George M. Cohan is an American playwright, producer, composer, actor, and a 1989 NYAC Hall of Fame inductee.
George M. Cohan was born on July 3rd, 1878. His parents were traveling vaudeville performers; as Cohan and his sister got older, they were eventually incorporated into the performances. They called themselves “The Four Cohans.”
Cohan was 16 years old when he wrote his first song, called “Why did Nellie Leave Home?” which he sold for $25. Around the same time, Cohan began directing and producing for The Four Cohans, which gave him an outlet to display his artistic and business acumen.
Cohan’s first Broadway musical, “The Governor’s Son”, debuted in 1901, but his first real hit was the musical “Little Johnny Jones” in 1904. The musical was made famous for its two most popular songs, “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy.”
Cohan reached his pinnacle as a celebrity when the US entered World War I in the spring of 1917. Cohan wrote several patriotic songs, intended to drum up support for the war, including, arguably, his most famous song “Over There” which he debuted at a special concert at Travers Island in April of 1917. His other patriotic hits included “George Washington, Jr.,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Fans of his said that Cohan was, in fact, “born on the Fourth of July,” a reference to a line in “The Yankee Doodle Boy” and a testament to his fervent patriotism.
In 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt – a fellow member of the NYAC – presented Cohan with a Congressional Gold Medal for his extraordinary contributions to the war effort and to American culture.
In 1942, just a few months before Cohan’s death, the biographical film “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was released in theaters. It detailed his meteoric rise to the top to of Broadway and his status as the father of American musical comedy.
Cohan passed away on November 5th, 1942, at the age of 64. Befitting of his nickname as "The Man Who Owned Broadway," a statue of Cohan stands in Times Square.