James Cagney studied ballet with Kosloff 5

Dance · Film

In my soon-published long essay, “Theodore Kosloff and Cecil B. DeMille Meet Madam Satan,”* I write as follows:

James Cagney, too, studied ballet with Kosloff, or so the actor-hoofer let drop to the Los Angeles Times in January 1938. Cagney confessed that he was training for a pet project: playing Nijinsky in a bio-pic. (This aspiration followed Cagney’s role as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, released by Warner Brothers in 1935 and choreographed by guess-who’s sister: Bronislava Nijinska. ) The Nijinsky bio-pic, starring Cagney, never came to fruition. Surely cinema’s great lost opportunity!

Cagney’s ballet exposure is undeniable in the video (which dates from 1937, according to the youtube poster). He’s a completely different dancer than we see in Footlight Parade (1933).

I cite Cagney’s pulled-up comportment, his petits jetés descending the staircase, and the number-closing enchaînement of petit allegro.

*(one essay of several in “Experiment” vol. 20, a journal of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture, University of Southern California, Nov 2014).

Like this? Read more:

5 thoughts on “James Cagney studied ballet with Kosloff

  1. lily Sep 26,2014 10:18 am

    This is a wonderful post script to the Kosloff talk by Debra Levine at the showing of Madame Satan. You can really see Cagney’s ballet training in this cut.

  2. debra levine Sep 26,2014 9:20 am

    Absolutely incredible information, Larry! Thank you.

  3. Larry Billman Sep 26,2014 8:45 am

    1n 1940, Fred Astaire was announced to be playing “Nijinsky” in a screenplay by Anita Loos. The Cagney/Astaire/Nijinsky connection was also in motion when Max Reinhardt sent his list of casting choices for the Hollywood Bowl stage production, he asked for Fred Astaire to play “Puck.” The much younger Mickey Rooney played the role. In James Cagney’s 1976 autobiography, Cagney wrote that “Freddie” (Cagney’s nickname for Astaire) was offered the role of “George M. Cohan” in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” which, of course, Cagney played.

  4. debra levine Sep 7,2014 12:27 am

    Gosh, no idea … I was cruising around looking for clips of Cagney in “Footlight Parade” and ran into this … it corroborates so well my research in which I learned Cagney was studying ballet in 1937 in order to play Nijinsky. I see so much ballet in this little snippet!

  5. Marilyn Klaus Sep 6,2014 7:25 pm

    Oh my lord, this is truly fabulous! And the choreographer is?

Leave a Reply