Cooper began his career at age three in comedy shorts, and became a regular in the "Our Gang" series a few years later. At nine he played the title role in Skippy (1931), directed by his uncle Norman Taurog, and was nominated for an Academy Award® as Best Actor for his performance. (Cooper still holds the record as the youngest-ever nominee in that category.) The film made him a star, and led to other acclaimed performances in films such as The Champ (1931) and Treasure Island (1934).
In Dinky Cooper plays the title character, a student at a military boarding school, and Astor plays his hard-working single mother, who supports him by toiling as a secretary. She is framed in a fraudulent bond scam, and goes to jail. The film concerns her efforts to keep her boy from learning of her disgrace, and his efforts to keep her from learning that he's left school. In her memoir, Astor refers to her films of that era as "the dreary eighteen--the real ee-uch ones, the bilge, the junk, the unforgivably bad....There was Dinky, however. It was also pretty ee-uch but I remember it because of Jackie Cooper....He was a nice kid, very unlike the repulsive child life that infested the sets....He was intelligent and hardworking and never boring about tedious antics on the set."
She also remembers him as a bit of a method actor. A scene in which Dinky gets into a fight during football practice was shot on location at a military school, with actual students at the school. Cooper insisted that the fisticuffs be real, and was frustrated and angry that the other boys weren't really punching him. Astor writes that he ran to his mother crying, "I hate being a movie actor -- I hate it! I want to be a guy, a man; I don't want fellows like this to treat me like a sissy!" Astor adds, "Did I ever identify with that rebellious kid!"
Cooper, who was 12 when he made Dinky, was fast approaching that awkward adolescent age, and the New York Times noted that he "soon will be in long pants," calling that eventuality "dreadful...disheartening." Variety's review of Dinky was lukewarm: "Lacks the pull and importance of previous efforts with this kid star." But childhood stardom was only the first act of Cooper's career. He reinvented himself several times over, as a theater and television actor, director, producer and character actor.
For Astor, Dinky was among the first of her many mother roles, but she still had a lot of career highs ahead of her, including several great roles and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar®. Both she and Cooper did better work in better films, but there's a sweetness in their scenes together in Dinky, and a real and lasting affection. Astor recalled that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when both were working in television and ran into each other, he always greeted her fondly as "Mom."
Director: D. Ross Lederman, Howard Bretherton
Screenplay: Harry Sauber, story by John Fante, Frank Fenton, Samuel Gibson Brown
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Thomas Richards
Art Direction: John Hughes
Principal Cast: Jackie Cooper (Dinky Daniels), Mary Astor (Martha Daniels), Roger Pryor (Tom Marsden), Henry Armetta (Junkman), Betty Jean Hainey (Mary), Henry O'Neill (Mr. Barnes), Edith Fellows (Sally), Richard Quine (Jackie Shaw)
by Margarita Landazuri