Jackie Cooper: The Tragic Life of the Former "Little Rascals"/"Our Gang" Star Who Later Ran A Movie Studio

Herbie J Pilato

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As one of the most beloved former child stars of The Little Rascals/Our Gang film shorts, Jackie Cooper found both fame and trauma at a young age. He later became a Hollywood studio executive at Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems. In 2011, he died.

A Closer Look

Prior to his success as a child star in the sometimes all-too-glaring Hollywood spotlight, Jackie Cooper experienced pain. For one, when he was just two years old, his father abandoned him.

Later, when he was nine years old, a second male relative in his life proved to be emotionally challenging for Cooper. His uncle, director Norman Taurog, opted to rouse genuine tears from the pre-teen actor while filming the 1931 movie Skippy, by pretending to shoot his dog behind the studio. After the scene was complete Cooper knew his little canine friend was safe. But he never forgave Taurog.

When his first son was set to sign a long-term contract with MGM, Cooper's studio at the height of his fame as a child, he intervened and persuaded his ex-wife (the child's mother) to decline. He intensely objected to children acting in the entertainment industry, as opposed to living a regular life. As a result, not one of Cooper's four offspring followed in his thespian footsteps.

In 1989, while his wife was ill, Cooper walked away from the industry and never returned. As he said in 2003, "I'm sixty-seven, and worked sixty-four years." Had enjoyed retirement ever since, and refused to participate in industry retrospectives that dwelt too wistfully on the so-called good old days.

Until 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Best Actress in 2004, he was the only actor to earn a Best Actor/Actress nomination for an Academy Award before his/her 18th birthday. Seventeen other actors have earned Oscar nominations as children, but all except Keisha were in the supporting categories.

On November 22, 2011, Jackie Cooper was interred with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

[Note: Certain facts and information in this article were resourced from various entertainment news and media outlets including Britannica.com, History.com, HollywoodReporter.com, IMDb.com, Variety.com, and Wikipedia.org.]

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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