|Born||John E. Moran
January 26, 1923
Mattoon, Illinois, USA
|Died||September 20, 1990
Greenfield, Massachusetts, USA
Jackie Moran (January 26, 1923 – September 20, 1990) was an American movie actor who, between 1936 and 1946, appeared in over thirty films, primarily in teenage roles.
Career beginning and key role as Huck Finn
A native of Mattoon, Illinois, John E. Moran first attracted attention through the fine quality of his voice while singing in a church choir. He was seen by Mary Pickford who convinced his mother to take him to Hollywood for a screen test in 1935. Renamed Jackie Moran, the appealing youngster was subsequently cast in a number of substantial supporting roles, becoming, at the age of fourteen, a briefly popular adolescent star with the February 17, 1938 release of David O. Selznick's production The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The 93-minute big-budget Technicolor film was a top moneymaker, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction. Playing Huckleberry Finn to Tommy Kelly's Tom Sawyer, Jackie Moran received critical praise for his natural acting style and was favorably compared to two earlier child star Jackies, the four-months-older Jackie Cooper and the eight-years-older Jackie Coogan (who seven years earlier starred as Tom (with Junior Durkin as Huck) in the December 1930 release Tom Sawyer and the August 1931 release Huckleberry Finn).
Star of low-budget, teen-oriented films
With his name now in (dim) lights, Jackie Moran went on to star in several youth-oriented films for low-budget and poverty-row studios, such as Republic and Monogram. His most frequent co-star was the one-year-younger Marcia Mae Jones, who appeared with him in eleven films, including four Monogram tributes to life in idealized pre-World War II rural America, 1938's Barefoot Boy and, in 1940, Tomboy, Haunted House and The Old Swimmin' Hole. The trio of 1940 films was helmed by the co-creator and former guiding spirit of Our Gang, Robert F. McGowan, in his final directorial assignment. In 1938, in addition to starring in Barefoot Boy, Jackie Moran and Marcia Mae Jones played supporting roles in the Deanna Durbin vehicle Mad About Music and, in Jackie's breakout picture, Marcia Mae had the relatively minor part of Tom Sawyer's bratty cousin Mary (Ann Gillis was Becky Thatcher). Most of Jackie and Marcia Mae's remaining five films cast them in major supporting roles. They were in the independently-produced, RKO-released 1939 Jean Hersholt vehicle Meet Dr. Christian, made brief cameo appearances in RKO's 1940 Anne of Green Gables installment Anne of Windy Poplars and co-starred with Frankie Darro, Keye Luke and Mantan Moreland in two 1941 Monogram series films, The Gang's All Here and Let's Go Collegiate. Their final entry, after a two-year break, was the 1943 Republic musical Nobody's Darling, one of the first films helmed by top 1950s and 60s director Anthony Mann.
In addition to the Dr. Christian film, Jackie Moran made memorable appearances in four other 1939 releases, including a cameo in that year's biggest, Gone with the Wind. In an epic scene, as a Confederate marching band passes by, the audience sees Jackie as a fife player (with Tommy Kelly on the drum). Producer David O. Selznick, who, the year before, had given Jackie and Tommy their once-in-a-lifetime roles as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, paid tribute to the two young stars of that very successful previous film by briefly showcasing them in his greatest production. Jackie also had a top co-starring role in Universal's iconic 12-chapter serial Buck Rogers in which he was third-billed as Buck's young buddy, Buddy Wade. Jackie's next 1939 release was the Hardy Family-like Everybody's Hobby, while the last, Spirit of Culver, a remake of 1932's military-school classic Tom Brown of Culver, teamed him with two former top child stars Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew, each of whom was nearing the end of his film career. Military school pictures were a relatively frequent sight on the screen in the years immediately preceding and during World War II, with most teenage actors of the era appearing in one or more of such films (In 1940-42, for example, Tommy Kelly was in Military Academy and Freddie Bartholomew was in Naval Academy, Cadets on Parade and Junior Army).
A small part in the 1944 epic Since You Went Away
For unspecified reasons, Jackie Moran did not serve in the military during the war, but continued to act in movies, including one final appearance in a top quality film, Since You Went Away. Nearly a year in production, the 172-minute homefront epic had its long-awaited Hollywood premiere in June 1944 and went into wide release on July 20. One of five Oscar nominees for Best Picture (it eventually lost to Going My Way), the black-and-white film was David O. Selznick's first production after Gone with the Wind and spared no expenses. Tommy Kelly, in the service during production, was not available, but Selznick once again cast Jackie in a small, but memorable role. Of the seventeen names listed in the credits, Jackie was seventeenth, but his last-place position did not prevent the character (a grocer's son) from exchanging bashful glances with the female third-lead (after Claudette Colbert and Jennifer Jones), fifteen-year-old Shirley Temple. Jackie, at twenty, was five years older, but appeared to be no more than sixteen or seventeen.
End of film career at the age of 23
Jackie Moran ended his screen career in 1945-46 with a collection of teenage musical comedies at Columbia and Monogram. He was the title character in Monogram's comedy-mystery There Goes Kelly, and co-starred with exuberant young actress June Preisser in Columbia's Let's Go Steady and Monogram's Junior Prom, Freddie Steps Out and High School Hero The last three were part of a series which, in addition to Jackie Moran and June Preisser, starred Freddie Stewart, Warren Mills, Frankie Darro and future Adventures of Superman Lois Lane, Noel Neill.
The years afterwards
Jackie Moran's final movie role was that of a seventh-billed, relatively minor supporting character in Columbia's 1946 college drama Betty Co-Ed. Accounts differ as to his occupations in the remaining forty-four years of his life. His obituaries stated that he became a screenwriter for B movies in the 1950s, but no specific titles were indicated. It was also written that he fronted a band in Hollywood as a drummer, and that several of his bandmates went on to join Stan Kenton's orchestra. In the 1960s, a screenwriter using Jackie's real name, John E. Moran, worked extensively with Russ Meyer, notably on the films Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Good Morning and... Goodbye!, Common Law Cabin, and Wild Gals of the Naked West, also playing small roles in the latter two films. The credits of the two are occasionally combined, but there is no confirmation that they are the same person. The obituaries also stated that in his later years, Jackie Moran worked in public relations for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Chicago, where, as a youngster, he was said to have been a choirboy.
Moran moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1984 and wrote a novel, Six Step House. Six years after his arrival, he succumbed to lung cancer in the town's Franklin Medical Center at the age of 67. As requested in his will, Jackie Moran's ashes were scattered on the backstretch of the Del Mar Racetrack, a thoroughbred horse racing facility in Del Mar, California.