Playwright, songwriter, dancer, actor, theater owner, and producer George M. Cohan was born on July 3, 1878, in Providence, Rhode Island. (Some sources report his date of birth as July 4.) As a young boy, he and his sister toured New England and the Midwest with their parents as the Four Cohans, a vaudeville act, for which he also wrote sketches and songs. In 1904, Cohan opened in the Broadway production Little Johnny Jones. That play, which Cohan also directed and for which he wrote the book, music, and lyrics (including the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), catapulted him to national attention.
Give my regards to Broadway,
remember me to Herald Square,
Tell all the gang at Forty-Second street,
that I will soon be there,
Whisper of how I’m yearning
To mingle with the old time throng,
Give my regards to old Broadway
and say that I’ll be there, e’er long.
Cohan is best known for the innovative Broadway musicals that he produced in the 1920s, such as The Tavern (1920-21), The Song and Dance Man (1923-24), and American Born (1925). He later made memorable appearances in Ah, Wilderness! (1933-34) and I’d Rather Be Right (1937-38).
A gifted composer of popular songs, Cohan wrote such favorites as “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” His career was the subject of the movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the Broadway musical George M! (1968-69).
The popularity of Cohan’s World War I song “Over There” is attested to by the variety of sheet music releases shown below.