I’d never gone to a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery until this morning. But through a friend I was invited to attend the interment of retired Captain John Cooper Jr. who served in the United States Navy during World War II and remained active in the reserves for the next several decades. During the service, the rabbi spoke of Cooper’s time in the Pacific and his dedication to the Navy over the years but left out (perhaps intentionally) what Cooper is most remembered for—his life in Hollywood as Jackie Cooper.
Cooper had resigned himself to being called Jackie even in old age. (“Jackie Cooper dies at 88,” ran Variety’s headline last May. ) After all, he was one of Hollywood’s first child actors. Cooper was one of the original “Little Rascals” in the Our Gang series (he had the crush on Miss Crabtree). And in 1931, he became the youngest actor nominated for an Academy Award for a leading role, a record held until 2004 (there have been younger actors who have been nominated for Oscars in supporting roles). As he grew older, Cooper found himself less in front of the camera but nonetheless kept busy in Hollywood, ultimately becoming an executive at Columbia Pictures (the Screen Gems television division responsible for shows like Gidget and Bewitched) as well as a director.
But to a whole other generation, Cooper is remembered as Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, in the Superman movies. In 1989, Cooper had decided to retire. In his eulogy, Cooper’s son John said he was surprised by the announcement—after all, his father was only 67. The elder Cooper pointed out he’d been working for at least 60 years.
“He never made a big deal about his service,” said Cooper’s younger son Russell. “But he always loved the Navy.” Older brother John agreed and said “Pop” would have scoffed at being interred in Arlington—that it was too big of a deal for someone like him.
But through the efforts of his sons, the ashes of John Cooper Jr. made it to Arlington. They were placed on the horse-drawn caisson and taken to its final resting place as the band played “Eternal Father (Strong to Save)” and the riflemen fired off a 21-gun salute. John had noted his father was a believer in a strong military and that he would have been humbled to be buried amidst those have sacrificed their lives for this country—especially among the many younger soldiers and Marines who lie here.