Happy Birthday, Uncle Fester!


Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, 1966. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Arguably one of the greatest and most memorable of the silent movie child stars, Jackie Coogan (October 26, 1914 – March 1, 1984) had a life that could rival any Hollywood movie. As a child, he was already performing on stage when discovered by Charlie Chaplin at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Chaplin noticed the kid was a natural born mimic and cast him — at age five — in a small part in A Day’s Pleasure (1919). The boy glowed on camera, so Chaplin put him into his 1921 feature film The Kid and Jackie became an overnight sensation in one of Chaplin’s biggest hits.

Coogan became the first child star to get the full product marketing treatment. Dolls, figurines, whistles, recordings and even a brand of peanut butter bore his image, usually wearing a large cap and a sad-eyed expression. The marketing boom for Shirley Temple a decade later was modeled on the Coogan experience.

He also revolutionized legal treatment of the earnings of child stars. After Coogan discovered his mother and stepfather had usurped most of his earnings — an estimated $4 million, worth about $50 million in today‘s dollars — the then 24-year-old Coogan successfully sued them. The court case led to passage of the California Child Actors Bill, now commonly known as “the Coogan act,” which requires that a child actor’s employer must set aside 15 percent of his or her earnings in a trust account, and also set standards for work hour limitations and schooling for child actors.

Once he grew out of the juvenile phase of his career, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941 before the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the war, Coogan resumed his acting career, this time mostly in the new world of television. He appeared in a number of other TV roles, but is best remembered by baby boomers as Uncle Fester, the ghoulishly funny character in ABC’s The Addams Family from 1964-66. He appeared in many small roles in movies, including Elvis Presley’s Girl Happy (1965) and John Wayne’s Cahill, U.S. Marshal (1973). His final screen appearance in a movie was in 1984’s The Prey.

In honor of the star’s birthday,  we’re sharing an excerpt from Ron Miller’s interview from the release Conversations with Classic Film Stars:

Setting the Scene


Jackie Coogan with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921). Courtesy of Thames Television.

My chat with Jackie Coogan took place in April of 1968 while he was playing the role of Boss Finley in a production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth in the round at Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, CA. I joined him in his dressing room and we talked between his turns on stage with co-star Shelley Winters. Our time was limited because he was doing his own makeup, which he did quietly and expertly while we talked,.


Coogan was then a little heavy, had a receding hairline and was dressed in a bathrobe over a pair of polka dot shorts. He had a good many furrows and creases, but his face still retained the look of that sad-eyed little boy adopted by Chaplin’s Little Tramp in The Kid. He was warm and friendly and often seemed to speak of the famous movie child as if he had been someone else that he just happened to know.

In the middle of our chat, Shelley Winters came into his dressing room, heavily made up for her role as a dissipated former movie star, and remarked to me, “So, you’re interviewing him? Well, that’s good. He’s a hell  of an actor!”

Coming from the two-time Academy Award winning actress, I thought it was a pretty good testament to Coogan’s enduring star quality.

The Interview

MILLER: The author Irvin S. Cobb once described you as “the blithest spirit that ever gave unending joy to countless millions.”  How did it feel to be adored by “countless millions”?

COOGAN: (Chuckling) Maybe that’s why Lloyds of London insured me for $250,000 whenever I went on a trip. Stars were different then. There was no television, no radio. When a star showed up, the people turned out to see him — by the thousands.

MILLER: When you became a star, movies were silent, so there was no language barrier and people all over the world could see and appreciate what you did on screen. As a little boy, did you realize you were world famous?

COOGAN: When I was around nine, I was taken on a trip to Europe. It wasn’t like a normal kid’s trip to Europe. I met heads of state. I was “received” by royalty. I exchanged photos with Benito Mussolini. I kissed the Pope’s ring. Everywhere I went, I was mobbed by fans. I can remember being in a car in Paris when the mob nearly killed me. They picked up the whole car with us in it and paraded us down the street on their shoulders.

MILLER: What about back home in America? Could you go out and do things in public that a regular kid could do?

COOGAN: Once I made the mistake of going shopping with my mother. People recognized me and right away there was a huge group of people all over us. We finally had to be rescued by the police.

MILLER: How did this all begin? How young were you when you made your show business debut?


Jackie Coogan (second from left) as Uncle Fester in the 1977 TV special Halloween with The Addams Family. Also shown: Carolyn Jones (left) as Morticia, Ted Cassidy (third from left) as Lurch, and John Astin as Gomez. Courtesy of NBC.

