Friday, October 26, 2018

Vital Viewing (Street Urchin Edition)


Actor Jackie Coogan was born on this day in 1914 (he died in 1984.) He was only six years old when he shot to motion picture stardom as the abandoned child that Charlie Chaplin reluctantly takes under his wing in 1921's The Kid. In the following clip from the 1970s, Coogan, by then in late middle-age (or early senior citizenship), describes a tearjerker scene from that film. Literally. It's his tears that's being jerked:


Coogan's description of the crying scene reminds me of another child star named Jackie that came along a decade later. In his autobiography, Jackie Cooper claimed a director once got him to shed tears on camera by falsely telling him that someone had shot his dog! Fortunately for Coogan, Chaplin, who directed as well as wrote and starred in the film, was not nearly as devious.

 

But all this talk about shedding tears belies the fact that this movie is a comedy. And like most Charlie Chaplin comedies, it's often funny as hell (at least it's funny as hell if you don't mind people moving their lips without anything resembling speech coming out.) In the following tribute to the free enterprise system, the Little Tramp and the little boy put their entrepreneurial skills to work:

 

Like all kids, Coogan's character gets into scrapes (as does his adoptive father):

 

 After all that violence, you might like a clip that's a bit more homespun:



Pancho Charlie.


But back to Coogan. As I said before, The Kid made young Jackie a star, and he remained one throughout the 1920s. He also made a lot of money, an estimated $3 million, that, as a minor, he couldn't spend. So he waited until he turned 21 (when one legally arrived at adulthood in the 1930s), only to find out his mother and stepfather (who was also his manager) had spent most of it! Coogan successfully sued them for what remained, some $250,000, but after all the legal expenses, got only $126,000. The litigation did make the news, resulting in the enactment of the California Child Actor's Bill, informally called the "Coogan Law", that specified 15% of a child actor's earnings be placed in a trust. Coogan could have used all the specified earnings he could get. As with a lot of child stars, the job offers began to dry up as he aged. It didn't help matters any that, however cute a kid he may have been, he didn't grow up to have leading man looks. So he became a character actor, and, in 1964, landed this arguably immortal television role:



 A clip from The Addams Family:


It's not exactly what you would call Chaplinesque, but Coogan was pretty funny as Uncle Fester. And besides, it's almost Halloween. They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky...




11 comments:

  1. Lloyd did a job at his character in the movie version.

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    1. Adam, that's why when I wrote "immortal television role", I qualified it with "arguably", as these days some people may be more familiar with the 1990s Addams Family movies.

      Incidentally, both the TV and movie versions can be traced to the Charles Addams (hence the name of the family) single-panel cartoons that appeared in The New Yorker starting in the 1930s.

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  2. He was an adorable kid and a wonderful actor... even as Uncle Fester. He made that character so lovable. Tragic that children continued to get used by their parents for years to come despite the changes he helped make.

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    2. Lots of exploitation with child actors, Mitchell, and, sadly, often more by their parents than anyone else, as it's a way of living vicariously through their success.

      "I had a dream," sang Mama Rose in Gypsy

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  3. Hi, Kirk!

    Good stuff! Jackie Coogan was a great child actor - cute, intelligent and soulful. He made us care what happened to him. He and Chaplin had palpable chemistry in those scenes and both actors endured substantial physical punishment for the sake of realism. It's a shame Jackie was ripped off as an adult by those close to him, an all too common theme.

    Happy 104th birthday in heaven to Jackie Coogan, and thank you, Kirk, for presenting abundant evidence that his talent ran much deeper than Uncle Fester.

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    1. "...talent ran much deeper..."

      Shady, that's true with many of the creative people I showcase on this blog, particularly actors, who often have to go where the work is. The thing about all those silly 1960s sitcoms (The Addams Family, The Musters, Gilligan's Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc.) is that they were exceptionally well cast. Top-notch talents who frequently could rise above the usually goofy material, but that's pop culture for you.

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  4. Terrific post today.
    Parents/adults can be so cruel.

    cheers, parsnip and badger

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    1. No more seemingly so than in showbiz, parsnip.

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  5. Oh, I didn't know he was the original Uncle Fester! Thanks for that info!

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    1. You'd be surprised at how varied some of these actors careers can be, Debra. For instance, Jim Backus went from playing Mister Magoo to James Dean's father to Thurston Howell III, and Boris Karloff went from playing the Frankenstein monster to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But my favorite example is Casey Kasem, who was both the host of America's Top 40, and the original Shaggy on Scooby-Do!

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