George M. Cohan

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The world has seen many great playwrights, dancers and musicians, but none have matched the success of George Michael Cohan. George Cohan has written some of the most famous plays, musicals and songs known to the United States. His music has also improved the American Spirit. He has been involved in the theatre since he was born and has been committed to it throughout his life. George M. Cohan was born on the forth of July in 1878 in a small medical house outside of a bustling Forth of July parade. He was the second child born to Jeremiah and Helen Cohan and brother to his sister Josephine. The family was the typical Vaudevillians by 'living out of a trunk' and traveling from town to town, staying in shabby boarding houses. Often the children would sleep in the theater dressing room while the parents were on stage. George had only a small taste of public school education, as well as just a few lessons on the violin. The theater became his school, and he was an eager learner. He appeared in his parent's stage sketches as a 'prop' while still an infant. When he was nine years old, he became a member of the act, with his sister Josephine joining him just one year later. Now, the act was officially billed as "The Four Cohans." By age 11, he was writing special material, and by age 13 he was writing songs and lyrics for the act. He was just 16 years old when, in 1894, he sold his first song to Witmark Music Publishing for twenty-five dollars. The Four Cohans lasted quite a while on Vaudeville until it came time for George to move on to bigger and better things. Later on in his life, George went to many production companies trying to sell his work and have them published. He had no success because many companies said that his material wasn't "showy enough." George Cohan became outraged by this and started to think twice about his career in theatre. Shortly after another turndown by a production company in 1904, he met a man by the name of Sam Harris. Harris at this time was also trying to sell his work to production companies with little success. The two met in a small tavern while discussing their failures and decided to work together. In 1904, George and Sam Harris formed a partnership that was destined to become one of Broadway's most prospering producing firms. Their first work together was "Little Johnny Jones" which opened as a big success. The partnership lasted for a span of fifteen years, which included twenty-two productions. In 1919, Actor's Equity called a strike in an effort to gain recognition as a bargaining agent for its membership. This strike closed the Broadway theaters. As a producer, Cohan was affected and he took it badly. Many of the people, who aligned themselves with Equity, were people that Cohan had helped with their careers. He became quite bitter, lost his enthusiasm, even broke up the successful Cohan-Harris partnership, and retired from show business. He even cancelled his memberships in the Friar's Club and The Lambs club (two Broadway organizations.) But show people can not stay away from the stage, just as composers can not stay away from music. After some rest and travel, Cohan returned to Broadway. In 1917, Cohan composed his greatest hit song. America had just entered World War I. Cohan was living in New Rochelle, New York, which at that time was forty-five minutes from Broadway. On the train down to New York, he thought of a song. Cohan has said "I read those war headlines, and I got to thinking and humming to myself, and for a minute, I thought I was going to dance. I was all finished with both the chorus and the verse by the time I got to town, and I also had a title." The title was "Over There". Charles King introduced the song in the New Amsterdam Theater in 1917; a recording by Nora Bayes made it a national hit. Twenty-five years later, Congress authorized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to present the Congressional Medal of Honor for his songs, "Over There" and "You're a Grand Old Flag". Cohan was the first person in his profession to receive

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