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Jackie Coogan
Coogan as Uncle Fester
in The Addams Family, 1966
Born John Leslie Coogan[1]
(1914-10-26)October 26, 1914
Los Angeles, California
Died March 1, 1984(1984-03-01) (aged 69)
Santa Monica, California
Cause of death Cardiac arrest
Place of burial Holy Cross Cemetery,
Culver City, California
Nationality United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1917–1984
Religion Catholic
Spouse(s) Betty Grable (m. 1937–39)
Flower Parry (m. 1941–43)
Ann McCormack (m. 1946–51)
Dorothea Lamphere (m. 1952–84)
Children 2 sons, 2 daughters
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service 1941–1945
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg  Lieutenant
Unit 1st Air Commando Group
Battles/wars World War II:
Burma Campaign
Awards Air Medal ribbon.svg Air Medal

John Leslie "Jackie" Coogan (October 26, 1914 – March 1, 1984) was an American actor who began his movie career as a child actor in silent films.[2]

Charlie Chaplin's film classic The Kid (1921) made him one of the first child stars in film history. Many years later, he became known as Uncle Fester on the 1960s sitcom The Addams Family. In the interim, he sued his mother and stepfather over his squandered film earnings and provoked California to enact the first known legal protection for the earnings of child performers, widely known as the Coogan Act.[3]

Early life and early career

He was born as John Leslie Coogan in 1914 in Los Angeles, California, to John Henry Coogan, Jr. and Lillian Rita (Dolliver) Coogan.[1][4] He began performing as an infant in both vaudeville and film, with an uncredited role in the 1917 film Skinner's Baby. Charlie Chaplin discovered him in the Orpheum Theatre, a vaudeville house in Los Angeles, on the stage doing the shimmy, a popular dance at the time. Coogan's father was also an actor. Jackie Coogan was a natural mimic and delighted Chaplin with his abilities. Chaplin cast him in a small role in A Day's Pleasure (1919). He was Chaplin's irascible companion in The Kid (1921) and the following year played the title role in Oliver Twist, directed by Frank Lloyd. Coogan was one of the first stars to be heavily merchandised. Peanut butter, stationery, whistles, dolls, records, and figurines were among the Coogan-themed merchandise on sale.

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid

Coogan in 1920

Coogan was tutored until the age of ten, when he entered Urban Military Academy and other prep schools. He attended several colleges, as well as the University of Southern California. In 1932, he dropped out of Santa Clara University because of poor grades.

In November 1933, Brooke Hart, a close friend of Coogan from Santa Clara University, was kidnapped from his family-owned department store in San Jose and brought to the San Francisco area San Mateo–Hayward Bridge. After several demands for a $40,000 ransom, police arrested Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes in San Jose. Thurmond admitted that Hart had been murdered the night he was kidnapped. Both killers were transferred to a prison in downtown San Jose. A mob broke into the jail, and Thurmond and Holmes were hanged in a nearby park. Coogan was reported to be present and had held the lynching rope.[5]

In 1935, 20-year-old Coogan was the only survivor of a car crash in eastern San Diego County that killed his father, his best friend: 19-year-old actor Junior Durkin,[6] their ranch foreman Charles Jones, and film producer Robert J. Horner. The party was returning from a day of dove hunting over the border in Mexico in early May. With his father at the wheel, the car was forced off the mountain highway near Pine Valley by an oncoming vehicle and rolled down an embankment.[7][8][9]

The Coogan Bill

Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein will never be serious contenders for the title of Mr. and Mrs. America.

