Jackie Cooper Dies At 88
Jackie Cooper passed away last week at the age of 88. Cooper who rose to prominence in the Hal Roach produced Our Gang (a.k.a. the Little Rascals) movie shorts, was one of the last remaining movie stars who worked during Hollywood’s golden era of the 1930’s.
The Our Gang / Little Rascals remaining cast is now down to under a dozen stars. The other living supporting players made brief appearances, many in the later films of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s after creator Hal Roach had sold the franchise to MGM. The most notable living star of those later Our Gang comedies is Robert Blake. I grew up watching Cooper star in Our Gang and his passing is sad, as he was a gifted actor and it is a reminder of how few of the early Hollywood stars remain. Unlike his more popular and well known successors as leads in Our Gang, George “Spanky” McFarland and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, Cooper was cast in several big budget Hollywood productions and was almost always very good in whatever he was in.
Jackie Cooper was a rarity, in that very few child stars go on to have substantial careers in Hollywood after they grow up.
The other major child stars of the 1930’s who are still with us are Shirley Temple (born 1928) and Mickey Rooney (born 1920). Rooney who started in films in 1925 also transcended his childhood days and has been an active participant in Hollywood to this day. Shirley Temple was the biggest box office star for a time in the 1930’s, went through puberty in the early 1940’s and then made some forgettable films and retired from the screen.
In 1931 Cooper’s performance in Skippy earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. He is still the youngest ever to be nominated for best actor in a leading role. Besides the fifteen Our Gang shorts he starred in, Jackie Cooper was cast in some roles that were absolutely huge. Two of them were made with Wallace Beery. In The Champ (1931), Cooper plays Dink Purcell, a boy who loves his father, a washed up alcoholic boxer.
The other blockbuster Cooper starred in was Treasure Island (1934), probably the best screen adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book. Cooper’s portrayal of Jim Hawkins is fabulous.
Cooper recounted his growing up in Hollywood in his engaging memoir “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog” with Dick Kleiner, Morrow, 1981. The title derives from an incident where Cooper was needed to cry for a scene in a motion picture, but couldn’t. The director Norman Taurog (his uncle, no less) had Cooper’s dog taken off set and with sound effects, “shot” the dog to produce the necessary tears for the camera!
Cooper served his country honorably in World War II, went back to Hollywood and functioned as an actor, director and producer until his retirement in 1990. He was best known to audiences of the last thirty years for his portrayal of Clark Kent’s editor/boss, Perry White, at The Daily Planet in the Christopher Reeve Superman films of the 1970’s and 80’s.
TCM (Turner Classic Movies) will be showing a retrospective of some of Jackie Cooper’s films on Friday, May 13, 2011.