Thursday, June 16, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole with Jackie Coogan

By Steve Weddle

So I'm researching lynchings and kidnappings for this dumb book I'm working on and I see Jackie Coogan's name in a story.
Child movie star Jackie Coogan, a friend of Brooke Hart from Santa Clara University, was reported to be one of the mob that prepared and held the rope for lynching.

So, yeah. There's some stuff I didn't know about Jackie Coogan. I'm thinking, "Jackie Coogan. Is that the bully kid from the Little Rascals?" It is not. That's Jackie Cooper Tommy Bond. (Thanks for the note, Anon.)

Here's some of the stuff I found out about Jackie Coogan while researching a book about Arkansas in the 1930s. (Yeah. The rabbit holes on the webbernet are weird.)

* Jackie Coogan was the kid from that Charlie Chaplin move The Kid. I guess I knew that. I dunno, Stuff falls out of my head sometimes. As Homer Simpson once said, "Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

Jackie Coogan and Betty Grable
* Jackie Coogan was Uncle Fester. The guy who was the kid in The Kid ends up being Uncle Fester? Uncle Fester was the kid from The Kid. I don't know. How do I wrap my head around that? That television show started because the kid from The Kid passed gas? So weird.

* Jackie Coogan was married to Betty Grable. I know, right? Betty flippin Grable. Was married. To Uncle Fester. The mind it boggles.

* Jackie Coogan survived a car crash that killed everyone else in the car, including his father and his best friend, Junior Durkin. Durkin had been Huck Finn to Coogan's Tom Sawyer in a couple films.

* Coogan volunteered for the Air Force following the attack on Pearl Harbor and served as a flight officer. He was in his late 20's at the time and served as a lieutenant.

Coogan's grandson was a child actor who was in Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Silver Spoons, and played Brad Anderson in Adventures in Babysitting.

And, of course, there's the thing about the lynching that I didn't know about. The Hart family owned a department store in San Jose, California. In 1933, the owner's son -- 22-year-old Brooke Hart -- was kidnapped and killed. The killers told the family that the son was still alive and worked for a while to get a ransom. Eventually they got caught. People in town broke into the jail where the killers were being held and dragged the two men across the street to a park where they were lynched. The governor said he was cool with it and that none of the lynchers was be prosecuted. Reportedly Coogan, a college friend of Brooke Hart, was one of the lynchers.


Cary Watson said...

Whoa. That's a deep and weird rabbit hole. If you're looking into Arkansas history and lynchings, check out On the Laps of Gods by Robert Whitaker. It's about a pogrom against black sharecroppers in the Arkansas delta in 1919. It's estimated that whites massacred anywhere from 150 to several hundred blacks. I did a review of it here:

Anonymous said...

Jackie Cooper was never the bully in the "Our Gang" shorts, in fact he was the star of the series in the early talkies through 1931. He went on to star with Wallace Beery in "Treasure Island" and "The Champ". He stared in the 1950's sitcom "Peoples Choice" and was a director on TV, including several MASH episodes. Tommy Bonds was "Our Gangs" most memorable bully, Alfalfa's nemesis in the mid thirties

JJ Stickney said...

Betty Grable!?

Kristi said...

Whoa is right.

Anonymous said...

Re: The Hart Dept Store heir kidnapping…a very large gang stormed the jail …the gang was made up of various men including college students. The photograph of the masses made the front page of the San Jose newspaper and several men were readily identified by their attire…specifically, one Santa Clara U. Lad in a white leather jacket.

Anonymous said...

Sure glad I came to this rabbit hole.
Years ago I spoke to a guy who was there at the hanging in 1933. He told me ( way before the internet) the story of how Jackie Coogan played a role. Coogan was attending Santa Clara University and became good pals with Brooke Hart. Coogan was troubled and admired Brooke’s good looks and money.
He told me that Coogan played a role in the kidnapping, and wanted the two lynched quickly. Coogan knew that road route, Piedmont Road to the San Mateo Bridge. It wasn’t far from his old location to Niles Cayon where he was in pictures as a child. Coogan needed money just like the others. If you do another rabbit hole, look at Coogans connections with Junior Turkin and how he and Coogans father died in that car crash,… only surviving person was Coogan. Junior Turkin and Coogan had a relationship, so did Brooke and Coogan.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, that's a crazy plot twist. I knew Jackie Coogan was friends with Brooke Hart and had heard the story about the lynching, as a native San Josean, many times but had never heard that Coogan was on rough times and was somehow involved in that kidnap plot that turned to murder.

Everything you say seems to add up, even the accident part. So many dirty little secrets.