Hollywood actor Jackie Cooper dead at 88

Wed May 4, 2011 8:34pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Jackie Cooper, who survived a tumultuous childhood as an Oscar-nominated star to enjoy a varied career as a TV executive, director and "Superman" sidekick, died near Los Angeles, his attorney said on Wednesday. He was 88.

Cooper succumbed to complications of old age at a convalescent home in the coastal city of Santa Monica on Tuesday, attorney Roger Licht told Reuters.

He starred in more than 100 movies and TV shows before retiring from Hollywood more than 20 years ago. He retreated to a high-rise condominium with his third wife, Barbara, whom he credited for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

Cooper's life outside Hollywood was just as interesting. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War Two, and retired with the rank of captain from the reserves in the early 1980s. He also raced cars and owned racehorses.

He never really shed the pug nose and firm chin that endeared him to millions of Americans during the Great Depression, when he starred as a prominent cast member of Hal Roach's "Our Gang" short comedy films. At the twilight of his career, Cooper played grizzled Daily Planet editor Perry White in the 1978 "Superman" movie and its three sequels.

Born John Cooper, Jr. in Los Angeles, he was the illegitimate child of a sickly Italian mother who died when he was a teenager and a Jewish father who quickly abandoned the family. He got his start in Hollywood when his much-loathed grandmother dragged him around studio lots for day work as an extra.

His "Our Gang" work -- he appeared in such comedy shorts as "Teacher's Pet" and "Love Business" -- led to his starring role in the 1931 film "Skippy," an adaptation of the comic strip about a lively youngster.

In order to force him to cry for a scene, his grandmother dragged his dog off set and had it shot by a security guard. The boy duly cried, but remained hysterical even after it was revealed that the dog was not actually dead. Cooper titled his 1981 memoir "Please Don't Shoot My Dog."   Continued...