COOGAN: My parents were in show business and I made my movie debut at 18 months of age in an unbilled part in a picture called Skinner’s Baby. I was still an infant. My dad (John Henry “Jack” Coogan) was a dancer and I’d gone on stage with him many times.

MILLER: The legend is that you were dancing The Shimmy on stage at the Orpheum in L.A. when Charlie Chaplin, who was in the audience, saw you and thought he detected a special appeal in you. In fact, in his autobiography, Chaplin said your mugging to the audience might have been obnoxious in another child, but that you were “charming and the audience thoroughly enjoyed it.”  I guess that was your lucky day because his decision to build The Kid around you made you a star overnight. How do you remember him?

COOGAN: Chaplin was very nice to me. He would just sit down with me and say what he wanted me to do and I’d do it. If Chaplin didn’t feel right about filming, he just wouldn’t film and I’d go play ball.

MILLER: After The Kid, you did a lot of famous juvenile parts in films like Peck’s Bad Boy and Oliver Twist, but you also did a lot of popular pictures that are forgotten today.

COOGAN: They made some crazy stuff. When I got my first haircut, it made headlines –and MGM made a movie about it — Johnny Get Your Hair Cut (1927).

MILLER: When the talkies arrived, you were older, but were still appearing in some classic kid stories, like Tom Sawyer (1930) and Huckleberry Finn (1931). Then the roles stopped coming so regularly. How did you feel when you realized you weren’t as “hot” as you’d been as a little boy?

COOGAN: There was nothing to be sorry about. I had as complete a life as any boy could have had. I was never bitter about it.

MILLER: I know you had a terrible ordeal in 1935 with the auto crash.


COOGAN: My father, my best friend and two of my dad’s friends were returning from a dove hunt in Mexico when our car was forced over a cliff by another car near San Diego. I was the only survivor.

MILLER: As if that weren’t enough, you then turned 21 and learned that your mother and her new husband had used up almost all the money you had made in the movies.

COOGAN: They even cut off my $6.25 a week allowance. I sued and finally collected what was left. It gave me a serious distrust of “jurisprudence and politics.”

Conversations_With_Classic_Film_Stars_CoverMILLER: How are things for you today?

COOGAN: I have four children from my four marriages and a horde of good memories. I’m financially stable and my wife and I live permanently in Palm Springs. I’ve got damned little hair left, but I’ve been letting what’s left of it grow out for this role. I’ve put on some weight, so some people might mistake me for an out of work Sumo wrestler.

MILLER: I think you’re well-regarded as a very good character actor these days.

COOGAN: I’m probably only known by people old enough to remember The Kid or all those kids who watched The Addams Family. That’s all right. I’m happy doing these character parts. I won’t say I can do anything that comes my way, but I could never quit this business. When I lay off, I get way too jumpy.


Jackie Coogan was married four times — first to Betty Grable (1937-39) before she became a major star. His fourth marriage — to Dorothea “Dodie” Hanson — was the lasting one, from 1953 until Coogan’s death from a heart attack in 1984. The greatest child star of the silent era is honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame on Vine Street near Hollywood Boulevard.

Join UPK Authors in Crestview Hills

Authors David J. Bettez and William A. Penn will discuss Kentucky’s role in key historical events and sign copies of their new books at 4 pm Saturday, October 22 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2785 Dixie Highway, Crestview Hills, KY 41017.

636052369773913058kentucky-and-the-great-war_webKentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front explores the impact of the conflict on women’s suffrage, child labor, and African American life. In particular, Bettez investigates how black citizens were urged to support a war to make the world “safe for democracy” even as their civil rights and freedoms were violated in the Jim Crow South. This engaging and timely social history offers new perspectives on an overlooked aspect of World War I.

In addition, Kentucky and the Great War was named this year’s Thomas D. Clark Medallion recipient at a ceremony at UK’s Maxwell Place. The book is considered the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Great War on Bluegrass society, politics, economy and culture,
contextualizing the state’s involvement within the national experience.


Bettez was named this year’s Thomas D. Clark Medallion recipient at a ceremony at UK’s Maxwell Place.

The Thomas D. Clark Medallion is presented by the Thomas D. Clark Foundation, which was established in 1994 in honor of Thomas D. Clark, Kentucky’s historian laureate and founder of the University Press of Kentucky (UPK). Since 2012, the foundation has chosen one book each year that highlights Kentucky history and culture to be honored with a Clark Medallion.





