Biography

American actor Jackie Cooper was in movies at the age of three; his father had abandoned the family when Jackie was two, forcing his mother to rely upon the boy's acting income to keep food on the table. Shortly after earning his first featured part in Fox Movietone Follies of 1929. Cooper was hired for producer Hal Roach's "Our Gang" two-reeler series, appearing in 15 shorts over the next two years. The "leading man" in many of these comedies, he was most effective in those scenes wherein he displayed a crush on his new teacher, the beauteous Miss Crabtree. On the strength of "Our Gang," Paramount Pictures signed Cooper for the title role in the feature film Skippy (1931), which earned the boy an Oscar nomination. A contract with MGM followed, and for the next five years Cooper was frequently co-starred with blustery character player Wallace Beery. Cooper outgrew his preteen cuteness by the late 1930s, and was forced to accept whatever work that came along, enjoying the occasional plum role in such films as The Return of Frank James (1940) and What a Life! (1941). His priorities rearranged by his wartime Naval service, Cooper returned to the states determined to stop being a mere "personality" and to truly learn to be an actor. This he did on Broadway and television, notably as the star of two popular TV sitcoms of the 1950s, The People's Choice and Hennessey. Cooper developed a taste for directing during this period (he would earn an Emmy for his directorial work on M*A*S*H in 1973), and also devoted much of his time in the 1960s to the production end of the business; in 1965 he was appointed vice-president in charge of production at Screen Gems, the TV subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. From the early 1970s onward, Cooper juggled acting, producing and directing with equal aplomb. Modern audiences know Cooper best as the apoplectic Perry White in the Christopher Reeve Superman films. In 1981, Cooper surprised (and sometimes shocked) his fans with a warts-and-all autobiography, Please Don't Shoot My Dog. Cooper died in May 2011 at the age of 88 following a sudden illness. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi