Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: They Still Call Me Junior by Frank Coghlan, Jr.

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.

Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941, Republic Pictures)

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.

Rubber Tires

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.

Junior Coghlan

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.

Junior Coghlan (BFI)

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.

Advertisements

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Dick Moore

Introduction

This is my latest post (fourth overall) for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Out of the Past. This book fits in a few categories as biographical/filmographic account of Dickie Moore’s work but also counts as an interview book as he spoke to many of his contemporaries later on and compared experiences.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car) by Dick Moore

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (1984, Harper & Row)

When I was growing up I was a kid who loved movies, movies of all kinds. When there were young characters, of course, I identified with them. Still recalling what it’s like to be of that age, I still do to the extent I can. As I grew, and started to learn a bit more a bout how films are made, separating the fantasy from reality and liking them both; things were really changed for me with one film and one name: Home Alone starring Macaulay Culkin.

As a kid who sought all different kinds of artistic expression it was mind-blowing that a kid could have that kind of success, and at that age I believed a great deal of talent. Following his trajectory there was quite a class of young actors in the early ‘90s I followed: the star of his next film Anna Chlumsky, another talent he teamed with that had more depth and range, and still does, Elijah Wood. It was quite a group of actors in the early years of the soon-to-be-called Millennials.

As I continued to follow film, and created my personal film awards, I wanted to recognize and reward young talents that were often overlooked. Similarly, as I started to watch older films I started find favorites from different eras. One of those is Dickie Moore, who I’ve seen in a number of studio and Poverty Row titles alike.

Blonde Venus (1932, Paramount)

Perhaps the strongest group of young actors came to the fore in the infancy of synchronized sound and the dawn of the Depression. As is astutely covered in Dick Moore’s account the conditions in Hollywood and society as a whole were perfect for this boom crop.

Typically, when I’ve read about film I’ve been most concerned about the material at hand. The film, analysis of it, the construction and creation of it. Having a staunch belief in separating art from artist as much as possible has limited my interest in biographical accounts to an extent. One thing I do like is setting the record straight, which is much of the larger goal of Cliff Aliperti’s great bio on Freddie Bartholomew, which I just read.

However, seeking a firsthand account lead me to this book, and what’s better is that it constructs itself based on the collected experience of many actors from the era. Yes, there is hindsight involved, but the honesty and self-examination and multi-faceted nature of the investigation of their careers, their lives, and how one affected the other is fascinating to read.

The Devil is a Sissy (1936, MGM)

Those Moore talks to are a veritable all-star cast:

Cora Sue Collins, Jackie Coogan, Jackie Cooper, Edith Fellows, Peggy Ann Garner, Lillian Gish, Bonita Granville, Darryl Hickman, Sybil Jason, Gloria Jean, Marcia Mae Jones, Roddy McDowall, Spanky McFarland, Sidney Miller, Kathleen Nolan, Margaret O’Brien, Donald O’Connor, Diana Cary (a.k.a. Baby Peggy), Jane Powell, Juanita Quigley, Gene Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Dean Stockwell, Matthew Beard (a.k.a Stymie), Shirley Temple Black, Bobs Watson, Delmar Watson, Jane Withers, and Natalie Wood.

The chapters are typically focused on one topic at a time yet linked chronologically so you get versions of:

Life before the movies; stories of parents on set in; how the studio system pressured kids to keep in front of rolling cameras; an insightful look inside the studio school bubble; how these kids related to the adults they work with and around, important as they had few contemporaries; a chronicle of successes, nerves, and stresses; tales of financial woe in the days before regulation and the loophole in the first law to protect minors’ earnings; tales of further imposed awkwardness and arrested development in adolescence; struggling with what happens after the phone stops ringing; and leaving home and/or show business.

Conclusion

In Love with Life (1934, Invincible)

I could go on and citing quotes ad nauseum as I did quite a bit of underlining in this one, but for those interested I’d rather not ruin the surprises herein. There is certainly plenty of food for thought, differing and insights. It’s not an easy book to get anymore, I believe mine was secondhand, unless it really sat around Strand for years and years but if you look around the Internet you should be able to find it, and if interested in any of the subjects you should give it a read.

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014: Part One (Shorts)

This is the same idea as “Favorite Older Films First Viewed in” which I did since 2011. The idea was one I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I have usually done the list in parts. This time I will find ways to group the films. I noticed I had four short films that are available to view online so I figured I’d start with them.

Les Oeufs de Pâques (1907)

I only recently discovered the works of Segundo de Chomon. He seems a worthy Spanish counterpart to Georges Méliès. This is a presentational, magic style of silent film implementing many invisible cuts, but it is very enjoyable.

His Wooden Wedding (1925)

Many thanks to Fritzi over at Movies, Silently for suggesting this film when I wanted a wedding-themed silent. I was unfamiliar with Charley Case before viewing this film, and look forward to seeing more. It’s quite funny. Enjoy!

