Here is a correspondence between James Cagney and John Wayne from early 1979 when both men (then respectively 79 and 71 years old) were having health problems. While Cagney was suffering from a harmless but painful sciatica, Wayne had been diagnosed with stomach cancer for which he underwent surgery (in 1964 he was diagnosed with lung cancer, but had been declared cancer free since 1969). On 19 January 1979, Cagney wrote to Wayne in the hospital, saying that everybody was pulling for him and also bringing him regards from Frank McHugh, Wayne's co-star in the 1933 "The Telegraph Trail". Cagney also mentioned his own medical problems for which he was treated in hospital in late March. Hearing about his pal's condition, Wayne, in turn, sent Cagney a mailgram on 2 April which showed he had kept his sense of humour despite all the misery. Sadly, Wayne died a few months later -on 11 June 1979- after his cancer had spread; Cagney eventually died of a heart attack in 1986 at age 86.
|James Cagney (above) and John Wayne (below) in their younger days-- the two actors never made a movie together.|
STANFORDVILLE, NEW YORK
January 19, 1979
The news that you had all kinds of promise in this bout came as good news to all of us.
You may be sure we were all overjoyed when you recovered so beautifully from the first rap, and then when you put the second one behind you this really set us up. It takes a great deal of fortitude to handle it as you have.
For the past few weeks I've been nursing a damnable sciatica. Miss that one if you can. The cold weather here is not helping it I can tell you. We had ten degrees below this morning. Then the weather forecasts are being consistent as they promise nothing but below freezing weather for some days to come.
Keep punching and keep adoing. We are all pulling for you and I bring you regards from Frank McHugh, with whom you worked many, many years ago. He remembers you very warmly.
All the best to you.
BATJAC PRODUCTIONS PS
9570 WILSHIRE BLVD SUITE 400
BEVERLY HILLS CA 90212
THIS MAILGRAM IS A CONFIRMATION COPY OF THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE:
JAMES CAGNEY, CARE GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL
LOS ANGELES CA 90017
I HOPE YOU'RE [sic] SCIATIC PROBLEM IS NOT SERIOUS. IT WAS PROBABLY CAUSED BY BUMPING YOUR BUTTOCKS ALONG THE BASEMENT FLOOR IN THAT EXERCISE YOU SHOWED US YEARS AGO. GET HEALTHY AND COME SAY HELLO
PS THAT EXERCISE NEVER TOOK ANY WEIGHT OFF THE CHEEKS OF MY "RARETABOOMDEAY"
Images of Cagney's letter and Wayne's mailgram courtesy of Heritage Auctions