James Cagney Part 2 – Best Friend Floyd Patterson

Where else but in Dutchess County can you find a recipe with the ingredients of James Cagney, Floyd Patterson (world heavyweight boxing champion 1956-59, 1960-62) and Coppola’s Restaurant? I didn’t realize what good friends James Cagney and Floyd Patterson were. When we relocated Coppola’s Restaurant at 825 Main Street in 1979 my father so appreciative of his success that he wanted to give back to the community. That first Christmas and many years afterwards he would host parties for various children’s homes. One particular Christmas Party that comes to mind is the one for Cardinal Hayes Home. At the time James Cagney was a frequent customer and wanted to help… Not only did he gift a huge check to the children’s home he also asked his good friend Floyd Patterson to make a guest appearance at the party.

What did James Cagney and Floyd Patterson have in common that they struck up such a friendship? Well did you all know that James Cagney’s father was an amateur boxer? James Cagney Jr. followed in his dad’s footsteps. Not only was he a good street fighter he was also encouraged by his mom to take up boxing as a hobby. He went so far as to engage in amateur boxing and won the New York State lightweight title. When he was approached to become a professional boxer his disapproving mom told him “If you want to become a professional fighter, then your first fight will have to be against me.” James immediately abandoned the idea of professional boxing and the rest is history.

As he got more and more involved in films he frequently portrayed that rough street fighter image. James Cagney’s last performance at 84 years old was in the TV movie Terrible Joe Moran playing a former boxing champ. Clips from his 1932 movie Winner Takes All (a movie about boxing) were throughout the movie Terrible Joe Moran. Floyd Patterson was the gym janitor in this movie.

James Cagney’s introduction to Floyd went back to 1960 where James was hosting and reviewing the fight between Ingemar Johansson vs Floyd Patterson. This was the famous fight where Floyd regained his World Heavyweight Championship Title. James Cagney reviewed the different boxing styles of Johanssen and Patterson on the WABC radio show.

So it came to be that these 2 larger than life characters along with my dad, Joseph Coppola put on a wonderful Christmas Dinner with gifts and a memorable donation right here in Poughkeepsie, NY to benefit The Cardinal Hayes children’s home. Years later with Floyd’s many visits to Coppola’s at 825 Main Street this heavy weight champ had the chance to meet my son Josh. Josh was just 3 or 4 years old. Floyd Patterson took one look at Josh’s hands and said he has the hands of a boxer. I took James Cagney mother’s words and said “well his first fight will have to be against me first!”