MGM; Warner. Bros.
MGM; Warner. Bros.
Jackie Cooper was a child star who broke the mold.
The actor and director, known for his childhood appearances in the Our Gang comedies and later as the gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White in the 1978 Superman film and its sequels, passed away today after a brief illness, according to agent Ronnie Lief. Cooper was 89.
"He was a lovely man who will be greatly missed," Lief tells E! News.
While he was a small child, Cooper's grandmother reportedly used to bring the boy along when she worked as an extra, and soon enough he had landed a role in the Our Gang comedies, a series of shorts made by director Hal Roach involving the hijinks of some ingenius (and largely unsupervised) children.
With his angelic good looks and already-gruff delivery, Cooper quickly became one of the popular series' leads, as well as one of its rare success stories. Based on those shorts, he landed the lead in the 1931 film Skippy, earning an Oscar nomination at the age of 9—one of the youngest actors ever so honored.
Following this success, Cooper appeared in the boxing tearjerker The Champ with Wallace Beery, and the two later starred in a string of films together, including Treasure Island.
After serving in World War II, Cooper made the transition to adult roles, though largely on television. In the mid-'50s he starred in two popular TV series, NBC's The People's Choice and CBS's Hennesey and later appeared on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. The parts dried up in the '60s however, prompting Cooper to become vice president of program development at Columbia Pictures' TV division, Screen Gems.
After helping usher such shows as Bewitched and Gidget to the small screen, he returned to his first love and the next decade saw a career resurgence as he was cast opposite Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Clark Kent's editor-in-"chief" at the Daily Planet in 1978's Superman and three subsequent sequels.
In his later years, Cooper turned to directing a variety of hit TV shows, among them Mary Tyler Moore, Cagney & Lacey, Magnum, P.I., The Rockford Files (where he directed Noah Beery, Jr., the grown nephew of his old Champ costar), as well as Emmy-winning turns on M*A*S*H and The White Shadow.
In 1981, Cooper published a memoir, Please Don't Shoot My Dog, about his life and work in Hollywood. The title was inspired by his Skippy director, who reportedly told Cooper that he would kill the boy's pet if Cooper didn't shed tears for the camera.
Cooper left behind two sons, Russell and John.
No word on funeral plans.
—Additional reporting by Ashley Fultz