Jackie Cooper — who died this week at age 88 — got his start in Hollywood very young. He started appearing as an extra in movies at age 3. By age 7, he had joined the “Our Gang” crew. And by the time he was 9, he had earned his first Academy Award nomination for his role in the film “Skippy,” making him the youngest best actor nominee in Oscar history.
After such a ripe and early start, one might expect Cooper’s life story to take a turn toward the sordid as he got older and roles became scarcer. But it didn’t. At a time when Cooper didn’t have hilarious Twitter feeds or reality TV at his disposal to keep the light of his fame shining, he did what, frankly, more young stars should consider doing: He diversified.
After a stint in the Navy, he pursued theater. Then he acted on television. After that, he spent five years working on the production side, as head of Screen Gems. Following that, he did some directing.
And at age 56, he tackled one of his more notable roles: as the volatile newspaper editor Perry White in 1978’s “Superman” and the sequels that followed.
We always assume that very young actors will eventually turn into screwed-up messes. But Cooper — one of the first, most famous child stars — never did. With his passing once again reminding so many of what he accomplished, let’s hope that some of today’s under-18 actors are reading about him and thinking of his life as a potential guide post.
Gallery: Jackie Cooper dies at 88