Jackie Cooper: Movies

Figure 1.--Jackie looks to be about 10 years old here, meaning this film was made about 1931-32. The expression here was a common feature in a Jackie Cooper film. Note the destibctive collars. Military boarding schools were also a common featureof films about boys. I'm not sure which film this is, but it looks like "Divorce in the Family" to me.

Jackie was one of the most popular child stars during the 1930s. He and Shirley Temple were the first child stars of the early Talky Era. Amercan audiences during the Depression cried and laughed at his antics in a sucession of mostly tear jerkers. Jackie was very prolific, despite the fact that he did not begin making films with important roles other than "OurGang" films until he was 8-9 years old. During the 1930s he was one of Hollywood's most popular child stars, in a long series of tear jerkers. The two most important folms were "The Champ" and "Treasure Island". Unfortunately his films are rarely shown on television today. Jackie's films include:


Jackie's 1929 films were Fox Movietone Follies and Sunny Side Up,

Fox Movietone Follies

Jackie took part in "The Fox Movietone Follies" when his mother, who was a secretary at the Fox Film Company, added his name to a list of children who were to be called for the shorts.


For some reason, Jackie did not make any films in 1930.


Jackie's 1931 films included "The Champ", "Skippy", and "Sooky", and "Young Donovan's Kid". "The Champ" and "Skippy" were two of his best known films.


"Skippy" was also a very successful film, although I know little about it as this time. Jackie's first big role in the movie "Skippy," which reunited him with his uncle. He left the Roach studio to appear in "Skippy" for Paramount, after which his film career took off, gaining true film star status. He was dominated for a Academy Award for best actor as a result of his performance in Skippy (1930). I once saw a TV show where Ken Murry showed his home movies, shot in Hollywood. He had a nice scene, I think taken during the filming of "Skippy" when he was about 9 or 10 years old. Jackie was in a soapbox derby race with Groucho and Harpo Marx. He wore a nice short pants (knee length) suit with an open neck shirt. He looked very smart, I think it must have been the suit he normally wore, not his costume for Skippy (1930). Jackie was nominated for the best actor Academy Award for his performance in Skippy which was directed by his uncle.

The Champ

Jackie made his name as a child start with "The Champ". His forte was tear jeakers and this was one of the great boy tear jearker films of all time. He made the film with Wallace Beary, the first of three films he made with him. The other two were "The Bowery" (1933), and "Treasure Island "(1934). Beary was one of the most notable stars at the time. I heard in an interview once that Beary who seemed so close to Jackie on film, dropped him immediately when the cametras stopped rolling and wanted nothing to do with him off camera. The Oscar-winning tear jerker Champ was a remake of the Jackie Coogan silent film about a broken-down prizefighter who attempts a comeback for his son. A remake was made with Ricky Schroeder which also made his career. Jacjie was particularly notable in the scene wher the Champ dies.


Jackie's films were Divorce In The Family and When a Feller Needs A Friend.

Divorce In The Family

"Divorce" is a good example of children's melodrama. At the time divorce and boarding school were in American films two of the worst things that could happen to a kid. Jackie's father is an archeologist whose wife has divoirced him. He can only see his two boys for one month every year. The films begin with a rather rascist scene. Out in the West somewhere on one of his father's digs, Jackie is teaching the Native American children to whistle. Of course in such a situation it is the Native American children who would have had many things to teach to a city boy. Back with his mom Jackie wears a beret ans short pants suit with ankle socks. He often was costumed this way rather than wth kneesocks. Jackie is shocked to learn that his mother has remaired and he has a new father who is a doctor. The situation rapidly goes down hill from there. The doctor is not a whicked man, but he has no patience with a boy.

When a Feller Needs A Friend


Jackie's films were The Bowery and Broadway To Hollywood. "Broadway to Hollywood" included Mickey Rooney, who would have been about 12 when the film was released in 1933.


Jackie's 1934 films were "Lone Cowboy", "Peck's Bad Boy", and "Treasure Island". "Treasure Island" was one of Jackie's best films, if not his best film.

Lone Cowboy

Peck's Bad Boy

This was another remake by Jackie of a classic Jackie Coogan silent film. Bill Peck, the title role, is played by Jackie Cooper in this this 1934 remake of a silent film. Jackie of course was the mos popular boy star of th 1930s. Of course no one was in the same league as Shirley Temple. This films were based on the popular series of books by George W. Peck which were turned into stage plays. Bill of course adores his father and does attempt to be a good boy. Problems begin when his father (Thomas Meighan) tells Bill that he is adopted. Then obnoxious Aunt Lily Clay (Dorothy Peterson) shows up with bratty cousin Horace (Jackie Searl) in tow. Bill sorely tries. Horace proves to be a brat and soon it is Bill getting into trouble. Aunt Lily wants to break the bond between Bill and his father. She wants Horace to replace Bill. Of course Bill comes out on top. Jackie of course has a loyal pooch and has ample screen time to pout and cry. Producer Sol Lesser reports that Jackie Cooprr had a littlee troublr crying. He finally solved the problem by threatening to fire director Eddie Cline which upset Jackie. Jackie had a close relationship with Cline. It was all abluff, but Jackie didn't know that.