In his fascinating book, Penn provides an impressively detailed account of the military action that took place in this Kentucky region during the Civil War, drawing on dozens of period newspapers as well as personal journals, memoirs, and correspondence from citizens, slaves, soldiers, and witnesses to provide a vivid account of the war’s impact on the region. Kentucky Rebel Town: The Civil War Battles of Cynthiana and Harrison County provides an illuminating look at divided loyalties and dissent in Union Kentucky.





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Martha Raye: A Big Talent with a Big Mouth


Martha Raye publicity photo, early 1940s. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Loud, brash and bawdy, multi-talented performer Martha Raye (1916-1994) was known as one of the world’s best comediennes. She sang, danced, and joked her way into the spotlight of the entertainment world with a career that spanned seven decades and encompassed everything from vaudeville to television commercials to entertaining U.S. troops.

Her career began when she joined the family act at age three on the tough vaudeville circuit. Determined to have a better life, she taught herself to sing and dance, mimicking the voice of Ethel Merman. Raye got her big break when she caught the attention of a film director as she kidded with audience members Joe E. Lewis and Jimmy Durante during an engagement at the Trocadero in Hollywood.

In the late 1930s, Raye appeared in a number of films, and the press heralded her as a “stridently funny comedienne with a Mammoth Cave mouth.” From there her career soared. She landed a role in Charlie Chaplain’s film Monsieur Verdoux, and the New York Post commented that Raye was the only one who could hold her own with the comic master. By the 1950s she hosted her own highly rated television show, reaching millions with her clowning.

Behind the huge smile and raucous laugh, though, there was a darker side to Martha Raye. She found solace from her insecurities and a frenzied schedule in the use of drugs and alcohol. Her seven rocky marriages, the last to a man 33 years her junior whom she had known less than two weeks, fueled headlines and gossip columns. Particularly painful was her turbulent relationship with her only daughter, Melodye.

Despite her personal instability, Raye’s enduring love affair with the American military never wavered. She was passionately committed to entertaining troops abroad during World War II, and she worked tirelessly as both entertainer and nurse in the remote jungles of Vietnam. Bob Hope commented that “she was Florence Nightingale, Dear Abby, and the only singer who could be heard over the artillery fire.” The Green Berets designated her an honorary lieutenant colonel, and she later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After her death in 1994, “Colonel Maggie” became the only civilian laid to rest among the Green Berets at the Fort Bragg military cemetery.

In honor of the talented artist, who passed away 22 years ago today, here’s an excerpt from Take It from the Big Mouth: The Life of Martha Raye, the first full-fledged biography that explores Raye’s life and career with candor and insight:

martha-raye-coverThe hourlong Martha Raye Show debuted on December 26, 1953, under Nat Hiken’s direction with Norman Lear as writer. Herb Ross choreographed for Martha as well as for the Martha Raye Dancers. Rocky Graziano returned as a regular. Actress Irene Dunne appeared on the show, as did singer Perry Como, comedic duo Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, and Maggie’s old friend from vaudeville days, Donald O’Connor. The guest list was studded with names that attracted viewers who were amused by Maggie’s rollicking humor and boisterous energy.

With her gorgeous legs and thighs molded in the fishnet stockings that had become a kind of trademark for her, Maggie pranced tirelessly around the set. Torch songs, rhythm numbers, blues — Maggie did them all with equal skill. “That Old Black Magic” and “Blues in the Night” were favorites of her fans. She continued to close each show with a fervent thank-you to the nuns who staffed St. Francis Hospital at the time of her recent collapse. “Good night, Sisters.”

Never had Nick been more accurate than when he had predicted, five years previously, that television would be the medium in which Maggie was destined for success.

[. . .]

Although Maggie and Nick had fought violently for nine years, Maggie confided to acquaintances that since their divorce they got along beautifully. What she did not confide was that if Nick displayed any affection for their daughter, complimented her appearance, or praised her for her grades, Maggie flew into a rage. Nick invariably retreated in the face of what seemed to him to be such unjustified anger. He did not grasp the reason for this jealousy. But it was clear that his praise for the excellence of his daughter’s schoolwork touched a nerve because Maggie had never attended school. She felt inferior to her mother, because of Peggy’s superior knowledge, and now could not bear that her only child — as much as she loved the girl -– would also grow up to be superior to her. “There’s only one star in this family, and that’s me,” she frequently would declare to her daughter, and even to Nick, who knew her so well, as a scarcely veiled reminder that his support was entirely dependent upon her talent.

