Saturday, November 12, 2022

Jackie Cooper: Actor, Director and Veteran


Jackie Cooper was born John Cooper, Jr. in Los Angeles, on September 15, 1922.  It's an ironic name considering that John, Sr. walked out on the family when the boy was just two years old.  Cooper's mother, a stage pianist, was left to raise Jackie on her own, later remarrying a studio production manager.

By the time he was three, Cooper was already making a name for himself in Hollywood, attending auditions with his maternal grandmother.  After a few bit parts, he was introduced to director Hal Roach, who hired Cooper for his Our Gang series of shorts, playing that little rascal, Jackie. His character was most memorable for having a crush on schoolteacher Ms. Crabtree, played by silent-screen vixen June Marlowe.

In 1931, Roach sold Cooper's contract to MGM Studios, who cast the eight-year-old in director King Vidor's classic The Champ, for which Cooper would receive an Academy Award nomination.  Other films during this period include The Bowery (1933) and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1934).

When America entered World War 2, Cooper put his career on hold and enlisted in the United States Navy. Although he'd return to Hollywood following the war, he'd remain in the Naval Reserves for the next forty years, eventually retiring with the rank of Captain.

In the 1950s, Cooper starred on two television sit-coms, including The People's Choice with Patricia Breslin and Hennessy with Abby Dalton. He also made guest appearances on shows popular at the time, including the legal drama Justice and The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom (actual title).

By the 1960s, Cooper had moved behind the camera and was serving as Vice President of Program Development at Columbia Pictures Screen Gems TV division.  During this time, he oversaw production of the classic series Bewitched, while occasionally acting as well, making a memorable appearance in the 1964 Twilight Zone episode Caesar and Me.

Cooper left Columbia in 1969, continuing to both act and direct with other Hollywood studios.  During this time, he directed several early episodes of the sit-com M*A*S*H, for which he won the 1974 Emmy Award for Best Directing in Comedy.  Other series he directed during this time include The White Shadow, for which he'd also win the Emmy Award.

Unbelievably, Cooper's greatest claim to fame was still yet to come.  In 1977, he was cast in the $40 million Richard Donner blockbuster Superman, playing newspaper editor Perry White.  The film was an international success, introducing Cooper to a new generation of fans.  He'd reprise the role in all three sequels, including Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, one of his final film roles.

Cooper retired in the 1990s and stayed active for the more than 20 years.  By 2011 however, his health was in decline and he'd succumb to natural causes on May 3rd of that year.  Although survived by two sons, he had outlived his wife and two daughters.

Jackie Cooper was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemtery outside Washington, DC.

Location: Section #64, Site #1903

Rest in peace.

  • Cooper released his autobiography, Please Don't Shoot My Dog, in 1981. Of his time directing M*A*S*H, he wrote that the only two actors who weren't a pain to work with were Larry Linville and Wayne Rogers.

  • During his Naval service, Cooper was awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.

  • When Cooper received his Academy Award nomination at age nine, he was the youngest person to ever do so, a title he still holds to this day.

  • While serving in the Naval Reserves in 1977, Cooper gave the oath of enlistment to fellow former child actor Jay North, star of Dennis the Menace.

  • Between 1980 and 1982, Cooper directed seven made-for-TV movies.  One of these was the 1982 film Moonlight, for which Cooper used the industry pseudonym Alan Smithee.  

  • Cooper continued directing even after he had retired, most notably on the syndicated television series Superboy.

  • Cooper's star on the Hollywood Walf of Fame can be found at 1507 Vine Street.

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