Actor, director, and producer. Born on September 15, 1922, in Los Angeles, California. Before there was a Shirley Temple, there was Jackie Cooper, one of Hollywood’s first child stars. His career began around the age of three when he started appearing in some short films. Cooper first rose to popularity as a cast member in the “Our Gang” short film series. He joined the long-running comedy series around 1929 and was soon one of the lead performers, featured such shorts as Teacher’s Pet and Love Business.
In 1930, Cooper took on his first leading role in a feature film in Skippy (1931). The film had a simple, but dramatic premise. He was a young boy named Skippy get trying the money together to buy a license for a dog before the dog catcher puts the dog to sleep. At only ten years old, Cooper earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his moving performance. He went on to tackle another poignant role as the downtrodden boxer’s son in The Champ (1931) with Wallace Beery. One of the most popular child actors of the time, Cooper also starred in Treasure Island (1934) and Peck’s Bad Boy (1934)—a role that had been originated by another child performer Jackie Coogan.
As he moved into his teenager years, Cooper continued to act. He appeared opposite the cinematic canine Rin Tin Tin, Jr. in comedy Tough Guy (1936) and had the lead roles in Boy of the Streets (1938), Glamour Boy (1941), and Syncopation (1942). He took a break from acting to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war ended, he returned to Hollywood, but was not as in-demand as he once was.
In the 1950s, Cooper made several guest appearances on television and starred in the naval dramatic comedy series Hennesey, which debuted in 1959. He starred as Charles J. “Chick” Hennesey, a naval medical officer and earned two Emmy Award nominations for his performance. In addition to playing the lead character, he contributed behind the scenes as well. Cooper served as a producer and director during the show’s three seasons on the air.
While still a working actor, Cooper established a thriving career as a television director in the 1970s. He worked on such shows as The Rockford Files, Quincy, M.E., M*A*S*H, and The White Shadow. For his work, he won two Emmy Awards: one in 1974 for Best Directing in Comedy for an episode of M*A*S*H and the other in 1979 for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for an episode of The White Shadow.
Also around this time, Cooper found some success on the big screen as well. He played Perry White, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet newspaper in the box office hit, Superman (1978). The film starred Christopher Reeve as the legendary man of steel and Margo Kidder as Lois Lane and introduced Cooper to a whole new generation of moviegoers. He reprised his role for the next three sequels, Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). By the end of the 1980s, Cooper had largely retired from acting and directing after more than 60 years in the business.
In 2011, at the age of 88, Jackie Cooper died after a short illness. H He is survived by a son, John, from his first marriage to June Horne and son, Russell, and two daughters, Julie and Christina, with his third wife Barbara Kraus.