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3/5/2011: Jackie Cooper Dies at the Age of 88

Jackie Cooper in 1989 (image: Alan Light)

Jackie Cooper was born John Cooper Jr in Los Angeles, California on 15th September 1922 to John Cooper, who deserted his family two years later, and Mabel Leonard, a pianist and former child actress. Cooperís connection with cinema was strong: his uncle on his motherís side was the screenwriter Jack Leonard, while his aunt, the actress Julie Leonard was married to director Norman Taurog. Cooperís mother re-married following his fatherís departure. Her new husband was C. J. Bigelow, a studio production manager

Cooperís first work in the cinema was as an extra Ė his grandmother would take him along to the studios in the hope that he would help her to win extra roles. Slowly, he graduated from being an extra to bit parts in films such as Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and Sunny Side Up. It was his appearance in these films which led directly to his becoming a member of Hal Roachís Our Gang after their director David Butler recommended him to Leo McCarey. His first appearance in the Our Gang films was in 1929 in the short Boxing Gloves. Initially taken on as a supporting character, he quickly rose to a leading role.

In 1931, Roach loaned Cooper to Paramount Studios for $25,000 to appear in Skippy under the direction of his uncle, Norman Taurog. Cooper received only his usual weekly wage of $50 for his work, which resulted in him becoming, at nine years of age, the youngest ever actor to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The role made Cooper a star, and MGM soon purchased his contract from Roach and paired him with Wallace Beery in a number of films, including The Champ (1931), The Bowery (1933) and Treasure Island (1934).

Suffering the fate of the majority of child stars, Cooper found his starring roles drying up as he entered adolescence, and what was left of his career was disrupted by war service with the navy in the South Pacific. In 1944, he married June Horne, with whom he had a son named John ĎJackí Cooper III in 1946. The marriage Ė the first of three Ė ended in 1949. One year after his divorce from Horne he entered into a brief union with Hildy Parks, before finally marrying Barbara Kraus in 1954. She would remain his wife until her death in 2009, and they would have three children together - Russell (1956), Julie (1957) and Cristina (1959). After the war, Cooper achieved modest success in a TV career that included appearances in NBCís The Peopleís Choice and CBSís Hennessey.

From 1964 to 1969 he worked for Columbia Pictures Screen Gems TV division as Vice President of Program Development. Although his acting career wasnít completely abandoned, he managed only a solitary screen appearance during this period in a TV movie called Shadow on the Land. Leaving Columbia in 1969, he continued to sporadically appear on screen while devoting most of his time and energy towards directing episodes of TV shows such as M*A*S*H and The White Shadow.

His screen profile rose once more in the late 70s when he won the role of Perry White in the Superman film series staring the ill-fated Christopher Reeve. According to director Richard Donner, Cooper only won the role because he had a valid passport and was able to be on set in a matter of hours after Keenan Wynn, the original choice for the role, suffered a heart attack.

Cooper announced his retirement in 1989, and subsequently dedicated more time to training and racing horses. His autobiography, Please Donít Shoot My Dog, was published in 1982. Itsí title refers to his response to Norman Taurogís threat to shoot his young pet in order to make him cry for a scene in Skippy.

Jackie Cooper died in Beverly Hills, California on 3rd May 2011 at the age of 88.

Jackie Cooper with Lionel Barrymore in Treasure Island (1934)

 

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