Treasure Island

This is the classic tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. A young boy, Jim Hawkins (Jackie Cooper), is given a treasure map by a mysterious captain who is murdered. Jim is kidnapped by pirates led by Long John Silver. This was my favorite of all the Jackie Cooper films, in part because the plot of the film was more interesting than most of his films which were formula tear jeakers. The folms come off as very soppy to modern audiences. "Treasure Island" was very different. At about 13 he began taking his acting a bit more seriously and became a bit embarrassed about his previous roles. The one he was most proud of as he got older was indeed "Treasure Island" which was also one of his most successful films. It is a fine film which unfortuntely is not shown much any more.


Jackie's mafec two fims in 1935. They were "Dinky" and "O'Shaugnessy's Boy".


Jackie was a manly little fellow and once complained during the making of "Dinky" (1935) that in the fight scene the other children were cautioned to be careful not to hurt him. He complained to his mother "I don't want fellows like these to treat me like a sissy!" "Dinky" is and examples of children's melodrama. He is very happy at a military academy. He is a model cadet and also caring for the orphans next door. Then his mother is acused of a crime. (Of course you know right away that Dinky is going to wind up in the orphanage.) He leaves the academy when the other boys harass him. He stays for a while at the orphanage and leads their football team to victory. He appears prominently in an academy uniform.

O'Shaghnessy's Boy

"O'Shaghnessy's Boy" is another tear jearker from 1935 centers around a circus family. It stars Jackie Cooper. "Spanky" Mc Farland of the "Our Gang" series has a part in this film. I think Jackie Cooper had left "Gang" before "Spanky" joined. It was essentialy a remake of "The Champ" with Walace Beary and a tiger added. Circus animal trainer Windy, devotes himself to finding his son who his wife has taken away from him.


Jackie's 1936 films were "The Devil Is A Sissy" and "Tough Guy".

The Devil is a Sissy

Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, Mickey Rooney. According to his parents' divorce settlement, Freddie comes to spend 6 months with his dad, an architect who lives in lower Manhattan, and 6 months with his wealthy mom. Freddie wears a short pants suit and knee socks at the beginning of the film, but for most of the movie after he comes to live with his dad, he wears long pants, shirts, and sweaters like the other boys. Costruming does not come into the plot, but he does ask his father for a pair of corduroy pants. A real English boy would of course had said corduroy "trousers". Freddie's dad lives in a rough neighborhood, and the school he attends has some pretty tough kids. Actually his father thinks the experience will be good for him. On his very first day Freddie has trouble from Jackie Cooper and Micket Rooney, the leaders of the local gang. Both are notably aging for children's films. Mickey's father is to be executed that night in prison. Freddie wants to join Jackie's gang and takes boxing lessons to prove himself worthy of membership. He even bests, more or less, the older and bigger Jackie in a fight. The gang accepts him, and they set out to buy a decent tombstone for Jackie's dad. They try stealing and selling tires, but this doesn't raise money fast enought to suit them. Freddie then suggests they break into a wealthy kid's house he knows of, steal the toys, and pawn them. They're caught during the break in and taken away by the police. It turns out this is Freddie's mom's house, so the police can't very well procecute Freddie for stealing his own toys. He simply wanted to help Jackie buy a grave stone for his dad. The other boys, however, are held by the police. They escape, and Freddie tells them it's the wrong thing to do. He joins them, though, and they hitch a ride from people who turn out to be gangsters. They stop at a cafe owned by a Frenchman, and Freddie, speaking French to the owner, tells him to call the police, the gangsters are apprehended in a shootout, and the Cooper/Rooney characters realizesit's best to report to the probation officer as directed. "Devil is a Sissy" does seem to have better production values than some of the other Cooper films, but will seem maudling to modernn audiences. The plot surely is engaging and action-filled.

Tough Guy


Jackie's only film was a "Boy Of The Streets".


Gangster's Boy, That Certain Age, White Banners,


Jackie may his last boy films in 1939. He was 17-18 years old, but looked younger. He made a Scouting serial, but I have never seen them. Scouts to the Rescue (serial), The Big Guy, Newsboy's Home, The Spirit Of Culver, Streets Of New York, Two Bright Boys, What A Life,

Adult Films

Jackie went into the service doing World War II. When he returned he managed to make the jump into adult roles.

1940: Gallant Sons, The Return Of Frank James, Seventeen, Glamour Boy,

1941 Her First Beau, Life With Henry, Ziegfeld Girl,

1942 Men Of Texas, The Navy Comes Through, Syncopation,

1944: Where Are Your Children?,

1947: Kilroy Was Here, Stork Bites Man,

1948: French Leave,

1961: Everything's Ducky,

1971: The Love Machine,

1978+: Superman, Superman II, Superman III, and Superman IV.


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Created: December 29, 2003
Last updated: 10:17 PM 2/25/2010