New York Herald Tribune[10]

As a child star, Coogan earned an estimated $3 to $4 million ($50,000,000 to $70,000,000 in 2022 dollars), but the entire amount was spent by his mother and stepfather, Arthur Bernstein, on fur coats, diamonds and other jewelry, and expensive cars. Coogan's mother and stepfather claimed Jackie enjoyed himself and simply thought he was playing before the camera. She insisted, "No promises were ever made to give Jackie anything,"[10] and claimed he "was a bad boy."[11] Coogan sued them in 1938,[12] but after his legal expenses, he received just $126,000 ($2,110,000 in 2022) of the $250,000 remaining of his earnings. When he fell on hard times and asked Charlie Chaplin for assistance, Chaplin handed him $1,000 without hesitating.[13]

The legal battle focused attention on child actors and resulted in the 1939 enactment of the California Child Actor's Bill, often referred to as the 'Coogan Law' or the 'Coogan Act.' It required that a child actor's employer set aside 15% of the earnings in a trust (called a Coogan account), and specified the actor's schooling, work hours, and time-off.[14]

When Coogan turned 21 in October 1935, his fortune was believed to be well intact. His assets had been conservatively managed by his late father, who died in the car accident less than six months earlier.[15] Bernstein had been a financial advisor for the family and married Coogan's mother in late 1936.[12]

Charity work

Coogan championed the cause of the Armenians, Greeks, and others made refugees and destitute by the Armenian Genocide, working with Near East relief. He toured across the United States and Europe in 1924 on a "Children's Crusade" as part of his fundraising drive, which provided more than $1 million in clothing, food, and other contributions (worth more than $13 million in 2012 dollars). He was honored by officials in the United States, Greece, and Rome, where he had an audience with Pope Pius XI.[16]

A Roman Catholic, Coogan was a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills.[17]

Later years


Coogan appeared with then-wife Betty Grable in College Swing, a 1938 musical comedy starring George Burns, Gracie Allen, Martha Raye and Bob Hope.


In 1940, Coogan played the role of "a playboy Broadway producer" in the Society Girl program on CBS radio.[18]

World War II

Coogan enlisted in the U.S. Army in March 1941. After the attack on Pearl Harbor that December, he requested a transfer to Army Air Forces as a glider pilot because of his civilian flying experience. After graduating from glider school, he was made a flight officer,[19] and he volunteered for hazardous duty with the 1st Air Commando Group.[20]

In December 1943, the unit was sent to India. He flew British troops, the Chindits, under General Orde Wingate on March 5, 1944, landing them at night in a small jungle clearing 100 miles (160 km) behind Japanese lines in the Burma Campaign.[21][22]


After the war, Coogan returned to acting, taking mostly character roles and appearing on television. From 1952 to 1953, he played Stoney Crockett on the syndicated series Cowboy G-Men. He guest-starred on NBC's The Martha Raye Show. He appeared too, as Corbett, in two episodes of NBC's The Outlaws with Barton MacLane, which aired from 1960–1962. In the 1960–1961 season, he guest-starred in the episode "The Damaged Dolls" of the syndicated crime drama The Brothers Brannagan. In 1961, he guest-starred in an episode of The Americans, an NBC series about family divisions stemming from the Civil War. He also appeared in episode 37, titled "Barney on the Rebound", of The Andy Griffith Show, which aired October 31, 1961. He had a regular role in a 1962–63 NBC series, McKeever and the Colonel. He finally found his most famous television role as Uncle Fester in ABC's The Addams Family (1964–1966). He appeared as a police officer in the Elvis Presley comedy Girl Happy in 1965.[23]

He appeared four times on the Perry Mason series, including the role of political activist Gus Sawyer in the 1963 episode, "The Case of the Witless Witness", and TV prop man Pete Desmond in the final episode, "The Case of the Final Fadeout", in 1966. He was a guest several times on The Red Skelton Show, appeared twice on the The Brady Bunch ("The Fender Benders" and "Double Parked"), I Dream of Jeannie (as Jeannie's uncle, Suleiman – Maharaja of Basenji), Family Affair, Here's Lucy and The Brian Keith Show, and continued to guest-star on television (including multiple appearances on The Partridge Family, The Wild Wild West, and Hawaii Five-O) until his retirement in the middle 1970s.

