Hollywood Used to Be Horrible to Child Actors
Warner Home Video
For this one, we must take you back to the good old days of Hollywood, before they had frivolous modern inventions like "child labor laws," to an era when traumatizing children was seen as a wholesome pastime.
The Kid was a 1921 film starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan as the titular young'un that Chaplin befriends. It's like a black and white, non-terrible version of Big Daddy.
And despite their facial expressions, it's not about a sex offender.
In the film's most emotional scene, the authorities turn up to take the Kid away from Charlie because, well, he's a tramp. We kind of have to side with the authorities on this one. We're all for helping out the homeless, but we draw the line at randomly issuing children to vagrants.
Warner Home Video
"I'm going to eat better than I have in weeks!"
But because Hollywood has a long history of siding against reasonable actions by useful services, the kid being taken away is a sad scene. It called for tears, but there was a problem: Jackie Coogan was such a big goddamn bundle of joy that no one could get him to stop smiling. While a kid looking happy to be taken away from a weird hobo may be the more realistic take on the story, it's not what the movie needed.
Out of ideas, Chaplin asked Jackie's dad, Jack, if he could help. The elder Coogan told Chaplin that he could most definitely make the kid cry, because what father in that era couldn't? So, Jack Coogan took his son away for a short while, and when he brought him back, this happened:
It turns out that Jack Coogan put the absolute fear of God into Jackie with the fatherly method of communication known as "screaming," telling him that if he didn't cry, he'd be taken away to a real workhouse forever. When they filmed the scene, Jackie was so terrified that he was crying real, hysterical tears.
By what we're sure is a total coincidence, Jackie Coogan is the namesake of the Coogan Act, which safeguards the financial earnings and other rights of child actors and came about after an adult Coogan sued his mother and stepfather for squandering all of his money. So Jackie's family wasn't merely terrible -- they were groundbreakingly terrible.
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