GEORGE MICHAEL COHAN Biography - Musicians


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Name: George Michael Cohan                                                             
Born: 4 July 1878 Providence, Rhode Island                                             
Died: 5 November 1942 New York City, New York                                           
George Michael Cohan (July 4, 1878 - November 5, 1942) was a United States             
entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer, director,           
and producer of Irish descent. Known as "the man who owned Broadway" in the             
decade before World War I, he is considered the father of American musical             
Cohan was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Irish Catholic parents. A                 
baptismal certificate (which gave the wrong first name for his mother) indicated       
that he was born on July 4. George's parents were traveling Vaudeville                 
performers, and he joined them on stage while still an infant, at first as a           
prop, later learning to dance and sing soon after he could walk and talk.               
He completed a family act called The Four Cohans, which included his father             
Jeremiah "Jere" Cohan (1848-1917), mother Helen "Nellie" Costigan Cohan (1854-1928),   
and sister Josephine "Josie" Cohan Niblo (1874-1916). Josie, who died of heart         
disease at a young age, was married to Fred Niblo Sr. (1874-1948), an important         
director of silent films, including Ben Hur (1925), and a founder of the Academy       
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their son, Fred Niblo Jr. (1903-1973) was         
an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.                                               
By his teens, Cohan became well-known as one of the stage's best male dancers,         
and he also started writing original skits and songs for the family act in both         
vaudeville and minstrel shows. Soon he was writing professionally, selling his         
first songs to a national publisher in 1893. Cohan had his first big Broadway           
hit in 1904 with the show Little Johnny Jones, which introduced his tunes "Give         
My Regards to Broadway" and "The Yankee Doodle Boy".                                   
Cohan became one of the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters, publishing upwards of       
1500 original songs, noted for their catchy melodies and clever lyrics. His             
other major hit songs included "You're a Grand Old Flag", "The Warmest Baby In         
The Bunch", "Life's A Funny Proposition After All", "I Want to Hear a Yankee           
Doodle Tune", "You Won't Do Any Business If You Haven't Got A Band", "Mary's a         
Grand Old Name", "The Small Town Gal", "I'm Mighty Glad I'm Living, That's All",       
"That Haunting Melody", and the popular war song, "Over There".                         
From 1906 to 1926, Cohan and Sam Harris also produced over three dozen shows on         
Broadway, including the successful Going Up in 1917, which became a smash hit           
in London the following year.                                                           
In 1925, Cohan published his autobiography, Twenty Years on Broadway and the           
Years It Took to Get There.                                                             
In 1932, Cohan starred in a dual role (as a cold, corrupt politician and his           
charming, idealistic campaign double) in the Hollywood musical The Phantom             
President, co-starring Claudette Colbert and Jimmy Durante, with songs by               
Rodgers and Hart.                                                                       
He earned acclaim as a serious actor in Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (1933),       
and in the role of a song-and dance President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Rodgers         
and Hart's musical, I'd Rather Be Right (1937).                                         
His final play, The Return of the Vagabond (1940) featured Celeste Holm in the         
cast; she was either 21 or 23 years old at the time.                                   
In 1940, Judy Garland played the title role in a film version of his 1922               
musical, Little Nellie Kelly. Cohan's mystery play, Seven Keys to Baldpate, was         
first filmed in 1916 and has been remade seven times, most recently as House of         
Long Shadows (1983), starring Vincent Price.                                           
In 1942, a musical biopic of Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy, was released, and James       
Cagney's performance in the title role earned the Best Actor Academy Award. The         
film was privately screened for Cohan as he battled the last stages of abdominal       
His 1920 play The Meanest Man in the World was filmed with Jack Benny in 1943.         
He died of cancer at the age of 64 on November 5, 1942, at his New York City           
home, 993 Fifth Avenue, directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum         
of Art. After a large funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York on Fifth             
Avenue, Cohan was interred at the Bronx's Woodlawn Cemetery, in a private family       
mausoleum he had erected a quarter-century earlier for his sister and parents.