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Jackie Coogan: "The World's Boy King"
11. Sep 2013 at 05:12
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I thought it rather sad that here, in a forum praising dozens of boy actors, there was no topic for the very first child star in cinematic history: Jackie Coogan. Here is my humble attempt to pay homage to a boy that gained worldwide recognition and adoration, all by the age of 10.



The opening title of the 1921 silent movie,The Kid, starring Charles Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, reads, "A comedy with a smile - and perhaps a tear." In many ways that could be applied to the life of Jackie Coogan himself. Discovered by Chaplin dancing on a vaudeville stage with his father at the age of only 4, Chaplin knew he had found the boy he needed for his first full-length movie. Almost a year in the making, when The Kid was released in February, 1921, it became an instant hit and made young Jackie an international star.

"Just to be in his presence is to feel inspired," said Chaplin.
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How could anyone not be moved by this scene of ultimate pathos...
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Two months later, in April of 1921, Jackie was posing with Babe Ruth and the mayor of New York. Jackie came down with bronchitis a few days later, and a New York Times article dated April 19, 1921, reported that The Babe phoned Jackie, twice, no less, at the Biltmore Hotel to check on his condition. Years later Jackie was quoted as saying,  “Other boys went to see Babe Ruth. But Babe Ruth came to see me.”
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There followed a string of movies featuring Jackie -Peck's Bad Boy, My Boy, Oliver Twist, among others- most of which were produced by his own production company, Jackie Coogan Productions. By the age of nine he was the number one box office draw in the country, even more popular than Douglas Fairbanks (on the left) and Rudolph Valentino (right).
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Jackie was also the first child to be marketed outside of film, from lunch boxes to a line of boys' clothing to Jackie Coogan dolls and even toothbrushes. As an adult in the army, many fellow recruits lamented to him, "I had to wear that goddamned haircut until I was 15!" His house was one of the first in southern California to have a swimming pool (his swimming instructor won the Olympics the year before). At ten, he was golfing with Walter Hagen. His milk came from his own dairy ranch.  Jackie traveled in a private railway car and had a fleet of Rolls-Royce cars equipped with swivel rocking chairs made just for him. He couldn't go out in public without being mobbed by adoring fans. Many claim that Jackie Coogan was the youngest self-made millionaire in history.
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Through all of this, Jackie seems to have kept a level head and even helped in humanitarian efforts. In 1924 he headed the "Jackie Coogan Million Dollar Near East Relief Milk Campaign" to aid 70,000 orphans. Hundreds of thousands of people in the US and Europe came to greet him as he gathered donations for his "children's crusade". 

Neil A. Grauer, in an article for American Heritage wrote: He sailed with his parents from New York on September 6, taking tons of canned milk, flour, corn syrup, and clothing for refugee children. "There were 300,000 people waiting on the dock at Southampton to meet me," he recalled decades later. In Paris, 15,000 met him at the Gare du Nord; in Geneva, the League of Nations shut down so its staff could see him be received by its secretary-general; in Rome, he had a 20-minute private audience with Pope Pius XI. Then came a 15-minute meeting with Benito Mussolini, in his second year in power, who gave him an autographed photo inscribed ‘Al Piccolo Grande’ (To the Little Great One). He was also honored for his work by the United Nations, made mayor of Chicago for ten minutes and was given the key to many cities.

At the climax of his tour, in Athens, Greece, Jackie delivered to the Greek government more than a million dollars worth of relief cargo, and was presented with the Silver Cross of the Order of St. George. He was 10 years old.

In what was to be the unfortunate fate of many child actors to follow, Jackie's fame and popularity waned as he grew older. In 1935 he was in a car crash that killed his father and best friend. At the age of 21 he was financially bankrupt. Jackie had earned $4 million in movies and another $5 million (by his estimate) in merchandising, but of the $250,000 that was left, his mother and step-father refused to give him any of it. There followed a court battle after which a bitter Coogan later told interviewers he’d netted only $35,000 from the ordeal.

Facing an enraged public, the California legislature passed "Coogan's Law", guaranteeing that the wages of future child actors would be put in a trust fund.

It wasn't until 1964 that he gained a second round of fame as "Uncle Fester" in The Addams Family. Although he came to love and enjoy his role, Jackie once cried to his daughter, "I used to be the most beautiful child in the world and now I'm a hideous monster!"

In 1972, 50 years after The Kid, Chaplin and Jackie were reunited when Chaplin returned to America for the first time in 20 years to accept an honorary Academy Award. Upon recognizing Coogan, Chaplin broke down, hugged him and said, “I think I would rather see you than anyone else.”
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"What I'm proudest of, is that no matter what I do now, I was the first. Nobody can ever take that away from me." Jackie Coogan

Thank you, Jackie. You were one of a kind.

-LoDHom

  
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Re: Jackie Coogan: "The World's Boy King"
Reply #1 - 11. Sep 2013 at 06:02
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Some of my sources, and some media, since I ran out of room  Cool

Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star by Diana Serra Cary (AKA Baby Peggy)

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(You need to Login or Register to view media files and links) Jackie Coogan dancing in 1920 for visiting execs at Chaplin’s studio while filming The Kid.

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A Jackie Coogan doll
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Re: Jackie Coogan: "The World's Boy King"
Reply #2 - 11. Sep 2013 at 09:26
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Smiley I have 3 movies of Jackie in DVD, The Kid, My Boy and Oliver TWIST. Very goods movies with a very good play of Jackie.





  
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Re: Jackie Coogan: "The World's Boy King"
Reply #3 - 11. Sep 2013 at 18:50
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I've seen online streaming copies of The Kid and Oliver Twist, but sadly the only copy I can find online of My Boy is missing the score/soundtrack  Smiley There are some short clips from a few of his other movies, but, tragically, most of his work seems to be unavailable  Smiley

Chaplin called Jackie a "genius". I encourage anyone who has never seen him act to watch what is available. In an era before "talkies", in a way it is acting in its truest form. Jackie was a master with facial expressions and body language; watch his shoulders and little body slowly slump in Circus Days, when he realizes the ice cream he was supposed to sell has melted, and you feel his despair. Whenever I watch him being taken away in The Kid, with his little arms outstretched, pleading and crying as his world comes crashing down, I cry like a baby. When The Tramp rescues him, they hug joyfully and engage in what might be the longest kiss between a man and boy in the movies, and you feel their love and joy.

Here's a few more clips:

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This is a 5 minute audio recording of Jackie and his father. It's really quite charming. Jackie: "After hearing you sing, I can understand why I had to go to work in pictures."  Smiley Jackie always maintained that had his father lived, he (Jackie) would have gotten the money he had earned.
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According to this, Jackie was the very first celebrity to aid in humanitarian fundraising. A class act.
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