James Cagney - Personal Life

Personal Life

On September 28, 1922, Cagney married dancer Frances Willard "Billie" Vernon, with whom he remained for the rest of his life. They had met on the chorus line of Pitter Patter. They adopted a son, James Cagney, Jr., in 1941, and then a daughter, Cathleen "Casey" Cagney. Cagney was a very private man, and while he was more than willing to give the press opportunities for photographs when necessary, he generally spent his private time out of the public eye.

Cagney's son married Jill Lisbeth Inness in 1962. The couple had two children, James III and Cindy. Cagney Jr. died from a heart attack on January 27, 1984 in Washington, D.C., two years before his adoptive father's death. He had become estranged from his father and had not seen or talked to him since 1982.

Cagney's daughter Cathleen married Jack W. Thomas in 1962. She too was estranged from her father during the final years of his life. She died August 11, 2004.

As a young man, Cagney became interested in farming – sparked by a soil conservation lecture he had attended – and during his first walkout from Warners, he found a 100-acre (0.40 km2) farm in Martha's Vineyard; owning a farm had long been a dream of his. Cagney loved that there were no concrete roads surrounding the property, only dirt tracks. The house was rather run-down and ramshackle, and Billie was initially reluctant to move in, but soon came to love the place as well. After being inundated by movie fans, Cagney sent out a rumor that he had hired a gunman for security. The ruse proved so successful that when Spencer Tracy came to visit, his taxi driver refused to drive up to the house, saying, "I hear they shoot!", which forced Tracy to walk the rest of the way.

In 1955, having shot three films, Cagney bought a 120-acre (0.49 km2) farm in Stanfordville, Dutchess County, New York, for $100,000. Cagney named it Verney Farm, taking the first syllable from Billie's maiden name and the second from his own surname. Cagney did not just live there, he turned it into a working farm by selling some of the dairy cattle and replacing them with beef cattle. He expanded it over the years to 750 acres (3.0 km2). Such was Cagney's enthusiasm for farming that when he was awarded an honorary degree from Rollins College, he surprised the staff by writing a paper on soil conservation, rather than just "turning up with Ava Gardner on my arm," as he put it.

Cagney loved horses from childhood, when he would sit on the horses of local delivery riders and ride in horse-drawn streetcars with his mother. He raised horses on his farms, specializing in Morgans, a breed of which he was particularly fond.

Cagney was a keen sailor and owned boats on both coasts of the United States, although he occasionally experienced seasickness—sometimes not being stricken in a heavy sea, but becoming ill on a calm day. He also enjoyed painting, and claimed in his autobiography that he might have been happier as a painter than a movie star, if somewhat poorer. One of his teachers in later life was Sergei Bongart, who went on to own two of Cagney's paintings. Cagney refused to sell his paintings, considering himself an amateur. He signed and sold only one painting, which Johnny Carson bought to benefit a charity.

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