Kentucky by Design Wins Alice Award

ky-by-designKentucky by Design: The Decorative Arts and American Culture edited by Andrew Kelly and sponsored by the Frazier History Museum has been named the winner of The Alice Award, given by Furthermore Grants in Publishing. Furthermore is a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund and is concerned with non-fiction book publishing related to art, architecture, and design; cultural history; conservation and preservation; the city; and public issues of the day. “It is a privilege to be in the company of the other distinguished publications shortlisted for the Alice Award,” said Kelly. “On behalf of all the outstanding scholars, experts and museum professionals nationwide who made this book possible, I am delighted that Kentucky by Design has been recognized by the Furthermore Foundation.”

The Alice Award was established in 2013 by Joan Davidson, president of Furthermore, in honor of her mother Alice Kaplan. Alice, vice-president of the Kaplan Fund, was a well-known patron, scholar, and activist in the arts, who urged the foundation to support music, dance, libraries, and the visual arts. She loved and collected illustrated books as works of art and considered them essential documents in a civilized society. The Alice Award is dedicated to recognizing and cherishing the lasting values of the well-made illustrated book, and the special sense of intimacy it affords. Each year a jury of distinguished leaders in publishing and the arts selects the winning Alice book from the hundreds of eligible titles that have been supported by Furthermore.

Kentucky by Design celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Federal Art Project’s (FAP) Index of American Design. The FAP was established at the height of the Great Depression under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. One of the aims of this project was to collect and record the history of American material culture, and it culminated in the creation of the Index of American Design. This work, while intended for a wide audience, was never published.

Now, after eighty years, Kentucky’s contributions to the Index of American Design have at last been compiled in Kentucky by Design. Kelly has gathered the contributions of experts to catalog prime examples of the state’s decorative arts that were featured in the index, pairing the original FAP watercolors with contemporary photographs of the same or similar artifacts. He provides information surrounding the history and current location (and, often, the journey in-between) of each piece, as well as local or familial lore surrounding the object. In addition to a wealth of Shaker material, the objects featured include a number of quilts and rugs as well as a wide assortment of everyday items, from powder horns and candle lanterns to glass flasks and hand-crafted instruments.

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The Frazier History Museum will be presented with a $25,000 grant at a reception in the Rare Book Room at Strand Books on Tuesday, October 25. “The Frazier History Museum is dedicated to sharing the stories of Kentucky, her people, heritage, industries, and culture. Kentucky by Design is a wonderful representation of that commitment to Kentucky’s unique story,” said President and CEO Penelope Peavler. “The Frazier is deeply honored to be the recipient of the 2016 Alice Award and is very grateful to Joan Davidson and Furthermore.” An exhibition featuring over 85 original and facsimile watercolor renderings paired with the actual objects and artworks depicted in the book is on display at the Frazier through February 12, 2017.

Andrew Kelly trained at Sotheby’s New York, is a Helena Rubinstein Fellow of the Whitney Museum of American Art and has authored and edited numerous monographs and catalogs on the fine and decorative arts. He has worked in association with many institutions, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, McNay Art Museum, Harry Ransom Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Lisbon Ajuda National Palace Museum, Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation Palma de Mallorca, Russian State Museum at the Marble Palace, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, and the Tate Gallery London.

Civil War History: The Battle of Perryville

It’s rumored that the reenactment of the Battle of Perryville will contain the largest number of participants to date, and it’s happening this weekend in Perryville, Kentucky!

The Battle of Perryville was fought on October 8, 1862, and it is widely referred to as “The Battle for Kentucky” because Kentucky was a major border state that both the Confederacy and the Union desired to capture. This battle is considered to be one of the bloodiest battles during the Civil War, and while there are multiple opinions on the outcome of the war, the Union forces managed to retain control of Kentucky for the remainder of the war.


This photo is from the 2015 153rd Commemoration of The Battle of Perryville, and it’s only a glimpse of what you’ll be able to experience when you visit the battleground.  If you would like to learn more about ticket prices or see more photos  from past reenactments, visit http://www.perryvillebattlefield.org!

