George M. Cohan – The Yankee Doodle Dandy

By | Jul 3, 2011

George Michael Cohan was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1878. He was the second child of show business parents Jerry (Jerome) and Nelly (Helen Costigan) Cohan. Even though his baptismal certificate says he was born on July 3rd, Cohan’s family always insisted he was born on the 4th of July.

When he was 11 he and his sister Josie joined their parents on the Vaudeville stage, often working on the prestigious but exhausting B.F. Keith circuit.

In the 1890’s they eventually earned nearly $1000 a week, which was a great deal of pay, becoming the most highly paid four-act in vaudeville. B.F. Keith realized that a genuinely devoted family performing together had an irresistible appeal, and he booked them at his best houses. When audiences demanded extra bows, George responded with a one-line curtain speech that became Cohan’s lifelong trademark – “Ladies and gentlemen, my mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you!”

Because of the dictatorial style of B.F. Keith, the family decided to turn to the Broadway stage with George performing in his first musical in 1900, a year after his marriage to Ethel Levy, a talented vaudeville singer and the year that his daughter Georgette was born.

During the early years of the 20th Century Cohan created a number of Broadway musicals including in 1904 Little Johnny Jones, which had two of famous songs Yankee Doodle Dandy and Give My Regards to Broadway. By 1920 he was one of the best known men in America owning several Broadway theaters and had companies performing all across the country.

On November 5, 1942 Cohan died. He did live long enough to see the film of his life Yankee Doodle Dandy and approved of the choice of James Cagney playing him.


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