Jackie Cooper is an American actor, TV director, TV producer and executive. He was a child actor who managed to transition to an adult career. As of 2010, Cooper’s Oscar-nominated performance in Skippy is the earliest nomination in any Academy Award category in which the nominee is still living. He is also the youngest performer to be nominated in a leading role in the Academy’s entire history.
Cooper was born John Cooper, Jr. 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. Cooper’s 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. His mother was Italian American and his father was Jewish.
Cooper first appeared in films as an extra with his grandmother, who would bring him along in hopes of aiding her own attempts to get extra work. At age three, Jackie appeared in Lloyd Hamilton comedies under the name of Leonard. He graduated to bits in feature films such as Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and Sunny Side Up. His director in these two films, David Butler, recommended the boy to director Leo McCarey, who arranged an audition for the Our Gang comedy series produced by Hal Roach. Cooper joined the Gang youngsters in the short Boxing Gloves in 1929. He was signed to a three year contract. He initially was only a supporting character in the series, but by early 1930 he had done so well with the transition to sound films that he had become one of the Gang’s major characters. He was 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 Teacher’s Pet, School’s Out, and Love Business.
According to his autobiography, Cooper, under contract to Hal Roach Studios, was loaned in the spring of 1931 to Paramount to star in Skippy, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor?the youngest actor ever to be nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor. Although Paramount paid Roach $25,000 for Cooper’s services, Cooper received only his standard Roach salary of $50 per week.