Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Cohan from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

George Michael Cohan 1878–1942 Am. actor, dram., & producer


Summary Article: Cohan, George Michael
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(kōhăn', kō'hăn, kō'Әn), 1878–1942, American showman, b. Providence, R.I. As a child he appeared in vaudeville as one of "The Four Cohans" with his father, mother, and sister, Josephine. He eventually wrote the act and was the business manager. The Governor's Son (1901) was his first attempt at Broadway; Little Johnny Jones (1904) was his first success. Cohan wrote the book, music, and lyrics for 20 musicals; he was the producer, director, and most often the star. His inimitable style set the pattern of fast-moving, flippant and gay musicals; his characters were often modeled after real persons. Such shows as Forty-five Minutes from Broadway (1906), Hello, Broadway (1914), and The Song and Dance Man (1923), and such songs as "The Yankee Doodle Boy," "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Over There," and "You're a Grand Old Flag" show his preoccupation with flag-waving patriotism. Through his long career he had only one partner, Sam H. Harris. In 1913, Cohan revolutionized the mystery farce with his dramatization of Earl Derr Bigger's novel Seven Keys to Baldpate. He was an excellent adapter and play doctor; he described his adaptations as "Cohanized." As an actor he was noted for his debonair characterizations; his performances in O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (1934) and as the President in I'd Rather Be Right (1937) were particularly notable. His last public appearance was in his own play Return of the Vagabond (1940).

  • See his Twenty Years on Broadway (1924, repr. 1971).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Articles


Full text Article COHAN, GEORGE M. (1878-1942)
Ireland and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

Although his birth certificate states that he was born on July 3, his mother always said that George M. Cohan was born on the 4th of July, and a...

Full text Article Cohan, [Keohane], George M(ichael) (1878 - 1942)
The Cambridge Guide to Theatre

He first appeared on stage as a child with his family's vaudeville team, the ‘Four Cohans’, and by 15 was...

Full text Article George M. Cohan
The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music

The debate about Cohan's birthdate is symptomatic. Sceptics have suggested that Cohan was born on 3 July, but...

See more from Credo