Jackie Cooper, the man best known to our generation as Perry White in the four Superman films starring Christopher Reeve, died on Tuesday at the age of 88.
But Cooper was known for far more than the sardonic editor of the Daily Planet. Long before he tangled with Clark Kent and co, he was a child star who went on to enjoy a 60-year acting career.
Born in LA in 1922, he got his start in silent films and became a child favourite appearing in Our Gang shorts. But his really big break was getting cast in Skippy, based on a comic strip. His performance in the title role earned Cooper an Oscar nomination at the tender age of nine, and his record stands today as both the first child actor to score a nomination and still the youngest in history.
Skippy and its sequel, Spooky, helped propel him to stardom and he began a healthy run of movies including The Champ, The Bowery and 1934’s version of Treasure Island.
Teen roles followed, but then came World War Two, and Cooper signed up for the Navy and eventually rose to the rank of Captain. But once the conflict was over, Cooper’s experiences in Hollywood were not so rosy – he switched his attention over to touring theatre companies and Broadway, while also finding plenty of work in live TV.
He worked behind the camera too, serving as a development executive at Columbia Pictures Television in the 1960s and then stepping in to direct TV shows, including such series as M*A*S*H, Cagney & Lacey and Quincy, M.E. He scored Emmys for his work in TV.
Though he enjoyed a successful, if occasionally patchy career, he never wanted his children to enter the business and part of his autobiography, Please Don’t Shoot My Dog, was based on his less enjoyable experiences as a child actor.
He’s survived by two of his children.