I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
Yankee Doodle do or die...
Both the words and music of "Yankee Doodle Boy" (also known as "I'm A Yankee Doodle Dandy") were written by George M. Cohan. Cohan also wrote, co-produced and starred in the play in which he introduced the song. He sang it during the first act of Little Johnny Jones, his first full-length musical which opened in New York's Liberty Theater on November 7, 1904, and ran for 52 performances.
In many ways Cohan blended his off-stage personality and his on-stage persona in the song "Yankee Doodle Boy." Born on July 3, 1878, Cohan learned to sing, dance and perform almost from birth. His parents were vaudevillians and after he and his sister joined their act they were billed as "The Four Cohans." They traveled the vaudeville circuit with such intensity that Cohan could later write a poem entitled "Theatrical ABC's" that reviewed and rated performance cities from A through Z.
A stands for Albany, good for one night.
B stands for Boston, for two weeks alright.
C for Chicago, big money, no yaps.
D stands for Denver, break even perhaps.
E stands for Evansville, Sunday night stand.
F is for Frisco, you must have a band...
At about age twenty-five, Cohan segued with boundless enthusiasm into a career on the musical stage taking all the Cohans and his young wife, Ethel Levey, with him. Cohan used Little Johnny Jones as a vehicle to star all four Cohans and Levey. Cohan himself portrayed the show's young hero, Johnny Jones, an American who goes to Britain to ride his horse Yankee Doodle in a derby. Like Cohan himself, the character Johnny Jones was exuberant, brash and patriotic.
Little Johnny Jones had a brief Broadway run and was not highly praised by the critics, but it had a long national tour. It also had two return engagements on Broadway in 1905 and two brief New York revivals in 1907 and 1982.
Subsequent to Cohan's most successful years on Broadway, a number of shows have incorporated his song "Yankee Doodle Boy" and/or depicted the "Yankee Doodle Boy," himself. Eddie Buzzell sang "Yankee Doodle Boy" in the 1929 motion-picture adaptation of the big hit Little Johnny Jones. Jimmy Cagney played the role of George M. Cohan and sang "Yankee Doodle Boy" in the Academy Award-winning 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy. Bob Hope popularized the song further in the 1955 Academy Award-nominated film The Seven Little Foys. And in 1969 Joel Grey played George M. Cohan on Broadway in the smash hit George M!.
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