little Johnny Jones(1904), about an American jockey in England, George Washington,Jr (1906), Over There (1917), an all-star revue to raisemoney for the Red Cross, The Song and Dance Man (1923), andAmerican Born (1925). He opened his own George M. Cohan theaterin 1911.

    Late in his career, he starred as Nat Miller in Eugene O'Neill'sAh! Wilderness (1933) and upset the playwright by interpolatingnew lines of his own each night. In 1968 Joel Grey starred in GeorgeM, a Broadway musical based on Cohan's life, while the 1943 filmmusical Yankee Doodle Dandy starred James Cagney as the entertainer.

    Cohan often wondered how he succeeded:

    As a dancer, I could never do over three steps. As a composerI could never find use for over four or five notes in my musical numbers.As a violinist, I could never learn to play above the first position.I'm a one-key piano player, and as a playwright, most of my playshave been presented in two acts for the simple reason that I couldseldom think of an idea for a third act.