In Memoriam: Jackie Cooper

Jackie Cooper

As is my usual policy when deciding to write an in memoriam piece I don’t like to rush it to strike while the news cycle is hot. Part of the reason why is that I like to give the people I choose to write about their due rather than being short and sweet to the point of being curt.

Jackie Cooper’s was a long and extensive career that can not be summed up in a few short and sweet sentences. I’ll try and give it better perspective here.

From 1929-1931 Cooper made about 13 shorts as part of Hal Roach’s legendary Little Rascals troupe. Hal Roach being one of the legendary producers of Hollywood and the Rascals being one of his longest lasting legacies.

Below in two parts you’ll find one of their shorts where Cooper features prominently.

1931 turned out to be a watershed year for the young actor who in that year went most of the way to establishing his Hollywood immortality. First, there is his participation in the film Skippy, which earned him a nomination as Best Actor. A film which is mysteriously unavailable on DVD in the US.

However, in that year he also delivered what is likely his most memorable performance in The Champ, a film for which Wallace Beery captured Best Actor.

Another fine and more mature performance from Cooper can be found in the film Peck’s Bad Boy, which is a wonderful example of classic filmmaking because the story is so simple but so emotive. It also features two outstanding antagonistic performances by Dorothy Peterson and Jackie Searl. The film can be seen in its entirety here:

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Mickey Rooney, Freddie Batholomew and Jackie Cooper in The Devil is a Sissy (MGM)

Surprisingly Cooper never did capture the Juvenile Award, a special Academy Award that was awarded to a deserving young actor from 1934 to 1960. However, he did have another memorable performance with two of the other finest actors of his generation Freddie Bartholomew and Mickey Rooney in The Devil is a Sissy in 1936. His character being the most hardened of the lot.

While like many child actors Cooper found the work to be not as good or as consistent as he transitioned to adulthood he did keep working and with the advent of television he transitioned mediums and started building a long and impressive resume of guest appearances on the small screen.

Jackie Cooper with Emmy

Eventually he made his way behind the scenes as a director and producer. Some of his directorial credits include episodes of M*A*S*H for which he won an Emmy for the episode “Carry on, Hawkeye,” Mary Tyler Moore, The Rockford Files, The White Shadow for which he won an Emmy for the Pilot episode, Magnum, P.I., Cagney & Lacey, The Adventures of Superboy and Jake & the Fatman.

Between 1948 and 1971 there was but television work, he also garnered consecutive Emmy nominations as an actor in 1961 and 1962 for his work on Hennesey, but then there was the occasional blip of a film until he was cast as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, in the Superman films, the initial wave. It is in this capacity that he is known and remembered by many today as I have mentioned before many are lucky to be known by all for one film or project, even more fortunate are those who are known by many.

Jackie Cooper had many incarnations as an entertainer but in all of them he entertained audiences and endeared himself to them. He will be dearly remembered and sorely missed. He left an indelible mark on film and left innumerous memories behind. Let us take a moment and reflect on them.

Jackie Cooper in Superman (Warner Bros.)

In Memoriam- John Hughes

John Hughes

Often times an era in which one excelled, and the fact that an artist was wildly prolific within a time period greatly influences our opinion of him. Simply calling John Hughes the “Bard of Teen Angst” is not praise enough for not all of his work was a teen movie or a brat pack film.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles was not only an uproariously funny film, which was John Candy and Steve Martin’s only onscreen meeting, but a heartwarming film in the end. The revelation that Candy’s character was homeless became a 1980s template for sitcom episodes as did the plots of The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles.

Hughes then put Candy in The Great Outdoors in a similar brand of comedy but fewer social ramifications.

This was the man who penned the Vacation films to greatness and those were hardly angst-ridden just downright funny.

Hughes also showed his more dramatic side with titles like Curly Sue – a film whose perception in my mind is likely skewed due to my sister’s incessant watching of it. The heartfelt, sincere, coyly funny, at times dramatic She’s Having a Baby.

He was a star launcher from propelling Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, and also John Candy, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald and Macaulay Culkin.

Even his greatest hits: The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off show more diversity than Hughes is typically given credit for having.

The screenwriter is a largely anonymous figure in the Hollywood game and in the American consciousness, even more so when said writer chooses to leave Hollywood behind. Even with one of the longest string of hits in the history of film there was a fade, yet even while fading Hughes put his name on big scripts.

In the 90s Hughes was hired to write a series of remakes: 101 Dalmatians, Flubber, Miracle on 34th Street and Dennis the Menace.

He also wrote Beethoven which was good in its first installment and he has continued the series under his pen name scripting it or lending his characters.

The decade of course began with Home Alone, which has been tarnished in hindsight due to many things unrelated to the film. It is a classic comedy and at the end of its theatrical run was the 4th highest grossing film of all-time and the #1 comedy. It is still in the mid-20s of the all-time rank 19 years later, with no inflated ticket prices there to boost it. Hughes went on to pen the next two in the series.

