An Indelible Sense of Loss With Cagney’s Death

When I was a little girl, I grew up in a little town in Puerto Rico. Those were the Depression years and the only form of entertainment at that time was going to the movies.

My grandfather, who owned the theater, loved James Cagney. He showed his movies over and over, so we knew the whole plot and Jimmy became our idol. We saw him in all different roles, but when he made “Public Enemy” in 1931, he became known for his gangster image.

It was in 1933 when grandpa advertised with posters all over town: “TONIGHT, JAMES CAGNEY--GANGSTERS” The theater was packed. Lo and behold! Throughout the movie all we saw was Cagney dancing instead of shooting. The picture, “Footlight Parade,” was a musical comedy that also featured Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell.

The audience loved it, but most of the men were disappointed. As I stood with grandpa at the entrance of the theater, this man approached us. “I’ll take my money back,” he said, “there were no gangsters, all I saw was the ‘killer’ dancing.” Grandpa, with a smile on his face and sounding very believable replied, “How can Cagney, the gangster, come out when the chief of police was in the theater?” The man walked away laughing.


Many films and musicals followed and the people in my little town and in the island of Puerto Rico learned to love the actor who demonstrated his talents in many roles. He was “tops.”


North Hollywood