US film actor, who made his name in gangster roles in the 1930s.
With his wife Frances, Cagney began a successful career as a vaudeville song and dance act on Broadway. After appearing in shows, such as Penny Arcade (1929) with Joan Blondell (1909–79), he made his film debut in Sinner's Holiday (1930). Stardom came the following year with The Public Enemy (1931), the first of his gangster films. Small, stocky, and gentle, Cagney seemed an unlikely candidate for fame as a tough hoodlum, but his staccato delivery and cocky cheerfulness in such films as Angels With Dirty Faces (1938) and White Heat (1944) brought him stardom the world over.
A skilled dancer and comic, Cagney was by no means limited to gangster roles. The extent of his range was exemplified by such films as A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), playing Bottom, the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), for which he received an Oscar, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), and his last film, One Two Three (1961). He directed one film, Short Cut to Hell (1957), a remake of This Gun For Hire (1942). Cagney by Cagney (1975) is the title of his autobiography.