I saw the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on TV close to 30 times when I was a child. Loved it, and in particular loved the idea that James Cagney (whom I already knew as a tough old gangster from other movies) could dance. His dancing fascinated me because it was so non-balletic and idiosyncratic—the strutting, graceful/ungraceful, artful/artless uniqueness of his movement:

Cagney wasn’t just an actor and hoofer, although he certainly was both. He was also a political conservative and changer. Here are some excerpts from his Wiki page:

He was sickly as a young child—so much so that his mother feared he would die before he could be baptized. He later attributed his sickness to the poverty his family had to endure…

Cagney believed in hard work, later stating, “It was good for me. I feel sorry for the kid who has too cushy a time of it. Suddenly he has to come face-to-face with the realities of life without any mama or papa to do his thinking for him.”

He started tap dancing as a boy…and was nicknamed “Cellar-Door Cagney” after his habit of dancing on slanted cellar doors. He was a good street fighter, defending his older brother Harry, a medical student, when necessary…

In his autobiography, Cagney said that as a young man, he had no political views, since he was more concerned with where the next meal was coming from. However the emerging labor movement of the twenties and thirties soon forced him to take sides…He…became involved in a “liberal group…with a leftist slant,” along with Ronald Reagan. However, when he and Reagan saw the direction the group was heading in, they resigned on the same night…

Cagney was accused of being a communist sympathizer in 1934, and again in 1940…Cagney was cleared…

After [WWII], Cagney’s politics started to change. He had worked on Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential campaigns…However, by the time of the 1948 election, he had become disillusioned…By 1980, Cagney was contributing financially to the Republican Party, supporting his friend Ronald Reagan’s bid for the presidency…As he got older, he became more and more conservative, referring to himself in his autobiography as “arch-conservative.” He regarded his move away from liberal politics as “…a totally natural reaction once I began to see undisciplined elements in our country stimulating a breakdown of our system”…

Cagney: hoofer, political changer. An original all the way.

Happy Fourth to you all!

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]