James Francis Cagney, Jr. was an American actor and dancer, both on stage and in film, though it is film where he has had his greatest impact. Known for his consistently energetic performances, distinctive vocal stylings and deadpan comic timing he won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of performances. He is best remembered for playing multi-faceted tough guys in movies like The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces and was even typecast or limited by this view earlier in his career. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among its 50 Greatest American Screen Legends. No less a student of drama than Orson Welles said of Cagney that he was "maybe the greatest actor to ever appear in front of a camera."
In his first professional acting performance, Cagney danced costumed as a woman in the chorus line of the 1919 revue Every Sailor. He spent several years in vaudeville as a hoofer and comedian, until he got his first major acting part in 1925. He secured several other roles, receiving good notices, before landing the lead in the 1929 play Penny Arcade. After rave reviews, Warner Bros. signed him for an initial $500-a-week, three-week contract to reprise his role; this was quickly extended to a seven-year contract.