This past year I had almost given up my goal to be a film historian, due to physical ailments and not receiving the needed support from my Professor at college. When I would watch my favorite classic films, however, I decided I loved it too much to end it.
I also realized something else; of course I love all the great stars like Clark Gable, William Powell, Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert and many other stars of the day. Nevertheless, my favorite out of all of these are the child stars of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. This may sound strange, but I always felt them as a part of my family, because of the time I spend researching and collecting their memorabilia. They have become a part of me and I can sympathize with some of their hardships.
This brings me to the following introduction…
The year 2011 was a sad year regarding the loss of many stars. Everyone knows we lost with Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, Anne Francis, Harry Morgan, David Nelson (the last main cast member of Ozzie and Harriet.) Few knew we lost such stars as singer Georgia Carroll (bandleader Kay Kaiser's wife), and Barbara Kent (one of the last stars of the silent era.)
Much has been said for Elizabeth Taylor as she was called “Hollywood's Last Living Legend,” by many news broadcasts. This is far from the truth. They are many legendary stars still with us, God willing.
As I mentioned in my Opinion Piece about my attachment to the child stars, I will write about three major child stars that have passed away in 2011, and have been overlooked.
The following quotes taken from child stars Bonita Granville Wrather and Jackie Coogan are two excellent reasons why I am dedicated to the classic films of the 1920’s to the 1940’s.
“I feel very strongly that motion pictures for the past many years for the past decade have appealed to the lowest possible denominator, I don't happen to approve of that, films from the 30’s and early 40’s always had an uplifting quality to them. “
-- Bonita Granville Wrather
“I don't think we can ever return to the innocence of the 20’s and 30’s, which children were just children and, society has collapsed morally and physically so it's absolutely impossible to make that things that were important then important now. “
-- Jackie Coogan
JACKIE COOPER 1922 – 2011
Jackie Cooper (Fanpix.net)
He was born John Cooper, Jr. in Los Angeles, CA September 15, 1922. He was raised by his mother, Mable Leonard Bigelow, since his father left when Jackie was two years old.
Jackie’s mother Mabel was a pianist and later a secretary for the Fox Studio. His mother’s uncle, Jack Leonard, was a screenwriter, and mother’s aunt, Julie Leonard was an actress. She was married to famous Hollywood director, Norman Taurog.
Jackie was introduced to films by his grandmother who would take him along with her as she looked for work. He started at the age of three in Lloyd Hamilton comedies, then on to small parts in Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 and Sunny Side Up. Jackie was nominated for the Academy’s best actor award in 193l for the movie, Skippy, about a boy and his dog. The famous story goes that his uncle, director Norman Taurog, told Jackie he would shoot his dog if he didn’t cry. This became the title of his autobiography, “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog”, in 1981.
He became a member of Our Gang from 1929 to 1931, and then Hal Roach sold his contract to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. There he made films with veteran actor, Wallace Beery. The Champ (193l), The Bowery (1933), The Choices of Andy Purcell (1933), Treasure Island (1934), and O’Shaughnessy’s Boy (1935).
Scene From When a Fellow Needs a Friend (1932) (Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
The Cast of Gallant Sons (1940) (Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
Jackie had a smooth transition from child star to teen star. He was the first Henry Aldrich in the series of films before Jimmy Lydon took over the role. He played Jane Withers boyfriend in Her First Beau (1941). Jackie starred with Bonita Granville in White Banners (1938) Gallant Sons (1940) and Syncopation (1942). As I mentioned in my previous blog, Jackie and Bonita were an item. They are my favorite Hollywood couple besides Gable and Lombard.
Scenes From The Courtship Of Jackie Cooper and “Bun” Granville
(Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
Jackie remained very successful in television, directing, and producing. He was most famous in his later years for playing Newspaper Editor Perry White in the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve.
Jackie Cooper and Bonita Granville
(Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
This might be a strange thing to say in tribute, but I always thought Jackie Cooper had the snazziest suits as a teenager and even when he was older. He never looked bad.
Hollywood’s Snazziest Dresser Jackie Cooper (Fanpix.net)
One of my biggest regrets as a film historian is that I never got the opportunity to interview Jackie Cooper. I always meant to write to him, but something always came up. What an icon.
