Jackie Cooper

John Cooper Jr. (September 15, 1922 – May 3, 2011) was an American actor, television director, producer, and executive. He was a child actor who made the transition to an adult career. Cooper was the first child actor to receive an Oscar nomination.[1] At age nine, he was also the youngest performer to have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, an honor that he received for the film Skippy (1931).[2] For nearly 50 years, Cooper remained the youngest Oscar nominee in any category.

Jackie Cooper
Cooper in 1956.
John Cooper Jr.

(1922-09-15)September 15, 1922
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedMay 3, 2011(2011-05-03) (aged 88)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Years active1929–1990
Spouse(s)June Horne (m. 1944–1949; divorced)
Hildy Parks (m. 1950–1951; divorced)
Barbara Rae Kraus (m. 1954–2009; her death)

Early life

John Cooper Jr.[3] was born in Los Angeles, California. Cooper's father, John Cooper, left the family when Jackie was two years old and the two never reunited.[4][5][6] His mother, Mabel Leonard Bigelow (née Polito), was a stage pianist.[7] Cooper's maternal uncle, Jack Leonard, was a screenwriter, and his maternal aunt, Julie Leonard, was an actress married to director Norman Taurog. Cooper’s stepfather was C.J. Bigelow, a studio production manager.[4] His mother was Italian American whose surname was changed from "Polito" to "Leonard." Cooper was told by his family that his father was Jewish.

Start of acting career

Cooper first appeared in films as an extra with his grandmother, who took him to her auditions hoping it would help her get extra work. At age three, Jackie appeared in Lloyd Hamilton comedies under the name of "Leonard".

Cooper graduated to bit parts in feature films such as Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and Sunny Side Up. His director in those films, David Butler, recommended Cooper to director Leo McCarey, who arranged an audition for the Our Gang comedy series produced by Hal Roach. In 1929, Cooper signed a three-year contract after joining the series in the short Boxing Gloves. He initially was to be a supporting character in the series, but by early 1930 his success in transitioning to sound films enabled him to become one of Our Gang's major characters. He was the main character in the episodes The First Seven Years and When the Wind Blows. His most notable Our Gang shorts explore his crush on Miss Crabtree, the schoolteacher played by June Marlowe. His Our Gang shorts included Teacher's Pet, School's Out, and Love Business.[4]

Cooper, under contract to Hal Roach Studios, was loaned in the spring of 1931 to Paramount to star in Skippy, directed by his uncle, Norman Taurog. For his work in Skippy Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, the youngest actor, at age nine, to be nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor. Although Paramount paid Roach $25,000 for Cooper's services, Roach paid Cooper only his standard salary of $50 per week.[4]

The film catapulted young Cooper to superstardom. Our Gang producer Hal Roach sold Jackie's contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1931. Cooper began a long onscreen relationship with actor Wallace Beery in such films as The Champ (1931), The Bowery (1933), The Choices of Andy Purcell (1933), Treasure Island (1934), and O'Shaughnessy's Boy (1935). A legion of film critics and fans have lauded the relationship between the two as an example of classic movie magic. However, in his autobiography, Cooper wrote that Beery was "a big disappointment" and accused Beery of upstaging him and attempting to undermine his performances out of what Cooper presumed was jealousy.[4]

Cooper played the title role in the first two Henry Aldrich films, What a Life (1939) and Life with Henry (1941).

Adult years

Once he reached adolescence, Cooper had problems finding roles. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, attaining the rank of captain and receiving the Legion of Merit.[8] He starred in two popular television sitcoms, NBC's The People's Choice with Patricia Breslin and CBS's Hennesey with Abby Dalton. In 1954, he guest-starred on the NBC legal drama Justice. Later, he appeared on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, guest-starred with Tennessee Ernie Ford on NBC's The Ford Show playing the role of America's "Uranium King", and as Charles A. Steen in "I Found 60 Million Dollars" on the Armstrong Circle Theatre.[9]

In 1950, he was cast in a production of Mr. Roberts in Boston, Massachusetts in the role of Ensign Pulver. From 1964 to 1969, Cooper was vice president of program development at the Columbia Pictures Screen Gems TV division. He was responsible for packaging series, such as Bewitched, and selling them to the networks. Cooper acted only twice during this period, in 1964 when he appeared in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone episode "Caesar and Me", and in the 1968 made-for-television film Shadow on the Land.[9]

