Fans gave film legend James Cagney one last round of applause today outside an East Side Catholic church where he was eulogized as "America's Yankee Doodle Dandy," a man "good to the core of his being, nothing at all like the gangsters he played."
Hundreds of admirers stood and clapped as pallbearers -- including ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and Oscar-winning director Milos Forman -- emerged from an hour-long private service at St. Francis de Sales Church with Cagney's flower-draped mahogany casket.
Following close behind, Cagney's wife of 64 years, Frances Willard Cagney, sobbed as she held hands with his longtime manager and confidant Marge Zimmermann, who was with the Cagneys at their upstate New York farm when he died Easter Sunday at age 86. Frances Cagney, a frail, petite woman in a black suit and dark glasses, was followed by the Cagneys' daughter Cathleen.
The area was Cagney's old neighborhood, the place he picked up the snappy street talk that made him one of Hollywood's feistiest gangster characters.
New York's archbishop, Cardinal John O'Connor, had offered the family St. Patrick's Cathedral, the biggest Catholic church in the city, for the funeral mass, but he said they refused because that would have been "too fancy." And besides, Cagney loved St. Francis, the church in which he had been confirmed and had served as an altar boy.
At the actor's request, the funeral was kept simple. Only close friends and parishioners were allowed inside; only a handful of actors and other celebrities were among them. Four floral arrangements were the only decoration. The Rev. John Catoir, chosen by the family, delivered the only eulogy, of which he gave copies to the press before the service.
"As a condemned convict in 'Angels With Dirty Faces,' [Cagney] said he never had a heart," Catoir told the mourners. "But he was wrong -- he had a heart. In real life, Jimmy never lost his goodness. Jimmy Cagney was always America's 'Yankee Doodle Dandy,' always generous with his gifts and talents."
Cagney won a 1942 Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Broadway song-and-dance man George M. Cohan, and the film's most famous scene is a loping Cagney dance sequence to the Cohan trademark song "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Cagney had gone to Hollywood in 1930 as a dancer, a performer who started as a "chorus girl" wearing a tutu on the Broadway stage. But he won fame as America's most enduring screen gangster, its number one "Public Enemy."
"He brought to those [gangster] roles so much dynamic energy that we felt the tragedy of wasted ambition and goodness lost," Catoir said in his eulogy.
He called Cagney "unspoiled by fame and fortune" and "a simple man" in spite of success and wealth.
After the service, O'Connor offered Frances Cagney an unusual apology for an episode that had hurt Cagney as a boy. O'Connor said Cagney's father was dying when the boy urged a priest to give him his last rites. The priest refused to respond quickly and Cagney's father died before he arrived, O'Connor said.
"It wounded him very deeply. That wound has been there through the years," O'Connor said.
Besides Baryshnikov and Forman -- who coaxed Cagney out of a 20-year retirement to appear in "Ragtime" in 1981 -- the pallbearers were actor Ralph Bellamy, former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson and Hollywood producer A.C. Lyles.
Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York City Mayor Edward Koch, who briefly appeared in Cagney's last film, the 1984 television movie "Terrible Joe Moran," attended the service. Outside the church, Koch said he played the role of a boxing promoter in a 1983 television film starring Cagney as an ex-boxer. "I had to ask him what he thought of my boxer and he said, 'You ought to put him in a tutu.' "
But for the most part, the mourners, inside and out, were people whose only connection to Cagney was the number of times they watched him dominate the silver screen.
"That 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' -- I'd see it over and over again," said Annie Fitzgerald, 60, a parishioner at the funeral.
"You had to admire him. There's no doubt about it," she said in a thick Irish brogue.
Later, Cagney was buried in Gate of Heaven cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., near the farm he lived on in retirement. A handwritten letter from President and Nancy Reagan was read at a five-minute private service.
Cagney's daughter Cathleen sobbed as she clutched three white carnations and told reporters, "This is extremely overwhelming. He was such a private person, I wasn't really aware of all the fans. I never looked at him as a star."
Asked how the world would remember her father, she said, "Obviously with a lot of love."