Jackie was married three times. His first wife was June Horne 1944-1949. He had one son John “Jack” Cooper born in 1946. His second wife was Hildy Parks from 1950-1951. His last marriage to Barbara Kraus lasted from 1954 till her death in 2009. They had three children, Russell born in 1956; Julie born in 1957, dying in 1997; and Cristina born in 1959, dying in 2009.
EDITH FELLOWS 1923-2011
Edith Fellows (Fanpix.net)
I discovered Edith Fellows a few years back when I read Dickie Moore’s book, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car. I found out she was living at the Motion Picture and Television Retirement Home and wrote to her in care of that address. When I talked to Sybil Jason, she told me Edith was ill. “In regards to Edith Fellows, I am sad to say she has been ill health for quite some time. For years we were in daily contact and as friends we were as close as sisters. Edith does not stay in contact with anyone due to her health (heart) and I miss her friendship terribly.” Undaunted, I still sent her a card at Christmas to wish her well, knowing I would not get a response but hoping she would read it.
According to the book, Behind the Silver Screen, Stories from Residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund Retirement Community, when she moved into the Motion Picture Home, no one could be happier than her neighbor across the hall, who was none other than Marcia Mae Jones. “DidJa know,” confided Marcia Mae, “Edith has been my best friend since we were three years old, and now we live across the hall from each other!”
Edith Fellows life almost seems too much like the plot of a tearjerker movie. She was born May 20, 1923 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother left her when she was two months old and her grandmother, Elizabeth, raised her because her father worked. Edith was pigeon-toed so her grandmother consulted a doctor who recommended taking dance lessons. She started out at dance and found out she could sing and do dialogue. One day, a man visited the dance studio saying he was a talent agent from Hollywood. If they gave him $50 he could put an ad out in Hollywood and when they came to Hollywood they could meet Hal Roach. Since Edith and her family were poor, the studio raised the money for them to go. When they arrived in Hollywood, it turned out the address of the talent agent was a vacant lot.
Edith Fellows and her Grandmother Elizabeth Fellows (Fanpix.net)
So her grandmother cleaned houses and did other odd jobs, because she was too proud to go back and tell everyone what actually happened. Edith finally received a part in the 1929 Charley Chase Short, Movie Night. This led to uncredited parts for Our Gang and few minor parts in movies until she appeared in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch with fellow child actress Virginia Weidler, and alongside Pauline Lord, Zazu Pitts, and W.C. Fields. When you watch Edith Fellows in this film, you can tell how natural her acting is and her genuine excitement especially in the theater scene.
Despite her professional success, her home life was lonely and cruel. Grandmother Elizabeth would not let Edith play with other children because she did not want her to get injured or ruin her delicate skin. Edith could not shout, so as not to damage her singing voice. Elizabeth kept her away from anyone whom she considered a bad influence. Even when Edith’s father finally made it to California, he was considered unnecessary and sent away.
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934) (Fanpix.net)
As stated in Dickie Moore’s book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car), Edith was allowed to have a party once. Since she had no friends her own age, her grandmother invited her friends. Edith invited Cliff Edwards, a veteran actor and singer whom she had worked with and loved. When Cliff asked the grandmother where all the children were, she said it was none of his business. “It is my business,” he said. “Why aren’t there any children? What are these old farts doing here?” That was the end of the party, and the grandmother was livid.
Also stated in Dickie Moore’s book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Edith did have a secret savior, however, her teacher, Lillian Bartley. Edith was her only student at the studio’s school. When the young girl could not concentrate on lessons, Lillian would ask what was wrong. It was then little Edith could open up to someone. Lillian and Edith decided to keep their special friendship from the grandmother, because she would probably try to separate them. Edith said she really did not learn “the three R’s, but learned to survive, through the kindness and help from her teacher.” When it was time to graduate, Lillian took the exams for Edith so that she could pass and set everything up so she could graduate with Hollywood’s Professional School Class of 1940.
When Edith became successful, her mother came back into the picture. She wanted custody of the young girl, and her money. There was a nasty court battle, but eventually Edith’s grandmother regained custody, and the judge ordered Edith’s earnings to be placed in a trust.
Edith Fellows Autograph (Bobby J. Sulecki Collection)
When Edith turned 21, she claimed her earnings, but instead of receiving $100,000, she was left with a check for $900.60. Since her grandmother had been dead for more than a few years, Edith assumed her own mother had in some way depleted her account.
Edith Fellows In Later Years ( Taken From Behind the Silver Screen Stories from Residents of the Motion Picture & Television Fund Retirement Community)
Edith was married twice. First to Freddie Fields from 1946 – 1956. They had a daughter, Kathy, in 1947. She then married Hal Lee from 1962 – (Divorced)
She took a break from acting to raise her family, and returned to acting in television supporting roles in the 1980’s. In fact, fellow child actor Jackie Cooper revealed he had plans to make a movie about Edith Fellow’s life in 1985, but it never came to be.
SYBIL JASON 1927-2011
Sybil Jason (Fanpix.net)
As a little girl, she was adapt in piano, singing, dancing, and mimicking the stars of the day. She moved to London and performed in nightclubs, and on her Uncle Harry Jacobson’s radio show. Harry Jacobson was a popular orchestra leader at that time. During a performance at London’s Palace Theater, a movie producer took notice and signed her for her first film in 1935, Barnacle Bill.
(Sybil’s sister, Anita practically raised her at that time due to the mother’s frail health. Anita coached her, was in charge of her costumes, and was her devoted companion.)
Jack Warner of Warner Brothers was so impressed after seeing Barnacle Bill; he brought Sybil to Hollywood to be his answer to Shirley Temple. Although not as successful as Shirley, she made some wonderful pictures, Little Big Shot (1935) with Glenda Farrell, I Found Stella Parish (1935) and Comet Over Broadway (1938) with Kay Francis, The Singing Kid (1936) with Al Jolson, and The Great O’Malley (1937) with Humphrey Bogart and Pat O’Brien. Sadly, Warner Brothers did not renew her contract in1938.
Sybil did however get to work alongside Shirley Temple, when Darryl F. Zanuck cast her in The Little Princess (1939) and The Blue Bird (1940). She enjoyed working with Shirley and never felt any rivalry or competition with her. Unfortunately, many of her dramatic scenes were cut from The Blue Bird, so much so that Sybil and her sister Anita did not attend the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She did remain friends with Shirley Temple for the rest of her life.
Sybil Jason and Al Jolson (Fanpix.net)
I had always intended on writing Sybil Jason a letter, but one day I found her on of all places, Facebook. On her page was her email address, (WBKID). I wrote Sybil a fan note and said I was a film historian and wanted to interview her by telephone if possible. I also told her that we had a mutual friend in Ann Rutherford, and how I loved Al Jolson.
After a few weeks, Sybil wrote back and apologized for the delay. She said she could not do a telephone interview because she was ill and the medication she was on made her voice sound different. She spoke highly of Ann Rutherford. It really didn’t bother me that I could not interview her at that time, and I was honored of Sybil’s words of encouragement for my career.
Then another time, she wrote a comment on my facebook. I had posted pictures of Ann Rutherford and Joan Leslie and wrote, “Here are two of my favorite old movie actresses, and how much I would love to spend the day with them.” Sybil wrote, “If you saw two of my very favorite pals now you wouldn’t call them “old movie stars”. Both Joanie Leslie and Annie Rutherford look and act great!!!”
Although I never had the chance to meet Miss Jason, through our little opportunities of correspondence, I found her most charming and very loyal to her fans. I knew she was ill, but shocked when she died because she said it wasn’t anything life threatening.
Sybil was married once to Anthony Drake from 1947 until his death in 2005. They had one daughter, Toni.
Cooper, Jackie, and Dick Kleiner. Please Don’t Shoot My Dog The Autobiography of Jackie
Cooper. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1981.
Moore, Dick. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (but don’t have sex or take the car).
New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984.
Bart, Peter., et al., eds. Behind the Silver Screen Stories from Residents of the Motion Picture &
Television Fund Retirement Community. Motion Picture & Television Fund. Variety
Custom Publishing, 2005.
Van Biema, David. “Former Child Star Edith Fellows High-Steps Back to Hollywood
After a 21-Year Intermission.” People Magazine 10 December 1984.