James Cagney, the American actor, was known to be approximately 5 feet 6 inches (167.6 cm) tall. Cagney was a versatile actor who appeared in numerous films during his career, including “The Public Enemy,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “White Heat.”
Despite his relatively short stature, Cagney's dynamic performances and distinctive style made him a memorable presence on screen.
American actor James Cagney was five feet five inches tall.
Answered from Christian Lament
James Cagney was one of the most iconic actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. Though he had leading man looks, Cagney was known for playing scrappy, tough guy characters. His small stature played a key role in shaping many of his most memorable on-screen personas. But exactly how tall was this legendary actor? Let's take a closer look at the details around Cagney's height.
What was James Cagney's actual height?
Most sources agree that James Cagney was about 5'5″ or 5'6″ tall . In a quote widely attributed to him, Cagney supposedly said “I'm five feet six, and 120 pounds, and there's no fat on me.” While we can't confirm he said those exact words, they do line up with most records of his height.
Photographs of Cagney alongside other actors also corroborate that he was a few inches shorter than average for a leading man at the time. For instance, he was shorter than actresses like Joan Blondell and Doris Day, who stood at about 5'4″. He was also consistently shorter than male co-stars like Humphrey Bogart and Pat O'Brien, who were 5'8″ and 6'0″ respectively . So the consensus seems to be that Cagney was right around 5'5″-5'6″ barefoot.
Did he use platforms or other tricks to appear taller?
Yes, Cagney and the studios he worked for frequently used tricks to minimize his height difference on camera, especially with taller female co-stars. It was common for Cagney to stand on platforms or small lifts to appear closer in height to actresses .
Similarly, his leading ladies were sometimes asked to stand in trenches dug out beside the camera frame so they would seem shorter in relation to Cagney. Close-ups and low camera angles were also strategically used to avoid height contrasts in shoots featuring Cagney with taller actors.
How did his height influence his acting career?
Cagney's small stature actually became an asset that helped reinforce his screen persona as a fiery, scrappy tough guy. Directors like Raoul Walsh took advantage of Cagney's size to portray him as an underdog fighter who uses speed and tenacity to overcome stronger foes .
In films like The Public Enemy, White Heat, and Angels with Dirty Faces, audiences loved to see pint-sized Cagney take on hulking gangsters and cops. And because he was so short, choreographing his signature energetic movement and fight scenes had an added element of dynamism and acrobatic physicality.
So somewhat ironically, Cagney being shorter than the average leading man enhanced his career. His size fed directly into the scrappy, physically dynamic acting style that became his trademark.
What were some notable references to Cagney's height?
There are a few quotes and anecdotes that give insight into how Cagney and others reacted to and discussed his height:
- In a 1963 interview, Cagney remarked “Most actors were tall, big men. I'm little at 5 ft 7 in.” 
- Actress Joan Blondell, who starred alongside Cagney in several films, once commented “It was one of Hollywood's little tricks…Jimmy Cagney was short, so I would stand in a hole and he stood on a mound.” 
- The 1932 film Taxi! included a scene where Cagney's character gets mocked for being short. This meta-reference played off Cagney's real-life height.
- A movie studio memo once described Cagney as “a little guy who demonstrated that a fella with a snubnose could become a romantic lead.” 
- During auditions, Cagney was sometimes asked to walk across the room so the director could evaluate his small stature.
How did Cagney's height compare to other classic Hollywood stars?
For a leading man in the 1930s and 40s, Cagney was definitely on the shorter side. Here are the heights of some other classic Hollywood actors :
- Humphrey Bogart: 5'8″
- Clark Gable: 6'1″
- Spencer Tracy: 5'9″
- James Stewart: 6'3″
- Cary Grant: 6'1″
- Paul Muni: 5'10
- Edward G. Robinson: 5'7″
- Pat O'Brien: 6'0″
- Ralph Bellamy: 6'2″
So at 5'5″-5'6″, Cagney was a few inches shorter than even his contemporaries known for being “compact” like Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart. But again, he used his small size to his advantage on screen.
What does his height tell us about how much Hollywood has changed?
The fact that Cagney became a hugely popular leading man at just over 5'5″ illustrates how much Hollywood has transformed. In the 21st century film landscape, it is very rare for a male romantic lead to be under 5'9″ or so.
Cagney's popularity reveals that dynamic, commanding screen presence does not depend solely on physical stature. Unfortunately, current casting practices are much less flexible and open-minded when it comes to height.
So while Cagney's height may seem unremarkable now, in his era it showed that an A-list actor did not have to tower over his peers. With hard work, creativity, and force of personality, he succeeded in spite of not fitting the leading man mold.
What are some good resources for learning more about Cagney's career and life?
- James Cagney: The Authorized Biography by Warren G. Harris – The definitive Cagney biography covering his entire career.
- Cagney by John McCabe – Another excellent biography focused on Cagney's acting methodology.
- Cagney: The Actor as Auteur by Patrick McGilligan – Analyzes Cagney's creative contributions to his films.
- James Cagney Films of the 1930s – DVD collection featuring 10 classic films from Cagney's breakout decade.
- The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock by Donald Spoto – Discuses Cagney's working relationship with Hitchcock.
- Newspapers.com Archives – Search digitized newspaper clippings for contemporary reviews and interviews with Cagney.
Conclusion: An Outsized Talent in a Compact Frame
Despite his diminutive stature, James Cagney became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the 1930s and 40s through pure acting dynamism. He demonstrated that an engaging screen presence relies more on charm, energy, and stagecraft technique than physical size. Though often just 5'5″ or 5'6″ tall, Cagney used his modest height to craft many of cinema's most electric tough guy performances.
Off-screen he earned a reputation as a kind professional known for his generosity and humility. So any discussion of Cagney's legendary career should emphasize how he maximized his compact butCommanding frame to become a cinematic giant.