Jackie Coogan

Jackie Coogan Headshot

Actor • Comedian

Birth Date: October 26, 1914

Death Date: March 1, 1984

Birth Place: Los Angeles, California

Spouses: Betty Grable

Grandchildren: Keith Coogan

Child star who charmed audiences in Charlie Chaplin's 1921 classic "The Kid." By the mid-1930s, his career had slowed considerably and in 1938 he attempted to win back his $4 million childhood earnings from his mother and stepfather.

By the time the case was settled, the amount had dropped to approximately $250,000, of which Coogan received only a portion. The case resulted in the Coogan Act, or Child Actors Bill, set up to protect the assets of child stars.
Coogan became, in many ways, the patron saint -- of sorts -- of child actors because of the law, although the legislation only covers actors working in California and, in reality, applies to income from TV series and motion pictures and not TV commercials.

After WWII, most of his work came from TV where he gained success as Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family," which ran on ABC from 1964-66. Coogan began his career at 18 months, in "Skinner's Baby" (1917). He played the title role in a silent version of "Oliver Twist" in 1922.

He switched studios from First National to Metro for a contract which guaranteed him $1 over two years, although his personal allowance remained at $6.25 per week. By 1927, Coogan's popularity had begun to wane, and his bob hair was cut in a much-publicized ceremony, which was filmed for theatrical release.

MGM decided to capitalize on the event by producing the film, "Johnny Get Your Hair Cut." But, his career was still dwindling. He made a comeback in the title role of "Tom Sawyer" (1930), also his first talkie, and repeated that role in "Huckleberry Finn" (1931), but Jackie Cooper was now the kid star of the MGM lot and in America's heart.

It was in 1935 when returning from a fishing trip that the car, driven by Coogan's father, went off the road, killing all (including child actor Junior Curkin) except Coogan, who had been in the rumple seat. Coogan was off the screen until 1938, trying to make another come-back in young adult roles in "College Swing." By this time he had married Starlet Betty Grable, but with his earnings lost by his mother and stepfather and few film roles available, the stress over financial matters contributed to the couple divorcing in 1939.

Coogan did not appear in a film from 1939 until after World War II service. His first film after the war was "Kilroy was Here" (1947), which also starred, perhaps ironically, Jackie Cooper, also struggling after child stardom. But feature film roles were few and far between, and by the late 40s, Coogan was mostly working on TV.

He was a regular on Benny Rubin's 1949 NBC series, and a panelist on Mike Storey's "Pantomime Quiz" from 1950-55. He was a third banana -- aide the colonel on his sitcom debut, "McKeever and the Colonel" (NBC, 1962-63). He was the first choice of the executive producer to play Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family" for ABC in 1964, but not of the network. Maurice Gosfield played the role in the original pilot, but died soon after production and Coogan stepped into the role which would give him lasting visibility as an adult.

After the series' demise, Coogan did the voice of Fester for the 1973-74 animated version of "The Addams Family," and appeared often in episodic dramas. He made his TV movie debut with "Cool Million" (NBC, 1972). His last TV appearance was in an episode of "Sweepstake$" on NBC in 1979.

It is said he appeared in 1400 TV shows and episodes combined. Coogan's grandson, Keith Coogan, born in 1970, appeared in "Tin Soldiers," "Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead" and numerous other films in the 80s and 90s. Keith was born Keith Mitchell, but took the last name "Coogan" as his professional name after his grandfather's 1984 death as an homage.

Credits

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