Cooper left Columbia in 1969 and began appearing in character roles. In the fourth season of Hawaii Five-O, he played a doctor who murders his wife and bribes an innocent man to take the rap in The Burning Ice. He appeared as a murderous political candidate in Candidate for Crime starring Peter Falk as Columbo in 1973, and in the short-lived 1975 ABC series Mobile One, a Jack Webb/Mark VII Limited production. He guest-starred in a 1978 two-part episode of The Rockford Files: The House on Willis Avenue. Cooper’s work as director on episodes of M*A*S*H and The White Shadow earned him Emmy awards.[10]

Cooper found renewed fame in the 1970s and 1980s as Daily Planet editor Perry White in the Superman film series, starring Christopher Reeve. Cooper got the role after Keenan Wynn, who was originally cast as White, became unavailable after suffering a heart attack.[11] In the commentary track for Superman, director Richard Donner reveals that Cooper, who had auditioned for the part of Otis, Lex Luthor's henchman, received the role because he had a passport and was available to shoot in England on short notice.

Cooper's final film role was as Ace Morgan in the 1987 film Surrender, starring Sally Field, Michael Caine, and Steve Guttenberg.[9]

Personal life

Cooper served in the United States Navy during World War II and remained active in the Naval Reserve for the next several decades, reaching the rank of captain.[6] He was married to June Horne from 1944 until 1949, with whom he had a son, John "Jack" Cooper, III, who was born in 1946. June was the daughter of director James W. Horne and actress Cleo Ridgely. Cooper was married to Hildy Parks from 1950 until 1951, and to Barbara Rae Kraus From 1954 until her death in 2009. Cooper and Kraus had three children, Russell, born in 1956, Julie, born in 1957, and Cristina, born in 1959. Julie and Cristina died in 1997 and 2009, respectively.[7]

Cooper participated in several automobile racing events, including the record-breaking class D cars at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He drove in several SCCA road racing competitions. Cooper was named the honorary starter for the 1976 Winston 500 at the Alabama International Motor Speedway, which is now known as Talladega Superspeedway, in Talladega, Alabama.[12]

Cooper's autobiography, Please Don't Shoot My Dog, was published in 1982. The title refers to an incident during the filming of Skippy, when Norman Taurog, who was directing Cooper in a crying scene, ordered a security guard to take away his dog and pretend to shoot him backstage. The stunt resulted in genuine tears; however, even upon discovering his dog was fine, Cooper was left with ill feelings toward his uncle.[4]

Cooper announced his retirement in 1989, although he continued directing episodes of the syndicated series Superboy. He began spending more time training and racing horses at Hollywood Park and outside San Diego during the Del Mar racing season. Cooper lived in Beverly Hills from 1955 until his death.

For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Cooper was honored with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star located at 1507 Vine Street.[13]


