R.I.P.: Jackie Cooper (1922-2011)

Posted: May 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

Back in the early days of cable TV, there was suddenly a lot more bandwidth but not a whole lot to put on it. There wasn’t any original content yet – for that matter, there weren’t any dedicated cable channels. Basically what you got was a gigantic brown box with doorbell buttons on it, your usual local channels and one or two channels from another city.

Since no one was really programming for people who’d happily flip through channels all day, watching TV at any time that wasn’t prime time meant watching a lot of old stuff stations could rerun cheap. That’s how I wound up absorbing, like a little polyester-clad sponge, black-and-white Popeye cartoons, Abbott and Costello movies and Our Gang shorts.

And that was how I first came across Jackie Cooper.

I watched a hell of  a lot of Little Rascals when I was a kid, and I’ll still watch it if I get the chance. Cooper was part of one of the earlier groups of kids featured in the Our Gang series, and co-stars in one of my favorite episodes, “Love Business.” Ooh, Chubbsy-Ubbsy, there’s gonna be something heavy on your nose! Needless to say, his squinty-eyed, no-nonsense kid showings made an impression.

You can imagine my surprise, sitting in the dark theater and excited OUT OF MY MIND as Superman spooled out onto the screen, when who should show up but some guy playing Perry White. Just some guy. But he’s like, perfect, and man, he looks familiar, where do I know him from ohmygodit’sthekidfromTheLittleRascals!

I was a kid myself and had a slippery grasp on the way aging works, so I was genuinely shocked at the thought that a kid from Our Gang was not only still alive, but shouting out “Kent!” and giving Jimmy Olsen a hard time. The shock didn’t last long, though, because Cooper’s acting was so spot-on that as far as I was concerned, that guy up there in the rumpled remains of a suit and the gleam of a newspaper-man in his eye WAS Perry White. Even today he’s my Perry White, and I will straight-up fight you if you say there has been a better Perry before or since.

For all these reasons, I was very sad to hear the news Jackie Cooper died Tuesday (May 3) at the age of 88. With him goes a career that spanned the earliest days of American cinema and which managed to endear him to generations of fans, including a kid who, years later, would still hear his voice every time he reads the name of his blog.

In spite of looking, I couldn’t find any decent Perry White clips from Superman — which is just criminal, man — but I did find that favorite Little Rascals episode I mentioned.  Enjoy it, and maybe let out a “Great Caesar’s ghost” while you’re at it.

“Love Business,” part 1:

“Love Business,” part 2: