Jackie Coogan was a beloved child actor during the silent film era of Hollywood. He was born in 1914 to parents who were also involved in the entertainment industry. His father, Jack Coogan Sr., was a dancer and actor, while his mother, Lillian Coogan, was a vaudeville performer. Jackie made his debut on stage at just 17 months old, and by the age of four, he was a recognizable face in the entertainment world.
Jackie’s big break came in 1921 when he was cast in the role of the title character in the Charlie Chaplin film “The Kid”. The film was a massive success and launched Jackie’s career as a child star. He went on to star in several other successful films, including “Oliver Twist” and “Peck’s Bad Boy”.
Despite his success, Jackie’s life was not without its hardships. In 1935, he married Betty Grable, a fellow actor. The marriage was short-lived, and they divorced just two years later. Jackie then joined the Army during World War II and served in the Special Services division, entertaining the troops. After the war, he struggled to find work in Hollywood and turned to stage acting.
Unfortunately, Jackie’s hardships continued in his personal life. In 1938, his father died in a car accident, leaving Jackie devastated. But the worst was yet to come. In 1939, Jackie learned that his mother had spent nearly all of his earnings from his time as a child star, estimated to be around $4 million (equivalent to over $72 million today). Lillian had been given legal control over the money and had spent it on lavish homes, cars, and jewelry.
Jackie was shocked and devastated. He filed a lawsuit against his mother, but unfortunately, he did not have much legal standing as a child actor. The lawsuit was a landmark case and led to the creation of the “Coogan Law”, which required that a portion of a child actor’s earnings be set aside in a trust fund that could not be touched until the child turned 21.
Despite the Coogan Law, Jackie never got his money back. He continued to work in Hollywood but struggled to find the same level of success as he had as a child actor. He appeared in several television shows, including “The Addams Family” and “The Twilight Zone”, but never regained his former level of fame. Jackie passed away in 1984 at the age of 69.
Coogan was married four times in his life. His first marriage was to actress Betty Grable in 1937, but the couple divorced just two years later. Coogan’s second marriage was to Flower Parry in 1941, but they also divorced in 1943. In 1946, Coogan married Ann McCormack, and they had two children together, a son named John Anthony Coogan and a daughter named Leslie Diane Coogan. However, their marriage ended in divorce in 1951.
In 1952, Jackie Coogan married his fourth wife, Dorothea Odetta Hanson, who was known as “Dodie.” They remained married until Coogan’s death in 1984. Coogan and Dodie had two children together, a son named Christopher Fenton Coogan and a daughter named Joann Dolliver Coogan.
Coogan’s personal life was not without controversy, including an accusation that he had physically abused his second wife, Flower Parry. In 1951, he was arrested for drunk driving, and he struggled with alcoholism throughout his life. Coogan’s son John also struggled with substance abuse and died from a drug overdose in 1978.
Despite the ups and downs of his life, Coogan remained a beloved figure in Hollywood and is remembered for his iconic role in “The Kid” alongside Charlie Chaplin. His experiences as a child star and the theft of his earnings by his mother led to changes in California law to protect the earnings of child actors, which became known as the “Coogan Act.
The legacy of Jackie Coogan is a cautionary tale about the importance of protecting child actors and their earnings. While the Coogan Law has helped to protect young performers, there is still work to be done to ensure that they are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous parents or guardians. Jackie Coogan’s story is a reminder that fame and fortune can come at a great cost, and that it is important to prioritize the well-being of young performers above all else.