Jackie Coogan

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Not to be confused with Jackie Cooper.
Jackie Coogan
Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester (The Addams Family, 1966).jpg
Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, 1966
Born John Leslie Coogan[1]
(1914-10-26)October 26, 1914
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died March 1, 1984(1984-03-01) (aged 69)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cardiac arrest
Resting place Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California
Occupation Actor
Years active 1917–1984
Spouse(s) Betty Grable (m. 1937–39)
Flower Parry (m. 1941–43)
Ann McCormack (m. 1946–51)
Dorothea Lamphere (m. 1952–84)

John Leslie "Jackie" Coogan (October 26, 1914 – March 1, 1984) was an American actor who began his movie career as a child actor in silent films.[2] Charlie Chaplin's film classic The Kid (1921) made him one of the first child stars in film history. Many years later, he became known as Uncle Fester on the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family. In the interim, he sued his mother and stepfather over his squandered film earnings and provoked California to enact the first known legal protection for the earnings of child performers, widely known as the Coogan Act.

Early life and early career[edit]

Coogan was born in 1914 in Los Angeles, California, to John Henry Coogan, Jr., and Lillian Rita (Dolliver) Coogan, as John Leslie Coogan.[1][3] He began performing as an infant in both vaudeville and film, with an uncredited role in the 1917 film Skinner's Baby. Charlie Chaplin discovered him in the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles—a vaudeville house—doing the shimmy, a popular dance at the time, on the stage. Coogan's father was also an actor. Jackie Coogan was a natural mimic and delighted Chaplin with his abilities. Chaplin subsequently cast him in a small role in A Day's Pleasure (1919). He was Chaplin's irascible sidekick in The Kid (1921) and played the title role in Oliver Twist, directed by Frank Lloyd, the following year. Coogan was one of the first stars to be heavily merchandised; peanut butter, stationery, whistles, dolls, records, and figurines were among the Coogan-themed merchandise offered.

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid
Coogan in 1920

Coogan was tutored until the age of ten, when he entered Urban Military Academy and other prep schools. He attended several colleges, as well as the University of Southern California. In 1932, he dropped out of Santa Clara University because of poor grades.

In November 1933, Brooke Hart, a close friend of Coogan from Santa Clara University, was kidnapped from his family-owned department store in San Jose and brought to the San Francisco area San Mateo–Hayward Bridge. After several demands for a $40,000 ransom, police arrested Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes in San Jose. Thurmond admitted that Hart had been murdered on the night he was kidnapped. Both men were then transferred to a prison in San Jose, California. A mob later broke into the building; Thurmond and Holmes were then hanged in an adjacent park. Coogan was reported to be among the mob that prepared and held the lynching rope.[4]

In 1935, at age 20, Coogan was the sole survivor of a car crash in San Diego County that took the life of his father, his best friend and fellow child actor Junior Durkin, and the producer Robert J. Horner.

Coogan Bill[edit]

As a child star, Coogan earned an estimated $3 to $4 million ($50,000,000 to $70,000,000 in 2015 dollars), but the money was spent by his mother and stepfather, Arthur Bernstein, on such extravagances as fur coats, diamonds, and expensive cars. Coogan's mother and stepfather claimed Jackie was having fun and thought he was playing. She stated, "No promises were ever made to give Jackie anything. Every dollar a kid earns before he is 21 belongs to his parents. Jackie will not get a cent of his earnings",[5] and claimed that "Jackie was a bad boy."[6] Coogan sued them in 1938, but, after legal expenses, received only $126,000 ($2,110,000 in 2015) of the approximately $250,000 remaining of his earnings. When Coogan fell on hard times and asked Charlie Chaplin for assistance, Chaplin gave him $1,000 without hesitation.[7]

The legal battle brought attention to child actors and resulted in the enactment in 1939 of the California Child Actor's Bill, often called the 'Coogan Law' or the 'Coogan Act'. This requires that a child actor's employer set aside 15% of the earnings in a trust (often called a Coogan account), and codifies such issues as schooling, work hours, and time-off.[8]

Charity work[edit]

Coogan took up the cause of the Armenians, Greeks, and others made destitute during Armenian Genocide, working with Near East relief. He toured across the United States and Europe in 1924 on a "Children's Crusade" as part of a fundraising drive, which ended up providing more than $1,000,000 in clothing, food, and other contributions (worth more than $13 million adjusted for 2012 dollars). Coogan was honored by officials in the United States, Greece, and Rome, where he met with Pope Pius XI.[9]

He was a Roman Catholic, and a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills.[10]

Later years[edit]


In 1940, Coogan played the role of "a playboy Broadway producer" in the Society Girl program on CBS radio.[11]

World War II[edit]

Coogan enlisted in the United States Army in March 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he requested a transfer to United States Army Air Forces as a glider pilot because of his civilian flying experience. After graduating from glider school, he was made a flight officer and he volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group. In December 1943, the unit was sent to India. He flew British troops, the Chindits, under General Orde Wingate on March 5, 1944, landing them at night in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines in the Burma campaign.[12]