Mickey’s Race (1933)

This is a selection that is fitting not only in light of Mickey Rooney‘s recent passing, but it also plays into my Poverty Row April theme.

This is purportedly the last of the series of Mickey McGuire shorts (back when Rooney was credited as such) that he starred in while not signed with a major studio. The story is simple escapist fare and fairly humorous. It’s more noteworthy because I had not yet seen one of these shorts. Enjoy!

Please follow the link to view the film:

https://archive.org/embed/MickeysRace1933ShortFilm

The Fly (1981)

I when watching this film preferred to take a textual approach rather than a subtextual one. Regardless, it’s one of the most impressive pieces of first-“person” perspectives I’ve seen. For more of a read and more of a background on this film check the post on The Dissolve that drew this piece to my attention.

2014 Neutron Star Award: Mickey Rooney

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Mickey-Rooney-and-Judy-Garland-Andy-Hardy-Meets-Debutante-1940

This one was not easy to figure out. Much of the reason this award proved difficult to choose is that with my viewings being somewhat down across the board it was difficult to find a number of actors or filmmakers who jumped up in prominence this past year. Usually, they were known as well. However, with Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate passing I did have cause to post my first In Memoriam in some time and I did feature some of his shorts after the incident, and had seen some earlier titles he appeared in. I still have, and have been meaning to see, many of his Andy Hardy titles sitting around. Then in December he reprised his role in the Night at the Museum series. As always this kind of appearance was bittersweet (particularly as Robin Williams always features prominently in those films also). For Mickey some of the bittersweetness owed to the fact that the lingering effects on his speech of a stroke were apparent. The saving graces were that he did fine and the film very classily and prominently dedicated a title card to them both.

Rooney’s credits are many and I will continue to seek them out, and who knows I may find more that I can share legally here. I hope that seeing his later works will encourage new fans to discover some of his earlier works. Many of them, from varied points in his career, have been with me for quite some time.

Ironically, the first I ever heard of Rooney was through an impersonation of him by Dana Carvey on SNL. Like a lot of impersonations there was some basis in fact for it, much as there was for Mickey to legitimately claim he was once the biggest star in the world. That point can be debated if you like but his impact and longevity may not be matched anytime soon. Therefore, any growth in the appreciation of his work is worthwhile.

“It’s never too late to see a movie.”
-Edgar Wright

Poverty Row April 2014 – Wrap-Up

Impetus

The original inspiration for this series was as research for a side fictional writing project. It proved much more fruitful last year. Here are the films I viewed then.

Films Viewed

Mickey's Race (1933)

Here are the films I saw this past year:

Hoosier Schoolboy
Little Pal (a.k.a. The Healer)
Tomorrow’s Children
Officer Thirteen
Mickey’s Race

One of the films I saw prior to this year’s time frame, and lot of the selections were influenced by the passing of Mickey Rooney.

Comments on the Future

While I won’t go so far as to strike the tab from the menu screen, I don’t think this will be a month-long focus next year. Rather, when I feel like a quick screening I will come back to these titles. It’s already a site category and a short niche of film history that interests me greatly that I’d like to continue to feature, just not in such a singular way.

Poverty Row April: Hoosier Schoolboy (1937)

Here’s another Mickey Rooney-starring title. This one is for Monogram when he’s a bit older than the last one. It’s a great performance by Rooney in what feels like two long short films intertwined, as a character who seems like she may be the lead does an impressive vanishing act in the secon half of the film. It’s no great shakes, but it’s a decent way to pass the time.

Watch the film here.

Poverty Row April: Officer Thirteen (1932)

In this year’s Poverty Row April post I said I’d dedicate Sundays to sharing features. However, I missed last week so I will get two up this weekend.

When I found out that this was available from Alpha Home Video I did not find it on the Internet Archive. It has surfaced since I saw it. This film features early performances by both Mickey Rooney and Jackie Searl.

The film deals with a cop who seeks vigilante justice when the system won’t find solutions. It’s a surprisingly effective title.

To view the film go here.

Christmas Special Review- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Amongst Christmas specials, but particularly amongst those produced by Rankin and Bass, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town stands apart. It does so because it is most the most triumphantly well-told of the lot, soon I will describe the most cinematic but here we’re talking strictly based on narrative.

The film opens in a fashion reminiscent of Citizen Kane with a newsreel spewing headlines about Christmas that go from mundane to fantastical and we are braced for the story. Then we are introduced to a mailman modeled after and voiced by Fred Astaire, he reads and we hear, in voice over, the questions children have about Santa Claus. These facts about him we all take for granted are about to be explained.

This may seem like a simple enough, paint-by-numbers method of concocting a tale but there is such ingenuity in the plot devices and also a lack of any rococo quality to it that it works. It all flows naturally from the action. Then the narrator chimes in and connects the dots just in case, and a child’s voice is heard responding.

This may just be Romeo Muller’s, the writer Rankin/Bass employed, best work as he makes Santa an even more heroic figure because in this tale we learn of his past, learn to think of him as a person not just an icon, and then also have an antagonist who vilifies him and renders him an outlaw.

