George M. Cohan's statue graces Times Square. This extraordinarily prolific showman accomplished more in his 64 years (1878-1942) than can be encompassed in any single book, play, or film. He wrote hundreds of spirit-lifting songs, wrote or co-wrote more than 50 plays, produced or co-produced more than 80 plays.
The zesty, fast-paced shows he created and starred in--such as "Little Johnny Jones," "Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway, and "George Washington Jr."--provided the foundation for modern musical comedy. He remade the American songbook. His fresh, heartfelt numbers made the melodramatic Victorian-Era songs passe overnight. And he made America--not Europe--the pace-setter for musical theater.
A life on the stage....
THE FOUR COHANS
Starting out as a poor Irish-American kid from Providence, RI, Cohan never spent more than a few weeks in school. His parents, Jerry and Nellie, were show people, and they added young George and his sister Josie to their act, which they billed as "The Four Cohans."
Growing up, George got to criss-cross the continent 10 times with his family, learning what audiences liked from coast to coast. It didn't matter if they were playing places like Providence or Portland, San Francisco or South Slocan; you could learn from audiences--and fellow variety artists--everywhere, George's father said.
By his mid teens, George was running the act--writing songs and sketches, and handling bookings. The "Four Cohans" became the best-known, highest paid family act in vaudeville. Cohan's ultimate goal, though, was Broadway.
Cohan became the leading musical-comedy star of his day. But his interests extended far beyond musical comedy. Such enduringly popular Cohan straight plays as Seven Keys to Baldpate and The Tavern (which Cohan wrote in three days) have never gone out of print.
Cohan's Playbill bio for his final hit Broadway show noted he was "perhaps the best beloved and most popular of all American players.... He has been awarded the accolade of First Actor by practically all the leading critics." Cohan was the first member of his profession ever honored with a Congressional medal.
COHAN ON THE COVER OF "TIME" MAGAZINE
GEORGE M. COHAN WITH LOU GEHRIG
For more information on the George M. Cohan Project, contact Chip Deffaa Productions LLC, 50 Quartz Lane, Paterson, NJ 07501-3345; telephone: (973) 684-3340; Email: OriginalCast1@aol.com.