Jackie Coogan was born into a family of vaudevillians where his father was a dancer and his mother had been a child star. On the stage by four, Jackie was touring at the age of five with his family in Los Angeles, California.
While performing on the stage, he was spotted by Charles Chaplin, who then and there planned a movie in which he and Jackie would star. To test Jackie, Chaplin first gave him a small part in A Day’s Pleasure (1919), which proved that he had a screen presence. The movie that Chaplin planned that day was The Kid (1921), where the Tramp would raise Jackie and then lose him. The movie was very successful and Jackie would play a child in a number of movies and tour with his father on the stage.
By 1923, when he made Daddy (1923), he was one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. He would leave First National for MGM where they put him into Long Live the King (1923). By 1927, at the age of 13, Coogan had grown up on the screen and his career was starting to go through a downturn. His popular film career would end with the classic tales of Tom Sawyer (1930) and Huckleberry Finn (1931).
In 1935, his father died and his mother married Arthur Bernstein, who was his business manager. When he wanted the money that he made as a child star in the 1920s, his mother and stepfather refused his request and Jackie filed suit for the approximately $4 million that he had made. Under California law at the time, he had no rights to the money he made as a child, and he was awarded only $126,000 in 1939. Because of the public uproar, the California Legislature passed the Child Actors Bill, also known as the Coogan Act, which would set up a trust fund for any child actor and protect his earnings.
In 1937, Jackie married Betty Grable and the marriage lasted for three years. During World War II, he would serve in the army and return to Hollywood after the war. Unable to restart his career, he worked in B-movies, mostly in bit parts and usually playing the heavy. It was in the 1950s that he started appearing on television and he acted in as many shows as he could. By the 1960s, he would be in two completely different television series, but both were comedies. The first one was McKeever and the Colonel (1962), where he played Sgt. Barnes in a military school from 1962 to 1963. The second series was the classic The Addams Family (1964), where he played Uncle Fester opposite Gomez and Morticia from 1964 to 1966. After that, he would continue making appearances on a number of television shows and a handful of movies. He died of a heart attack in 1984.
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