Jackie Coogan was born October 26, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. His birth name is John Leslie Coogan Junior. His father, John H. Coogan was a dancer. His mother, Lillian Dolliver Coogan had been a child star on the stage. Shortly after Jackie's birth the Coogans moved to New York. Jackie Coogan began his acting career as an infant. He has an uncredited role in the 1917 film Skinner's Baby. Jackie's first acting appearance was at age four in the theater.
At age five he began touring with his family in vaudeville shows. While performing in an Annette Kellerman revue, he was spotted by Charlie Chaplin
. Charlie had been looking for the right child to star next to him in the movie The Kid
. To test for the role Jackie was given a small role in the film A Day's Pleasure
in 1919. Jackie proved his stage presence and they starting filming Chaplin's The Kid
in 1921. The movie was a success. It lead to numerous roles for Jackie. He toured with his father on stage. Jackie's career and stardom were heavily promoted during that time.
By 1923 when he made Daddy
, he was one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. He left First National and received a $500,00 for signing with MGM. He was given $1,000,000 a year plus a percentage of profits in the first two years. In 1923, they put him into Long Live The King
. At a news making hair-cutting ceremony when he was 12, his famous rumpled haircut was clipped and MGM took advantage of the publicity to make Johnny Get Your Haircut
. This movie showed Jackie before and after the haircut.
He earned millions for the studios that hired him. He had his own production company set up by his parents called Jackie Coogan Productions. He is the youngest self made millionaire in history. In 1927, at age 13, Coogan's career was starting to wind down. He made the sound versions of Tom Sawyer
in 1930 and Huckleberry Finn
in 1931. Though the books were popular, the movies were not bringing in the audiences. His personal life was not going well either. His parents had divorced. His mother re-married Arthur Bernstein. Arthur became Jackie's business manager. In 1936, at age 21, he tragically lost his father and best friend, actor Junior Durkin. They were both killed in an auto accident. Though Jackie was badly injured in the car crash, he was the sole survivor. At this time he requested from his mother and step-father the money he had earned as a child star. They refused to give him a penny. Jackie filed suit for the four million dollars that they owed him. Under California state law, he had no rights to the money because he made it as a child. He eventually won the suit in 1939. He was awarded only $126,000. The public was outraged. Jackie decided that no other child actor should have to go through this type of financial abuse. He used his money to get the California Legislature to pass what is known as the "Coogan Act", which mandates that a child actor should have a trust fund set up to protect their earning.
In March of 1941, during World War II, Jackie enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he requested a transfer to the U.S. Army Air Corps. As he had been a civilian pilot, his request was approved. He went to glider school and upon graduation was a Flight Officer. As a glider pilot he volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group. In December of 1943, the unit was sent to India. He flew British troops, the Chindits, under General Orde Wingate. On March 5, 1944, he landed at night in a small jungle clearing 100 miles behind Japanese lines in the Burma campaign.
He returned home a war hero, but broke and unable to restart his career. He started appearing in small budget movies getting bit parts. In the 1950's he turned to television and started getting minor roles. By the 1960's he was in two television Series, McKeever and the Colonel
(1962-1963), where he played Sgt. Barnes in a military school; and The Addams Family
, where he played Uncle Fester opposite Gomez and Morticia from 1964-1966. The Addams Family
gave new energy to his career. After that, he never had difficulty getting a role again.
The proudest day of Jackie Coogan's life was in March of 1972. Charlie Chaplin was returning to the United States after two decades of exile to receive both the Handel Medallion in New York City and a special lifetime achievement Oscar in Hollywood. Jackie was at the Los Angeles International Airport when Chaplin arrived. Charlie immediately recognizing Coogan and warmly embraced him, saying, "You know, I think I would rather see you than anybody else". Chaplin told Coogan's wife, "You must never forget that your husband is a genius".
Jackie continued appearing on a number of television shows, commercials and even a handful of movies until his death in Santa Monica, California on March 1, 1984. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Los Angeles, California. His headstone reads: John Leslie Coogan, Humanitarian - Patriot - Entertainer, Forever In Our Hearts. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of 1654 Vine Street, just south of Hollywood Blvd.