After the war, Coogan returned to acting, taking mostly character roles and appearing on television. From 1952 to 1953, he played Stoney Crockett on the syndicated series Cowboy G-Men. He guest-starred on NBC's The Martha Raye Show. He appeared too, as Corbett, in two episodes of NBC's The Outlaws with Barton MacLane, which aired from 1960–1962. In the 1960–1961 season, he guest-starred in the episode "The Damaged Dolls" of the syndicated crime drama The Brothers Brannagan. In 1961, he guest-starred in an episode of The Americans, an NBC series about family divisions stemming from the American Civil War. He also appeared in episode 37, titled "Barney on the Rebound", of The Andy Griffith Show, which aired October 31, 1961. He had a regular role in a 1962–63 NBC series, McKeever and the Colonel. He finally found his most famous television role as Uncle Fester in ABC's The Addams Family (1964–1966). He appeared as a police officer in the Elvis Presley comedy Girl Happy in 1965.[13]

He appeared four times on the Perry Mason series, including the role of political activist Gus Sawyer in the 1963 episode, "The Case of the Witless Witness", and TV prop man Pete Desmond in the final episode, "The Case of the Final Fadeout", in 1966. He was a guest several times on The Red Skelton Show, appeared twice on the The Brady Bunch ("The Fender Benders" and "Double Parked"), I Dream of Jeannie (as Jeannie's uncle, Suleiman – Maharaja of Basenji), Family Affair, Here's Lucy and The Brian Keith Show, and continued to guest-star on television (including multiple appearances on The Partridge Family, The Wild Wild West, and Hawaii Five-O) until his retirement in the middle 1970s.

Marriages and children[edit]

He married Betty Grable on November 20, 1937, and they divorced on October 11, 1939.

On August 10, 1941, he married Flower Parry, and they were divorced on June 29, 1943. They had one son, John Anthony Coogan (writer/producer of 3D digital and film), born March 4, 1942, in Los Angeles, California. Coogan married Ann McCormack on December 26, 1946,[14] and they divorced on September 20, 1951.[15][16][17] One daughter, Joann Dolliver Coogan, was born April 2, 1948,[18] in Los Angeles.

Dorothea Odetta Hanson, also known as Dorothea Lamphere, best known as Dodie, became his fourth wife in April 1952; they were together until his death. One daughter, Leslie Diane Coogan, was born November 24, 1953, in Los Angeles. Her son is actor Keith Coogan, who was born Keith Eric Mitchell on January 13, 1970. He began acting in 1975, and changed his name in 1986, two years after his grandfather's death. His roles include the oldest son in Adventures in Babysitting. Footage of Jackie with his grandson, Keith (uncredited on imdb.com) can be seen in the 1982 documentary Hollywood's Children. A son, Christopher Fenton Coogan, was born July 9, 1967, in Riverside County, California. He died in a motorcycle accident in Palm Springs, California, on June 29, 1990.[19]

Coogan's grave at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California


Coogan died on March 1, 1984, at age 69 in Santa Monica, California.[20] His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located on the 1700 block of Vine Street, just south of Hollywood Boulevard.[21]



  1. ^ a b "Research". Coogan Research Group. 7 April 2012. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  2. ^ Barron, James (2 March 1984). "Jackie Coogan, Child Star of Films, dies at 69". The New York Times (NYTimes.com). Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  3. ^ "Coogan Research Group". 30 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  4. ^ Farrell, Harry (1993). Swift justice: murder and vengeance in a California town. New York: Saint Martin's Press Inc. pp. 165, 255. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  5. ^ a b "The Strange Case of – Jackie Coogan's $4,000,000". Life. 25 April 1938. p. 50. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  6. ^ "Newspictures of the Week (photograph)". Life. 2 May 1938. p. 16. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  7. ^ Robinson, David (1985). Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0070531819. 
  8. ^ "Coogan Law". SAG-AFTRA. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  9. ^ Babkenian, Vicken (7 January 2011). "Hollywood’s First Celebrity Humanitarian that America Forgot". Armenian Weekly (Watertown, MA). Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  10. ^ "Our History". Church of the Good Shepherd. 1998. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  11. ^ "Thursday's Highlights" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror 13 (5): 50. March 1940. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Webster, Donovan (2003). The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. Harper Collins. p. 187. ISBN 0-06-074638-6. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  13. ^ "Girl Happy (1965)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  14. ^ "WEDDING CAKE FOR THE COOGANS". Oxnard Press Courier. 2 Jan 1947. p. 20. 
  15. ^ "Jackie Coogans Call It Quits After 4 Years of Marriage". Long Beach Independent. 7 Mar 1950. p. 22. 
  16. ^ "Coogans Drop Divorce Plans". Long Beach Independent. 24 Mar 1950. p. 28. 
  17. ^ "The Kid and 'Da Mkk' Having Trouble Again". Long Beach Independent. 23 Aug 1950. p. 21. 
  18. ^ "Coogan Is Father For Second Time". Berkeley Daily Gazette. 3 Apr 1948. p. 2. 
  19. ^ "Christopher Coogan; Youngest Son of Actor". Los Angeles Times (latimes.com). 7 July 1990. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  20. ^ Aaker, Everett (1997). Television Western Players of the Fifties: A Biographical Encyclopedia of All Regular Cast Members in Western Series, 1949–1959. McFarland. p. 141. ISBN 0-7864-0284-9. 
  21. ^ "Jackie Coogan". projects.latimes.com. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

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