Shirley Jones’ son remembers his unlikely afternoon with James Cagney

At the tender age of 7, Ryan Cassidy had the extraordinary privilege of spending a memorable afternoon in the company of a Hollywood legend—a day that remains etched in his memory.

Ryan Cassidy, now 57, is the youngest son of Shirley Jones, renowned for her role in “The Partridge Family,” and Tony Award-winning actor Jack Cassidy. He is also the brother of the teenage heartthrob David Cassidy. In this recollection, he fondly reflects on his time with the iconic James Cagney.

This unique encounter has been chronicled in a children’s book authored by Ryan Cassidy himself, titled “James Cagney Was My Babysitter.” The book not only shares the captivating tale of their day together but also includes a foreword and an epilogue penned by the now 89-year-old actress, Shirley Jones. Incidentally, Jones had the opportunity to work alongside Cagney, who passed away in 1986 at the age of 86, and their enduring friendship adds an extra layer of warmth to the story.

In Ryan Cassidy’s own words, “There are many actors and actresses I grew up with, as well as those I met over the years. Unfortunately, some of them have been forgotten by today’s generation. I wanted to share a heartwarming story from my childhood when I was seven years old. I aimed to do this in a format that would introduce today’s audience to the incredible man James Cagney was.”

Despite growing up in the glitzy world of Hollywood, Ryan Cassidy’s life wasn’t always characterized by glamour. His parents’ seemingly perfect marriage had crumbled, leading to a challenging period in his young life. On one fateful afternoon, his father decided to pick him up, and together they ventured to James Cagney’s residence in the illustrious Beverly Hills. At that time, Cagney had partially retired and was aware of the turmoil in Cassidy’s family.

Unbeknownst to young Cassidy, this encounter would leave an indelible mark on his life. As he recalled, “A series of events transpired, and my dad had to leave. Cagney simply said, ‘Why don’t you leave Ryan here? I’ll take care of him for a while.’ Being naturally shy and hesitant to impose, I initially hesitated, not wanting to disrupt anything.”

In those moments, little Ryan Cassidy had no inkling that James Cagney was one of the most iconic stars of Hollywood’s golden era. Cagney, who had once ruled the screen as the quintessential mobster in the 1930s, had also displayed remarkable talents as a singer and dancer. He was held in the highest regard by many, earning the prestigious American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1974.

To young Ryan, however, Cagney was more than just a Hollywood legend; he was a caring family friend whose house resembled the vivid pages of a fairy tale. Cassidy reminisced, “Even at that tender age, it felt like he genuinely cared about where my mind was at. He made sure I was comfortable, and he took a keen interest in my interests. It was all about boosting my self-esteem, and he did it purely for my sake. This act of kindness was particularly crucial during a confusing time when I struggled to make sense of the world around me.”

Despite achieving fame and recognition in Hollywood, James Cagney had a deep affection for country life. In 1936, he purchased a farm on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where he and his wife, Frances, sought solace between film projects. During his retirement years, the couple resided on a farm near Millbrook in Dutchess County, New York, where they raised Morgan horses. In his leisure hours, away from the camera’s glare, Cagney immersed himself in reading, painting, farming, and mastering the classical guitar. His life outside of Hollywood was a testament to his multifaceted interests and his love for the tranquility of the countryside.