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Jackie Cooper was born in Los Angeles, California. Cooper was an illegitimate child, and his father, John Cooper, left the family when Jackie was two years old. His mother, Mabel Leonard Bigelow, was a stage pianist and former child actress. His maternal uncle, Jack Leonard, was a screenwriter, and his maternal aunt, Julie Leonard, was an actress married to director Norman Taurog. Cooper's stepfather was C. J. Bigelow, a studio production manager.
The icon of child actors from his era, during his heyday Cooper was the highest paid child in the business. By the time he was 18 he found himself broke through unscrupulous agents and family members.
Cooper first appeared in the short Boxing Gloves (1929), one of the Our Gang comedies. He was signed to a three-year contract that was to expire in 1932. He initially was only a supporting character in 1929, but by early 1930 he had done so well with the transition to sound films that he had become a major character. He found himself the main character in the episodes The First Seven Years, When the Wind Blows, and others. His most notable Our Gang shorts explore his crush on Miss Crabtree, the schoolteacher played by June Marlowe, which included the trilogy of shorts titled Teacher's Pet, School's Out, and Love Business.
Other movie studios liked Cooper's work. In the spring of 1931, Paramount signed him as well as recurring Our Ganger Donald Haines to a long-term contract to star in features. Both Jackie Cooper and Donald Haines walked off the Our Gang set during the production of the second to last episode Bargain Day to begin work on their first feature film over at Paramount. His first non-Our Gang role was in 1931, when his uncle Norman Taurog hired him to star in Skippy (1931), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor the youngest actor ever (at the age of 9) to be nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor.
The movie catapulted young Cooper to super-stardom. Our Gang producer Hal Roach sold Jackie's contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in mid-1931, as he felt the youngster would have a better future in features.
He began a long on-screen relationship with actor Wallace Beery in such films as The Champ (1931), The Bowery (1933) ,The Choices of Andy Purcell (1933), Treasure Island (1934), and O'Shaughnessy's Boy (1935). A legion of film critics and fans has lauded the relationship between the two as an example of classic movie magic. However, Cooper later revealed that Beery was a violent, foul-mouthed drunkard who was disliked by those with whom he worked. In his biography Cooper said Beery had been abusive toward him and was one of the cruelest, most sadistic people he has ever known.
But it's his role as Dink in The Champ (1931) that Cooper will be remembered. As much money as Jackie Cooper made in Hollywood, the big money in his childhood career was made in Vaudeville theater where to enthusiastic and sold out audiences around the country he would act out, on stage, the crying scene from The Champ. Copper was to see the demise of vaudeville.
Jackie Cooper, who enjoyed a 60 year career died on May 3, 2011. He went from Oscar-nominated child star to TV executive and director while amassing scores of acting credits including playing Perry White in the four Christopher Reeve Superman films he was 88.
Cooper died at a convalescent home in Santa Monica. He just kinda died of old age, his attorney Roger Licht told Reuters. He wore out.