Happy Birthday George Cohan!
The father of American musical comedy, George Michael Cohan was born on July 3, 1878, in Providence, Rhode Island.
The son of traveling Vaudeville performers, Cohan joined his parents on stage when he was just a baby. Cohan learned to dance and sing shortly after learning to walk and talk. Along with his parents and sister, the family toured under the name The Four Cohans, with George writing skits and songs in his teens.
In 1893, Cohan sold his first songs to a national publisher. Eleven years later, he produced his first big Broadway hit, Little Johnny Jones, which made songs like “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy” famous. He soon became one of New York City’s top songwriters, publishing about 500 songs throughout his career. Cohan sometimes had shows running in five theatres at the same time. For 20 years beginning in 1906, he worked with Sam Harris to produce more than three dozen Broadway shows, including the 1917 hit Going Up which was especially popular in London.
Cohan appeared in several early silent films but only did two sound films. His first was the 1932 film The Phantom President, which was remade in 1993 as Dave starring Kevin Kline. The other was the 1935 film, Gambling based on a play he wrote. Cohan appeared in his last play in 1940 – The Return of the Vagabond.
One of America’s most honored entertainers, Cohan received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1936 from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his songs that helped boost morale during World War I, including “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There.” He was the first artist to receive this honor, as all previous honorees were military and political leaders, philanthropists, scientists, inventors, and explorers.
Cohan died on November 5, 1942, in New York City. In the years after his death he was inducted into the Songwriters and American Folklore Halls of Fame and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also the only actor honored with a statue on Broadway.
Click here for a neat medley of Cohan songs.
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