Cohan 101: Suggested Reading
Compiled by John Kenrick
Cohan, George M. Twenty Years on Broadway. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924. Cohan's autobiography may have been ghost written, but there is the ring of his voice in most of it. Very hard to find, but serious students of his will find this fascinating. His wives and children are never mentioned, and even his traumatic battle with Equity is discussed with almost no hint of emotion.
Gilbert, Douglas. American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times. New York: Dover Publications, 1963. Still the best book on the history of stage variety in the US. A great source for information on the long lost show business world Cohan grew up in.
Jones, John Bush. Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre. Lebanon, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2003. An examination of the way Broadway musicals have both reflected and promoted social change, expressing a serious academic viewpoint in extremely readable terms. Essential reading for all serious students of musical theatre history, it includes an insightful examination of Cohan and his career (pp. 15-23).
McCabe, John. George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1973. The definitive Cohan biography. Brilliantly written, it makes Cohan's era come alive. You get a real sense of what this extraordinary personality was like. Note: McCabe later wrote an equally fine biography of Jimmy Cagney.
Morehouse, Ward. George M. Cohan: Prince of the American Theater. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippencott, 1943. Although eclipsed in many ways by the McCabe bio, this book is still enjoyable and informative. Plenty of anecdotes and the author's personal relationship with Cohan make this book a worthwhile read.
Museum of the City of NY - With files on over 20,000 Broadway productions, this museum's theatre collection is one of the largest theatrical archives in the world. It includes Cohan's complete professional files (which John Kenrick cataloged) as well as complete scripts and scores for all of his musicals. Little of this is available on line, but the full collection is accessible to visiting researchers for a reasonable fee.
NYC Library for the Performing Arts - The Lincoln Center Branch of the NY Public Library has a massive collection of playbills, photos and other paper items, available to researchers free of charge. There are extensive online search options at their website.
- As of this writing (2011), there are no other substantial web resources dedicated to George M. Cohan. You can check out our Variety 101 links page for a list of sites related to vaudeville.