At a Speaking engagement earlier this fall I was approached by one of the members of the Monroe Historical Society with a special assignment. Led to a table at the back of the hall I was handed a box of glass negatives. “We think a famous actor is in here.” Marvin Moss said as he opened the box containing 4 plates.
Holding one up to the light for me I could see on each slide were large and medium-sized groups of adults and children One had them against a forest backdrop and another in front of a large cabin structure. “Can you process these and tell us if you can see a young Jimmy Cagney here? We think he went there with his family as a child.” Marven asked.
Having transferred almost 100 negatives in the past 4 years, some of them for the Monroe Historical Society, I didn’t hesitate for a second to attempt this feat. This transfer would prove to be different from the others in more way than one.
I can usually process glass negatives pretty easily, but these negatives were darker than most, and after a first attempt I realized that they weren’t as sharp as many of the others. I went from my simple home-made cardboard light box, to a much more complicated contraption fashioned from parts found in my garage to get an even light source and angle for the transfer.
When I had completed the transfer, I then used photo-editing software to process and adjust the final image to attempt the confirmation. Looking at each child I found that several of the campers appeared in more than one of the images. They all looked fairly similar in that their hair and dress, especially for the boys, was equally disheveled and worn.
Finding early images of a well-known actor should have been easy; in this case, I was stumped. Plenty of images from his earliest roles were turned up by a Google search, but almost no images of his childhood years could be found. His familiar knit brow and curled hair were aspects I couldn’t see in any of these campers. But I found one...
An ultra-low resolution image required that I try a few tricks using PhotoShop to de-accentuate the aliasing. While it looks impossible to see here, I found that when I placed the photo as an inset, the comparison seemed possible.
Is that him?
Or, is that him?
My friend Marven Moss has been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to this research, so I will leave it to him to find the answer. Stay tuned if you want to learn more, and if you have any clues on Cagney's background or early years, please share it in the comments.