Home Alone was inspired by one short scene in Uncle Buck where Macaulay interviewed Buck’s girlfriend through the mail slot. Which is another tremendous example of his artistry: one, because such a short exchange spun off into another film and that he found inspiration in that. It’s also great because the two films complement each other.

The remainder of his credits he had attributed to him where written under his pen name Edmond Dantès, he did have few indie attempts like a TV series called New Port South and a hard to find film called Reach the Rock.

Which were followed by story credits such as Maid in Manhattan– nothing special but as good as a Cinderella update can be. Lastly, Drillbit Taylor which reportedly was a tale optioned in the 1980s and untouched ’til last year.

So a lot of that body of work had little to do with angst and a lot to do with fantasy and laughter and things that would get us through angst. The label likely has to do with his magnum opus, the masterpiece whose first draft was written over the course of one weekend: The Breakfast Club.

This is the kind of film that strikes a big time nerve not just for teenagers but for those who were teenagers, I myself was in college when I first saw it and likely connected with it more because of it. It examines its characters with surgical precision, and they all understand each other more they are by no means fixed or better for the experience just changed and more aware. They stand united against a common enemy – their parents and the principal. 

Part of what made Hughes great was that he had an unwavering view of the world best exemplified by a quote of his: “I don’t think of kids as a lower form of the human species.”

Hughes practiced what he preached and will not be forgotten by any of us who are young or merely young at heart. Whether we just sought escape or seek to create characters as honest and true as he did we will not forget his words.

In Memoriam- Frank Coghlan, Jr.

Frank Coghlan, Jr.

Frank Coghlan Jr., who was a child actor in the silent film era passed away quietly last month (September 2009) of natural causes at the ripe old age of 93. He was the actor who brought the phrase “Shazam!” into the American consciousness and played Billy Batson 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 The Adventures of Captain Marvel. 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, indicates his importance in as much as he made up the tapestry of cinema when films and movie stars, whether A-List or not, were 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 The 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 he 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.

In Memoriam- Corey Haim

Corey Haim Credit: Michael Bezjian/wireimage.com

It is so impossibly sad not to be shocked when learning of the death of one so young that it is nearly impossible to quantify in words. Corey Haim died at the young age of 38, the cause of death was ruled eventually to be natural causes. Haim battled substance abuse, with varying degrees of success, for most of his life.

Drug problems had already effectively cost Haim the career he had been building but now, tragically, if they have not cost him his life they were likely a contributing factor. However, that is all that bears saying as it is my policy with these pieces to not dwell too much on the details of how we lost the entertainer we admired but to try and preserve their memory and Haim in a very short span left quite a mark on the film industry with the parts he played.

His debut was in Firstborn where he played Terri Garr’s son. He is the son of a divorced woman who starts seeing a man named Sam, Peter Wellet, who always seems to be trying a get rich quick scheme but is, in fact, engaged in illegal activities. It is a purely dramatic role in which he is quite strong indeed.

Corey Haim was the actor who brought the character of Marty Coslaw to life on celluloid – Coslaw being the protagonist of King’s short werewolf novel Cycle of the Werewolf, which was called Silver Bullet as a film. It stands not only as one of his most impressive performances but also one of King’s better cinematic adaptations. Later on that same year he appeared in the Oscar-nominated film Murphy’s Romance with Sally Field and James Garner.

1986 brought one of his signature roles as the lovestruck nerd Lucas, few could adequately play both sides of the social spectrum and be convincing on either side. Haim did so with an ease that belied his years.

In 1987 he appeared in the now classic vampire film The Lost Boys and was one of the reasons for its success and it was truly his breakout role. He recently participated in a straight-to-video sequel in the mid-90s and on most of the work he did find was either on TV or straight-to-video projects.

In 1988 he starred in another horror vehicle The Watchers and one of the better known teen movies of the era License to Drive.

By 1989 his private life had been making such headlines that he tried to address them in the video Me, Myself and I. Prayer of the Rollerboys was pretty much Haim’s last hurrah as most had come to know him. Things were never quite the same after that either in his life or his career. Haim made several comeback attempts none of which obviously got him back to where he was previously. As a young screenwriter to aid my visualization of a film I’d frequently find actors to play roles if it suits them; at a time I was writing a character, an adult character fitting his age, with Haim in mind.

One could be cynical and scoff at yet another actor dying young after battling addiction for a bulk of his days but this was a person who lost their life far too soon and before we forget this story and bury it along with all the other unfortunate early losses Hollywood suffered recently with Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro and previously and shockingly with River Phoenix these incidents ought not be forgotten but should serve as a reminder because the only thing worse in this world than wasting away one’s talent is wasting away one’s life.

Megan Follows and Corey Haim in Silver Bullet (Paramount)