Classic Movie Travels: Jackie Cooper – from California to New York City
John “Jackie” Cooper, Jr., was born on September 15, 1922, in Los Angeles, California, to John George and Mable Cooper. John G. Cooper worked as a lyricist, writing lyrics to “Do You Ever Think of Me?”; “Desert Love”; and “Playdays.” When Cooper was two years old, his father left his family. Cooper’s mother worked as a stage pianist. Mabel Cooper’s siblings were also employed in the film industry, with her brother, Jack Leonard, working as a screenwriter and her sister, Julie Leonard, working as an actress. Julie was married to director Norman Taurog. Mabel soon remarried to studio production manager C.J. Bigelow.
Cooper’s first foray into entertainment occurred very early in his life. His grandmother, Mary Polito, took him to her auditions, hoping that taking a child along would ensure extra roles for her. At age three, Cooper appeared in Lloyd Hamilton comedy films under the name “Leonard.” He progressed from bit parts to more substantial roles over time, pivotally being recommended to director Leo McCarey.
Ultimately, McCarey secured Cooper’s audition for Hal Roach’s Our Gang, leading Cooper to have a three-year contract with the studio. He joined the series with the Our Gang short, Boxing Gloves (1929). Initially, Cooper was a supporting character in the series but soon became a main character called “Jackie.” He replaced actor Harry Spear in the series and executed notable performances in Teacher’s Pet (1930), School’s Out (1930), and Love Business (1931).
Cooper was loaned to Paramount to star in Skippy (1931), directed by Taurog. Delivering a strong performance, Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, making him the youngest actor to be nominated in that category. Soon, Cooper found himself in high demand, leading Roach to sell his contract to MGM. Cooper went on to appear in many other features as a child star, including The Champ (1931), The Bowery (1933), Treasure Island (1934), and more.
During World War II, Cooper served in the U.S. Navy and remained in the reserves until 1982. He eventually retired at the rank of captain and received the Legion of Merit.
Cooper was married to June Horne from 1944 to 1949, with whom he had one son: John “Jack” Cooper, III. Next, he was married Hildy Parks from 1950 to 1951. Finally, he married Barbara Rae Kraus, with whom he had three children: Russell, Julie, and Cristina. They remained married until her passing in 2009. Per Cooper’s wishes, none his children went into show business.
Cooper attended Beverly Hills High school and continued to act in his teen and adult years, successfully transitioning from child star to adult actor. He appeared on television in The People’s Choice and Hennessy, as well as carrying out various guest appearances. In addition to taking on stage work, Cooper worked as vice president of program development at Columbia Pictures Screen Gems TV division, packaging and selling serial’s such as Bewitched to be sold to different networks. Moreover, Cooper worked as a director on episodes of M*A*S*H in addition to other productions, including the biopic Rainbow (1978), which focused upon the early life of his friend, Judy Garland.
Behind the scenes, Cooper was interested in automobile racing and participated in various events. He also penned an autobiography, entitled Please Don’t Shoot My Dog, in 1982. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Cooper appeared as editor Perry White in the Superman film series. He left the industry during his wife’s illness in 1989, and remained retired from that point on. His final film appearance was in Surrender (1987).
Cooper passed away on May 3, 2011, from natural causes at age 88. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Today, some of Cooper’s former residences remain. In 1930, he lived with his grandmother, mother, and uncle at 527 N. Kilkea Ave., Los Angeles, California. The home stands today.
In 1935, he lived with his mother and stepfather at 702 N. Crescent Dr., Beverly Hills, California. This home also stands.
In 1942, Cooper was employed at RKO and resided at the Sunset Tower Hotel, located at 8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, California. This hotel still exists.
In 1950, he and Parks resided at 11 Waverly Place, New York, New York, which also stands.
In 1991, Cooper lived at 9621 Royalton Dr., Beverly Hills, California, which remains.
He also resided at 804 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, California, which has since been razed.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.