You have, of course, the talents of Astaire and Mickey Rooney in this tale and the indelible figures of the Winter Warlock and Bergermeister Meisterberger and of course another classic song. It is an absolutely unbeatable combination and one of the best options for the season.

For the Return of the Juvenile Award

This can be considered a general call to attention for several entities. Firstly, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you will be asked in the course of this article to un-retire an award. Now several categories have been scratched from the list of Oscars handed out annually many of them with reason. For example, there used to be separate color and black & white cinematography awards. This was logical because there is an inherent and obvious difference in shooting black & white versus color. It was also logical because for many years there was a fair split between films shooting in either medium. Now the question “Color or black and white?” is hardly asked and the award no longer is qualified.

That is an example of an award that has been retired and should be. An award that should be un-retired and become a staple is the Juvenile Award. The Juvenile Award was presented 10 times between 1935 and 1960. It was a category where there were never nominees but on occasion the academy would feel a performer was worthy of honoring.

Now the nomenclature is a little dated and if the Academy were willing to update the name that’d be fine. The fact of the matter is that due to the outstanding and consistent achievement by young performers year after year there should be a category to recognize these achievements. We’ve reached a point where the occasional young nominee as an honoree and as a pseudo-stunt is old.

This will allow proper credit to be bestowed upon young talent and thus Keisha Castle-Hughes would have her statuette and so would Haley Joel Osment and he would’ve been nominated appropriately as a lead amongst the youths anyway.

There is precedent for honorary statuettes becoming standardized categories, for example, honorary awards were bestowed upon foreign releases before the creation of a fully-nominated category in 1957.

The second intended audience for this piece is the studios and distributors who are sitting on Oscar-winning performances which are pieces of history that are unknown to the public.

Typically, the Juvenile Award was cited for the actor’s body of work as the best of his age group in Hollywood during the given year. However, examining filmographies one can easily see the specific projects that garnered the honor.

Juvenile Awards were Awarded to:
     

Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills in Pollyanna (Disney)

“For Most outstanding juvenile performance during 1960.”

Pollyanna is a Disney classic title and readily available.

Vincent Winter and Jon Whiteley

Jon Whietely and Vincent Winter in The Little Kidnappers (United Artists)

For his outstanding performance in The Little Kidnappers.

This title seems to be out of print and it shouldn’t be it’s a shared award for one film, which is rare. I had also never heard of this film or these last two winners until I was updating this post so I’m glad I did.

Bobby Driscoll

Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll and Paul Stewart in The Window (RKO)

“For the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949.” 

This was mostly for the The Window, a film noir where Driscoll plays a modern incarnation of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” So Dear to My Heart, a Disney film, went wide in January of that year but premiered in 1948. It is typically drama that’ll have influence on such an award and The Window is available from The Warner Archive Collection but streams on Amazon.

Ivan Jandl

Ivan Jandl

“For the outstanding juvenile performance of 1948 in The Search .”

This film is available from Warner Archive. It’s the tale of an American soldier helping a Czech boy find his mother.

Claude Jarman, Jr.

Claude Jarman, Jr. in The Yearling (MGM)

“For the outstanding child actor of 1946.”

This award is truly for The Yearling which was Jarman’s debut. It is still readily available on DVD and is well worth seeing. Be sure to have Kleenex on hand for this tear-jerker.

Peggy Ann Garner

Ted Donaldson, Joan Blondell and Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (20th Century Fox)

“For the outstanding child actress of 1945.”

While her notable performances from 1944 (Jane Eyre and Keys to the Kingdom) are available and her most famous 1945 role (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) the other two parts in 1945 that earned her a general citation for excellence (Nob Hill and Junior Miss) are out of print.

Margaret O’Brien

“For outstanding child actress of 1944.”

O’Brien earned her award for four performances. Only Meet Me in St. Louis is on DVD. The Canterville Ghost is on VHS, if you like that sort of thing.  
 
 
Judy Garland 
  

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (MGM)


   
“For her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year [1939].”

Judy Garland’s performances in both Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz which won her the award in 1940 are both readily available. The first is part of a Rooney-Garland Box Set released by Warner Brothers Home Video.

 Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin

MGM

“For their (Durbin/Rooney) significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.”

Rooney’s Andy Hardy films are still readily available.

Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple

“In grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934.”

Most of Shirley Temple’s filmography is still readily available.

Any gaps in the availability of a performance in the history of this unique and short-lived award should be rectified. Likewise, the award should return. The Academy can name the award after Ms. Temple if they like and honor young actors every year.

For even missing from this list are the likes of Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper, Roddy MacDowell, Dean Stockwell, Elizabeth Taylor, Patty McCormack, Anne Rutherford, Debbie Reynolds and more, so even in an era when the award existed not everyone worthy won the award. Not that trophies need to be handed out in hindsight or to those who have left us but the award should definitely make its presence known again both on video and in the ceremony.