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29 Palms: James Cagney, an extraordinary human being and townsperson

By   /   March 21, 2014  /   2 Comments

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James cagney“I‘m sick of guns and beating up women. Movies should be entertaining, not bloodbaths.” — James Cagney ∞

Twentynine Palms is blessed to be James Cagney’s desert retreat home. He loved 29. It was a place where he found solitude and quiet peace and enjoyment. This summer will mark his birthday and the silver anniversary of his passing.

* Cagney played piano at the 29 Palms Inn, and he melted into the community where he attended receptions and gatherings. He spent many years retreating to his 29 Palms home. He professed to be happier as a painter than an actor. 

There is more to James Cagney that meets the eyeIt’s a challenge to find a more ethical, decent and downright wholesome human being.

Cagney began his career as a child-star in his family’s vaudeville show. His first job as an adult entertainer was as a female dancer in a chorus line. While in the chorus he earned $55 a week, of which he sent $40 a week home to his mother!

Cagney defied typecasting by giving acclaimed performances in his 1935 Shakespearean drama A Midsummer Night’s DreamCagney gave a magnificent and spellbinding performances in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy. The film  being number 100 on the American Film institute’s top-100 movies of all time.

Never have I seen awesome dancing like Cagney. It just captures you.  Yankee Doodle Went to Town became an American patriotic song. If  I were destine to return to this crazy (but beautiful) planet as someone else, Mr. Cagney is my choice.

 Roger Ebert:

Cagney wasn’t a dancer by Astaire’s standards, or a singer by anybody’s but he was such a good actor he could fake it: “Cagney can’t really dance or sing,” observes the critic Edwin Jahiel, “but he acts so vigorously that it creates an illusion, and for dance-steps he substitutes a patented brand of robust, jerky walks, runs and other motions.”

I beg readers to view his historic Yankee Doodle dance sequence: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/238963/Yankee-Doodle-Dandy-Movie-Clip-Yankee-Doodle-Boy.html 

I urge you to view this short and incredibly staccato slap off/punching video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41N43xVIiqQ

Or this 33 second classic dancing down the stairway video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlvB4xk4LNQ

Interesting info about Mr. Cagney

James Cagney stared as a silent film legend Lon Chaney. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He practiced martial arts, earning a black belt in Judo. Cagney was of Irish-Norwegian origin. His best friends Frank McHugh & Pat O’Brien, were known collectively and affectionately as the ‘Irish Mafia’ in the rough East side section of New York City where he grew up. Cagney never cheated on his wife Frances, resulting in a marriage that lasted 64 years (ending with his death). And he is pictured on a 33¢ USA commemorative postage stamp


With me, a career was the simple matter of putting groceries on the table.

A career was the simple matter of putting groceries on the table.

There’s not much to say about acting but this. Never settle back on your heels. Never relax. If you relax, the audience relaxes. And always mean everything you say.

I still think of myself essentially as a vaudevillian, as a song and dance man.


29 Palms Chamber of Commerce Community Guide Publication










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About the author

Branson Hunter

(This story was posted by Cactus Thorn contributor Branson Hunter)

"The ends do not justify the means." If you use illegal mean to accomplish a legal and even desirable result, the good result does not make the bad means you used justifiable.


  1. Dan OBrien Dan OBrien says:

    And the town paid back Jimmy by allowing their hoodlum kids to destroy his hillside home.

  2. Cagney was an artist of the highest caliber.The city could honor James Cagney in June. Since 29 is promoted to tourists as an art attraction, what would it take to keep his 29 Palm legacy alive for the world to enjoy? It’s a inexcusable his homestead was completely vandalized by hoodlums. Leaders must have been sleeping at the wheel.

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