Marriages and children

Coogan was married four times, and had four children. His first three marriages to actresses were short lived.[3] He and Betty Grable were engaged in 1935 and married on November 20, 1937,[24] [25][26] and they divorced less than two years later on October 11, 1939. Eighteen months later on August 10, 1941, he married Flower Parry. They had one son, John Anthony Coogan (writer/producer of 3D digital and film), born March 4, 1942, in Los Angeles; they divorced on June 29, 1943.[27] Coogan married his third wife, Ann McCormack, on December 26, 1946,[28][29] a daughter, Joann Dolliver Coogan, was born April 2, 1948,[30] in Los Angeles. They divorced on September 20, 1951.[31][32][33]

Dorothea Odetta Hanson, also known as Dorothea Lamphere, best known as Dodie, was a dancer and became Coogan's fourth wife in April 1952 and they were together over thirty years, until his death. They had two children together, a daughter, Leslie Diane Coogan, born November 24, 1953, in Los Angeles, and a son, Christopher Fenton Coogan, born July 9, 1967, in Riverside County, who died in a motorcycle accident in Palm Springs on June 29, 1990.[34][35]

Leslie Coogan has a son, actor Keith Coogan, who was born Keith Eric Mitchell on January 13, 1970, being 3 years younger than his uncle Christopher. He began acting in 1975, and changed his name in 1986, two years after his grandfather's death. His roles include the oldest son in Adventures in Babysitting. Footage of Jackie with his grandson, Keith (uncredited on can be seen in the 1982 documentary Hollywood's Children.


Grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California

After suffering from heart and kidney ailments, Coogan succumbed to heart failure on March 1, 1984, at age 69 in Santa Monica, California.[36] He had been undergoing kidney dialysis when his blood pressure dropped. Coogan was taken to Santa Monica Hospital, where he had a heart attack and expired.[3]

By his request, Coogan's funeral was open to the public and he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.[37][38] His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located on the 1700 block of Vine Street, just south of Hollywood Boulevard.[39]


