So, I’m watching Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) on TCM the other night, the classic film directed by Michael Curtiz. Cagney’s performance as legendary Broadway composer and performer George M. Cohan is top-notch. I’m not a tap-dancing fan, but Cagney’s tap-dancing — and overall dance physicality — is just incredible. It was, and still is, hard to match that man’s screen presence.
After the showing, Robert Osborne engaged in conversation with actress Sally Field about the film. At one point, Osborne mentioned that, last year, Cagney’s Oscar for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy (his only Oscar win) went to auction. Osborne noted that the auction was a dud and the statuette didn’t even meet the initial minimum bid of $800,000.
How is it, Osborne rhetorically asked Field, that Curtiz’s Oscar for his direction of Casablanca (1943) garnered over $2 million in 2012 while Cagney’s couldn’t fetch $800,000. Osborne mentioned how Steven Spielberg often buys such things at auction and then donates them to the Academy of Motion Pictures.
So, why might Steven Spielberg or other Hollywood bigwigs pass on Cagney’s Oscar? Well, it could be because a movie like Casablanca has more cult appeal than Yankee Doodle Dandy, especially given how the latter film contains performers in black face and is replete with patriotic songs (i.e., what the kids call ‘jingoism’.)
It might also have something to do with the fact that both Cagney and George M. Cohan were Irish Catholic, whereas Michael Curtiz was born Kertész Kaminer Manó, to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary.