Jackie Cooper slept through his Oscar defeat

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The performance Jackie Cooper gave in his Oscar-nominated role in ‘Skippy’ was largely forced out of him. The film was directed by Cooper’s uncle, Norman Taurog, who was so desperate to get the 9-year-old boy to cry on cue for a scene that he pulled a cruel trick on the youngster: Taurog threatened to shoot the boy’s dog.

Nonetheless, the film industry was impressed enough with Cooper’s performance to nominate him for lead actor at the Academy Awards opposite Lionel Barrymore (‘A Free Soul’), Richard Dix (‘Cimarron’), Fredric March (‘The Royal Family of Broadway’) and Adolphe Menjou (‘The Front Page’).

On Oscar night, Nov. 10, 1931, the awards weren’t doled out till after midnight. Taurog won best director, but Cooper didn’t see his acceptance speech, which included a tribute to his nephew. That was because the boy had fallen asleep on Marie Dressler‘s arm and no one dared to wake him, not even when his own category finally came up. That turned out to be for the best, since the boy may have cried again when he heard the result. He lost to Barrymore, who accepted the trophy and gave shout-outs to his competitors, including Cooper.


At age 9, Cooper was the youngest person ever nominated for an Oscar. That record still stands in the lead category, but Justin Henry holds the over all record when he was nominated at age 8 for ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979). Cooper died Tuesday at the age of 88.

— Tom O’Neil


Former child actor Jackie Cooper dies at 88

Jackie Cooper dies at 88; child star in the 1930s