Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Remembering Jackie Coogan, The Kid who grew to be Uncle Fester

The actor was one of the first profitable and highly marketed child stars in film history, appearing as the iconic homeless child in the Charlie Chaplin’s classic “The Kid” and as an adult in “The Addams Family” 1960’s TV series

Remembering Jackie Coogan, The Kid who grew to be Uncle Fester

Until this day most people don’t usually associate actor Jackie Coogan, who played the iconic role of Uncle Fester in the 1960’s “The Addams Family” TV series, with the also iconic image of the homeless kid of Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 classic “The Kid”. But it was exactly that the role that launched Coogan into fame. Born in Los Angeles, California on October 26, 1914, Jackie Coogan was one of the first profitable and highly marketed child stars in film history. He started to act as an infant in vaudeville plays and films, where he was discovered by Charlie Chaplin, while playing in the vaudevillian Orpheum Theatre. Delighted by the little Coogan’s natural mimic abilities, Chaplin first cast him in a small role in the 1919 movie “A Day’s Pleasure”, and then in the 1921 silent film classic “The Kid”, that cemented his image forever in pop culture and the imaginary of millions of people across the world. As a child star, Coogan earned during the 1920’s the estimated and impressive sum of $3 to $4 million, and by the time he turned 21 in 1935, that same fortune was believed to be intact, however, he found out his mother and stepfather had spent that money on fur coats, diamonds and other jewelry, and expensive cars. Just shortly before that he was the sole survivor of a car crash that killed his father. The loss of his fortune gave origin to what is now called California Child Actors Bill, widely known as the Coogan Act, after he sued his mother and stepfather over his squandered film earnings. But before that, Coogan was also enrolled in controversy, when his friend Brooke Hart, the her to a successful department store in San Jose was kidnapped and murdered in 1933. After the kidnappers were arrested, a mob broke into the jail, and with the unapologetic approval of the state’s governor, lynched the two killers and kidnappers of Brooke Hart, hanging them from a tree. Coogan, a Roman Catholic, member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, was reported to be present, holding the lynching rope. Far from his child star glory, Coogan’s acting glory started to fade away, though he still was cast in successful films such as “College Swing”, alongside his then wife, the also famous actress Betty Grable. In 1941 he enlisted in the U.S Army, and after coming back from war, he returned to acting, taking mostly character roles and appearing on television during the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. His most successful role as an adult came in 1964 when he played Uncle Fester in the ABC’s series “The Addams Family”, remaining to this day the actor that played the most memorable version of that character. He continued to appear and guest star on several film and TV roles throughout the 1960’s until his retirement in the 1970’s, including Elvis Presley’s feature film “Girl Happy”, “The Partridge Family”, “The Wild Wild West” and “Hawaii Five-O” among many others. Coogan’s grandson,  Keith Coogan, born in 1970, is also an actor and as a teenager appeared in the 1980’s classic “Adventures in Babysitting”. Jackie Coogan passed away on March 1, 1984 in Santa Monica California at the age of 69 following several years of heart disease.

Look back at Jackie Coogan alongside Charlie Chaplin in the 1921 silent film classic “The Kid”

Look back at Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family” 1960’s TV series

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