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What do Actors Jim Carrey and James Cagney have in Common?

What does this have to do with you?

Fresh out of Off-Broadway New York an old school musical about the inner life of James Cagney, played by Robert Creighton who could be channeling the man at the center of this show now at the El Portal Hotel, NoHo Arts District, Los Angeles, CA

After the run in Los Angeles the show goes on the road for a national tour. Stay tuned for the schedule when it comes to a theater, probably a historic one, near you.

                        A medley of songs from Cagney, the musical about the tough-guy actor who began his career as a song-and-dance man. One of the roles he played was George M. Cohan, thus Robert Creighton as James Cagney tap dances and sings to Give My Regards to Broadway, Over There, and Yankee Doodle Dandy

          Parts of Cagney the human being as close to expressing the softer version of his role while still being a box office hit, James Cagney performing “Give My Regards To Broadway,” from the scruffy docks of NYC where Cagney grew up, from the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy 1942 as he is displaying a biographical story of George M. Cohan.

Cagney and Carrey and to some extent all of us are Every Man who have to suppress and put on a ‘ game-on’ face mask too just to have an adult life.Inwardly though, like these artists, we are artists too, we struggle with a tender side needing an outlet. Only problem was the ‘true’ Cagney, like the ‘true’ Carrey don’t do as well at the box office when their vulnerabilities are on view, not nearly as well as the full on typecast version of themselves did. That’s where the bean counters come in, the Mean Old Daddy but I Like Him role of Jack Warner.

 

      The origin story of James Cagney who actively supported social justice causes. Meet Jack Warner, Cagney’s nemesis and collaborator, at the center, the mean old daddy who invented and built a film empire naming his studio after himself during the Golden Ago of Hollywood, a better version of 45, not that different though.

The ‘real’ Cagney or Carrey did not compel the public to rush to buy tickets even if these works were well meaning and constructed. A second look at these films might be in order. It’s every actor’s or adult Faustian pact. Acceptance of the role, taking on the mask is achieved with acknowledgment of needing it for ‘success,’ not to be confused with fulfillment. Nice work if you can get it when your internal and external selves match.

                             A second look at the ‘7 Little Foys (1955)’Cagney and Hope, a passion project flop might be in order.

The tough ‘shtuff’ of life is potent and needs a light touch, a limited engagement for the formula Warner helped to invent that worked with the public. This was the role of Jack Warner as bad boss with a small heart and James Cagney as Young Turk with a big heart who couldn’t been denied. The actor who ably plays the young fan and Jack Warner speak to Cagney’s fear and eventual acceptance that he could co-exist with the two flows in them. Another binding commonality of both Cagney and Wagner is they lead with tough differently as they were both 1st generation, freshly traumatized by their own immigration stories, working out a new peace.

And what do Carrey and Cagney, their commonality have to do with you?

James Cagney in The Public Enemy (1931) in one of his roles he loved to hate

Let’s start off with the play, a dance musical in the grand tradition of the ‘Golden Age of Old Hollywood,’ when movies were required to be escape hatches from a dreary life. Everybody new it and did not question it except for the makers of the craft most notably the actors the public face of the enterprise coming on 100 years ago. Today we are privy to the conversation the questioning actor struggling against type cast who has made it and yet feels empty and bereft.

The play suggests, Cagney never said, “You Dirty Rat,” as close as he came to it, perhaps his softer self, his social activist side that could not jive with the politics of the time including the poor treatment of woman, as he seemed to be a wonderful husband in real life.

Enter the Funny Man or the Tough Guy a puffed up insecure version of the real self. Interesting how they seem to pair up nicely skating on the surface of emotions a kind of clarity that draws the other, the audience in. Struggling against the type might give the actor access to the greater expression of the role and enhance invitation to the escape. If you are not feeling very strong having an icon who is, is comforting.

‘”It’s just a role not me,” versus just be quiet, the ‘old Jim Carrey that has nothing to do with you.’ Carrey has been vocal with his need to be a polymath mixed in with distress over never having enough positive validation for shedding his strange weird comedic identity which others prefer. The struggle to express the more nuanced flavors of ourselves off leash and in private spheres is the point of the struggle and very challenging indeed.

At the end of the day we all possess a multitude of selves and strive to hold a wide berth for it all and more. The name of the game is to works towards a future where the best is yet to come which makes the struggle worth it even when it feels the goal post is on the move.

Disclaimer Alert: Reading this check list is not a substitute for therapy. Nothing written in this blog should be construed as advice. If you or someone you know is suicidal, do not hesitate to reach out to a professional or trusted family member or friend to get needed help.

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If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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