  • A Day's Pleasure (1919)
  • The Kid (1921)
  • Peck's Bad Boy (1921)
  • My Boy (1922)
  • Nice and Friendly (1922)
  • Trouble (1922)
  • Oliver Twist (1922)
  • Daddy (1923)
  • Circus Days (1923)
  • Long Live the King (1923)
  • A Boy of Flanders (1924)
  • Little Robinson Crusoe (1924)
  • Hello, 'Frisco (1924)
  • The Rag Man (1925)
  • Old Clothes (1925)
  • Johnny Get Your Hair Cut (1927)
  • The Bugle Call (1927)
  • Buttons (1927)
  • Tom Sawyer (1930)
  • Huckleberry Finn (1931)
  • Skippy (1931)
  • Home on the Range (1935)
  • College Swing (1938)
  • Million Dollar Legs (1939)
  • Sky Patrol (1939)
  • Kilroy Was Here (1947)
  • French Leave (1948)
  • Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951)
  • Varieties on Parade (1951)
  • Outlaw Women (1952)
  • Cowboy G-Men (1952–1953 TV Series)
  • Mesa of Lost Women (1953)
  • The Actress (1953)
  • Escape from Terror (1955)
  • The Proud Ones (1956)
  • The Buster Keaton Story (1957)
  • The Joker Is Wild (1957)
  • Eighteen and Anxious (1957)
  • High School Confidential! (1958)
  • No Place to Land (1958)
  • The Space Children (1958)
  • Lonelyhearts (1958)
  • Night of the Quarter Moon (1959)
  • The Beat Generation (1959)
  • Sex Kittens Go to College (1960)
  • The Addams Family (1964–1966 TV series)
  • John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)
  • Girl Happy (1965)
  • A Fine Madness (1966)
  • The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)
  • Rogue's Gallery (1968)
  • Marlowe (1969)
  • Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973)
  • The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)
  • The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975)
  • Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
  • Human Experiments (1979)
  • Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (1980)
  • The Escape Artist (1982)
  • The Prey (1984)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Research". Coogan Research Group. 7 April 2012. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  2. Barron, James (2 March 1984). "Jackie Coogan, Child Star of Films, dies at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Former child star Jackie Coogan dies". Bowling Green, Kentucky. March 4, 1984. p. 17B. 
  4. "Coogan Research Group". 30 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  5. Farrell, Harry (1993). Swift justice: murder and vengeance in a California town. New York: Saint Martin's Press Inc.. pp. 165, 255. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  6. "Final rites held for young actor". May 8, 1935. p. 2. 
  7. "Four killed in auto accident". Oregon. May 6, 1935. p. 1. 
  8. "Jackie Coogan hurt, four killed in accident". May 5, 1935. p. 3. 
  9. "Jackie Coogan tells court of fatal crash". April 6, 1936. p. 1, Final. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "The Strange Case of – Jackie Coogan's $4,000,000". Life magazine. 25 April 1938. p. 50. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  11. "Newspictures of the Week (photograph)". Life. 2 May 1938. p. 16. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Jackie Coogan sues mother". Arizona. April 12, 1938. p. 1. 
  13. Robinson, David (1985). Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw Hill. ISBN 978-0070531819. 
  14. "Coogan Law". SAG-AFTRA. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  15. Shaffer, Rosalind (October 25, 1935). "Jackie Coogan 21 tomorrow; gets fortune". p. 1. 
  16. Babkenian, Vicken (7 January 2011). "Hollywood’s First Celebrity Humanitarian that America Forgot". Armenian Weekly. Watertown, MA. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  17. "Our History". Church of the Good Shepherd. 1998. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  18. "Thursday's Highlights". March 1940. p. 50. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  19. "Jackie Coogan now Air Force officer". Fredericksburg, Virginia. January 19, 1943. p. 2. 
  20. "Jackie Coogan, air commando". Wilmington, Delaware. March 19, 1943. p. 1. 
  21. Martin, Frank L. (March 29, 1944). "Jackie Coogan taken for god in Burma". St. Petersburg, Florida. p. 7. 
  22. Webster, Donovan (2003). The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. Harper Collins. p. 187. ISBN 0-06-074638-6. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  23. "Girl Happy (1965)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  24. "Jackie Coggan plans to marry actress". Pennsylvania. December 3, 1935. p. 8. 
  25. "Betty Grable, Jackie Coogan marry on coast". South Carolina. November 21, 1937. p. 2. 
  26. "Time off for marriage". Australia. November 22, 1937. p. 9. 
  27. "Jackie Coogan is divorced by Flower Perry". Florida. June 30, 1943. p. 9. 
  28. "Jackie Coogan on honeymoon with third wife". Florida. December 27, 1946. p. 4. 
  29. "WEDDING CAKE FOR THE COOGANS". 2 Jan 1947. p. 20. 
  30. "Coogan Is Father For Second Time". 3 Apr 1948. p. 2. 
  31. "Jackie Coogans Call It Quits After 4 Years of Marriage". 7 Mar 1950. p. 22. 
  32. "Coogans Drop Divorce Plans". 24 Mar 1950. p. 28. 
  33. "The Kid and 'Da Mkk' Having Trouble Again". 23 Aug 1950. p. 21. 
  34. "Christopher Coogan; Youngest Son of Actor". Los Angeles Times. 7 July 1990. Retrieved 2013-05-15. 
  35. "Christopher Coogan, son of actor, dead at 22". Florida. July 3, 1990. p. 4B. 
  36. Aaker, Everett (1997). Television Western Players of the Fifties: A Biographical Encyclopedia of All Regular Cast Members in Western Series, 1949–1959. McFarland. pp. 141. ISBN 0-7864-0284-9. 
  37. "Public funeral set for Jackie Coogan". New Hampshire. March 3, 1984. p. 5. 
  38. "Friends remember Jackie Coogan". Maine. March 6, 1984. p. 20. 
  39. "Jackie Coogan". Retrieved 18 July 2014. 

Further reading

  • Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star, Diana Serra Cary, Scarecrow Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8108-4650-0.
  • The First Male Stars: Men of the Silent Era by David W. Menefee. Albany: Bear Manor Media, 2007, ISBN 978-1593-93073-8.

External links

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