Two Score and Three Years Ago…

Today marks the forty-third anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War.  This twenty-day war was fought over the territory lost during the third Arab-Israeli War in 1967 between Egypt, Syria, and Israel.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and Egypt and Syria used this to their advantage when they decided to attack Israel.  While most of the Israeli guard were away from their posts in observance of the holiday, Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula while Syria struggled to overthrow the occupying Israeli in Golan Heights.  Not too long after Syria’s siege did Israel counterattacked and recaptured the area.

After less than a month of fighting, the Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United Nations on October 25, 1973.

The following two books are fantastic resources for anyone who is wanting to learn more about the Yom Kippur War.


Inside Israel’s Northern Command by Brigadier General Dani Asher is a personal account from the war, relaying stories of war strategies used to fight off the Syrians during the Yom Kippur War.  Established as the successor of the 1948 Northern Front, the Northern Command was in charge of the operational routine, ongoing defensive activities, and the preparation for war with regards to Israeli borders with the three Arab nations: Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.  The crushing victory of the Six-Day War served as the basis for the concept of security, the doctrine building, and for the way we view the enemy in the six years’ period from the end of the Six-Day War to the onslaught of the Yom Kippur War.



Soldier in the Sinai is another personal account from the Yom Kippur War that describes the impact of the security concept on Israel’s defensive doctrine in Western Sinai after the Six-Day War, especially during the War of Attrition and the following cease-fire. Sakal examines the performance of the ground troops on October 6-15, 1973 (especially October 6-9) and their total dependence on airpower. Major General Emanuel Sakal, IDF (Ret.) focuses on a tactical and operational analysis of the defensive battle on the southern front from early morning October 4, 1973 to the evening of October 15.  Within this range of events, the book surveys the operational and strategic decisions made by the chief of staff and the defense minister, mainly regarding the defensive campaign, the preemptive or parallel air strike, and the counterattack.


War, Ethics, and the Vernichtungskrieg

October has just begun, but it’s already proving to be an interesting month for military history!

First, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) is having their annual meeting from today through October 5th.  This is the place to be if you’re wanting to learn more about both personal experience in the armed forces and topics on national security.

Second, four of our military history authors will be at the AUSA meeting!  Here is a list of their most recent published work:

James Dubik, Just War Reconsidered


Just War Reconsidered examines the ethics of a nation’s choices, decisions, and consequences over time.  While this is not a book about personalities, it is a book about principles.  Dubik does a fantastic job at surprising, discomforting, and enlightening those interested in how the nation wields the military instrument of power.  By the end of his novel, Dubik will challenge us to understand and confront our responsibility not only to fight wars ethically but also to wage war ethically.


Gerhard P. Gross, The Myth and Reality of German Warfare

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The Myth and Reality of German Warfare is a work that covers a broad spectrum covering the German military from the essence of the “strategic dilemma” to the German requirement of performing any level of aggression necessary on the battlefield.  Gross analyzes the German operational tradition-German battlefield behavior- and how it arose over time out of a well-defined historical and geographical matrix.  Along with the military aspect of the German military tradition, Gross also includes actual campaigns and battles as a way of immersing the reader into the German culture.

William T. Johnsen, The Origins of the Grand Alliance

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The Origins of the Grand Alliance analyzes the early informal military collaboration between the United States and Great Britain during World War II.  With a focus on the military aspects of coalitions, Johnsen fills in the missing pieces of the Anglo-American relationship. In an effort to discredit the use of 21st century reflection, Johnsen helps readers understand the cause and effects of the United States’ decision to enter into World War II.


Rolf-Dieter Müller, Hitler’s Wehrmact, 1935-1945

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Hitler’s Wehrmact, 1935-1945 discusses the role of the Wehrmacht in the German society.  Not long after its creation, the Wehrmacht embodied the continuity of the German national state and had become ensnared in National Socialism.  In a description of the Wehrmacht’s actions in the Second World War, the term “Vernichtungskrieg” (war of annihilation) is still used today.  Müller’s work manages to gain an insight into the perspectives and standards, particularly through comparative methods, such as by drawing on the experiences of the First World War and of other armies.

If you have the opportunity to attend the AUSA meeting, I strongly recommend you to do so as it is your chance to learn more about the different military strategies, perspectives on war, and impacts war has on a society.  Also, our authors have done an amazing job at analyzing specific key moments in war history from war ethics to the Great Alliance to Adolf Hitler.  If you would like to learn more, please visit our website (www.kentuckypress.com)  for more information.