In 2009 Frank Coghlan, better known by his screen name Junior Coghlan, died. At that time I wrote an In Memoriam for him on the Site That Shall Not Be Named. Owing to the fact that I was looking for new material, and obits tend to be topical, I never re-published it here on The Movie Rat.
It seems appropriate to do so now as it makes a perfect jumping off point for discussing this book:
Frank Coghlan Jr., who was a child actor in the silent film era passed away quietly last month of natural causes at the ripe old age of 93. He was the kid who brought the phrase “Shazam!” into the American consciousness and played Captain Marvel later on in a serial, the pre-transformation Captain Marvel.
He started at the age of three appearing in a Western serial called Daredevil Jack. He was typically credited as Junior Coghlan and left his mark indelibly in this chapter play Bruce Goldstein, Director of Repertory Programming at New York’s world famous Film Forum lauds it “It’s considered by many aficionados as the best cliffhanger serial of all time,” and continues saying “What a great fantasy for kids: a kid who turns into a superhero.”
Leonard Maltin puts Coghlan’s place in history further in perspective by saying “If you went to the movies in those days, you couldn’t help but know him, even though he was never a major star,” which, of course, places his importance in as much as he made up the tapestry of cinema when films and movie stars whether A-List or not where a part of American culture and something everyone was well versed in.
In 1925 legendary director/producer Cecil B. DeMille signed him to a five-year deal on the strength of his publicity stills. Another small yet important role he had was as the young James Cagney in Public Enemy.
Yet it is Captain Marvel and “Shazam!” for which he is most remembered. For many who toil and seek a serious dramatic career a singular, ubiquitous role, one to which they are always associated can be a burden and later on even a regret and something they seek to forget. Coghlan frequented conventions and seminars in his later years and was always pleased when people recognized him or came to see him. So appreciative was that according to Leonard Maltin he even personalized his license plate to read “Shazam.”
Some people in entertainment don’t realize their good fortune and look a gift horse in the mouth. Frank Coghlan, Jr. was not one of those people and now left with only memories of classic film moments it is we, the film fans, who didn’t know how lucky we were.
I cannot say for certain how many of his films I had seen at that point. The Adventures of Captain Marvel was definitely one of them. While in my limited experience I can’t say I agree about it being the very best serial, it is a superlative one. I was impelled to write that obit based on the one the New York Times wrote for him. It was touching to me that he still held that experience dear rather than feeling embittered that he was still identified by that work no matter where life took him.
Since then I have seen quite a few more Coghlan films, and may see more yet. Some of these include titles from when he really was a kid, as he was in his twenties when he made The Adventures of Captain Marvel. I liked him as a performer, and still with that obit in mind I was curious to read his biography.
Like many books and films do it languished on my Amazon Wish List for years. Due to this blogathon, I returned to Amazon resorted the used offers and found a cheap one.
Even more so than with prior reviews in this blogathon I do not want to spoil the surprises in store in this book. There are 76 chapters, most of them quite short, wherein Junior regales you with stories in what sounds simply like him speaking (as promised in the introduction by William C. Cline). He tells tales from sets, his home life, of other stars, of friendships, transitioning to sound, secrets of the silents, how he continued to work around films, Navy life, family life, other work, and more.
Ultimately, this book, published when he was 74, reinforced that warm and fuzzy feeling that I got reading about how fond he was of his most famous work. Not that he sugarcoats things, or doesn’t relate some sadness, but none of it was a horror story and lamenting the Hollywood system.
Now, while Junior did know Jackie Cooper and Mickey Rooney, in young actor terms he was a generation older so maybe not being pre-pubescent during the Depression and not in a big studio helped, but he still made it OK and recognizes it. Like Ingrid Bergman whom I just wrote, about he freelanced after a five-year deal and in the studio era that’s unusual.
There is much to like here, and much to learn, as with any autobiography, or work on film, you won’t agree with 100% of the opinions espoused but it is an interesting, fact-filled journey with a handy, lengthy filmography that should help you track down titles.
It’s very enjoyable overall and worth looking for if interested.