Cooper died on May 3, 2011 from natural causes, in Santa Monica, California. He was survived by his two sons. He outlived both his daughters and wife, Barbara Rae Kraus.[7][14] He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, in honor of his naval service.[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1929 Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 Little Boy Uncredited
1929 Sunny Side Up Jerry McGinnis Uncredited
1931 Skippy Skippy Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
1931 Young Donovan's Kid Midge Murray
1931 The Champ Dink Purcell
1931 Sooky Skippy
1932 When a Feller Needs a Friend Edward Haverford 'Eddie' Randall
1932 Divorce in the Family Terry Parker
1932 Broadway to Hollywood Ted Hackett Jr.
1933 The Bowery Swipes McGurk
1933 Lone Cowboy Scooter O'Neal
1934 Treasure Island Jim Hawkins
1934 Peck's Bad Boy Bill Peck
1935 Dinky Dinky Daniels
1935 O'Shaughnessy's Boy Joseph 'Stubby' O'Shaughnessy
1936 Tough Guy Frederick Martindale 'Freddie' Vincent, III
1936 The Devil Is a Sissy 'Buck' Murphy
1937 Boy of the Streets Chuck Brennan
1938 White Banners Peter Trimble
1938 That Certain Age Kenneth 'Ken' Warren
1938 Gangster's Boy Larry Kelly
1938 Newsboys' Home Rifle Edwards
1939 Scouts to the Rescue Bruce Scott
1939 The Spirit of Culver Tom Allen
1939 Streets of New York James Michael 'Jimmy' Keenan
1939 Two Bright Boys Rory O'Donnell
1939 What a Life Henry Aldrich
1939 The Big Guy Jimmy Hutchins
1940 Seventeen William Sylvanus Baxter
1940 The Return of Frank James Clem
1940 Life with Henry Henry Aldrich
1940 Gallant Sons Byron 'By' Newbold
1941 Ziegfeld Girl Jerry Regan
1941 Her First Beau Chuck Harris
1941 Glamour Boy Tiny Barlow
1942 Syncopation Johnny Schumacher
1942 Men of Texas Robert Houston Scott
1942 The Navy Comes Through Joe 'Babe' Duttson
1943 Where Are Your Children? Danny Cheston
1947 Stork Bites Man Ernest (Ernie) C. Brown
1947 Kilroy Was Here John J. Kilroy
1948 French Leave Skitch Kilroy
1959 Hennesey Lt. Charles 'Chick' Hennesey, MD Television Series 1959 to 1962
1961 Everything's Ducky Lt. J.S. Parmell
1964 Calhoun: County Agent Everett Calhoun Television film
1968 Shadow on the Land Lt. Col. Andy Davis Television film
1971 The Love Machine Lt. J.S. Parmell
1971 Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring Ed Miller Television film
1972 The Astronaut Kurt Anderson Television film
1972 Stand Up and Be Counted Doctor Uncredited, Also director
1973 Columbo Nelson Hayward Television series
1973 Of Men and Women Ted Television film
1974 Chosen Survivors Raymond Couzins
1974 The Day the Earth Moved Steve Barker Television film
1974 Kojak Frank Mulvaney Television
1975 Journey into Fear Eric Hurst
1978 Having Babies III Director
1978 Perfect Gentlemen Director
1978 Superman Perry White
1978 Rainbow Director
1979 Sex and the Single Parent Director
1980 White Mama Director
1980 Superman II Perry White
1980 Rodeo Girl Director
1981 Leave 'em Laughing Director
1982 Moonlight Director
1982 Rosie: The Rosemary Clooney Story Director
1983 Superman III Perry White
1984 The Night They Saved Christmas Director
1985 Izzy & Moe Director
1986 Murder, She Wrote Carl Schulman / Neil Fletcher
1987 The Ladies Director
1987 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Perry White
1987 Surrender Ace Morgan (final film role)

See also


  1. Sharon Knolle. "Former Child Star Jackie Cooper Dies at Age 88". Moviefone. Archived from the original on January 27, 2012. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  2. "Jackie Cooper". The Telegraph. May 5, 2011. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  3. California Birth Index, 1905–1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California; accessed January 22, 2015.
  4. Cooper, Jackie (1982). Please Don't Shoot My Dog. Penguin Group. pp. 9, 32, 40–42, 44, 54–61. ISBN 0-425-05306-7.
  5. Harmetz, Aljean (1983). Rolling Breaks and Other Movie Business. Knopf. p. 108. ISBN 978-0394528861.
  6. Matus, Victorino (November 22, 2011). "Jackie Cooper, USN". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  7. McFadden, Robert (May 4, 2011). "Jackie Cooper, Film and Television Actor, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  8. TogetherWeServed
  9. Jackie Cooper on IMDb
  10. 6 Facts About Jackie Cooper, The Hollywood Reporter, May 5, 2011; accessed May 5, 2011.
  11. Mankiewicz, Tom; Crane, Robert (May 14, 2012). My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider's Journey through Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-8131-4057-5. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  12. "Lists honorary race officials". Gadsden Times (Alabama). April 26, 1976. p. 11. Retrieved December 20, 2011.
  13. "Hollywood Walk of Fame - Jackie Cooper". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved February 14, 2017.
  14. McLellan, Dennis (May 5, 2011). "Jackie Cooper dies at 88; child star in the 1930s". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 4, 2011.
  15. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0621341/

Further reading

  • Wise, James. Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997; ISBN 1557509379 OCLC 36824724
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 106–107.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 40–43.
  • Maltin, Leonard (ed.), Hollywood Kids, New York: Popular Books, 1978.
  • Parish, James Robert. Great Child Stars, New York: Ace Books, 1976.
  • Best, Marc. Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen, South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., 1971, pp. 40–44.
  • Zierold, Norman J. The Child Stars, New York: Coward-McCann, 1965.
  • Willson, Dixie. Little Hollywood Stars", Akron, OH, e New York: Saalfield Pub. Co., 1935.
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