“Don’t call me Chief!”
This week, the Daily Planet has lost its editor-in-chief. We at the Smackdown mourn the loss of Jackie Cooper.
Cooper, a child-actor in the Depression era and later a TV executive and producer, died this week at the age of 88. And though he had a score of acting credits, his name evokes just one image for me: Perry White, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet.
In all four of the Christopher Reeve Superman films, Cooper played Clark Kent’s boss at Metropolis’ number one newspaper. And though Perry White is most known for his signature catch phrase “Don’t call me Chief!” (most always aimed at poor Jimmy Olsen), he didn’t utter those words in Superman: The Movie. Instead, a mix-up with the morning coffee and the sugar gave us the humorous line “Don’t call me ‘sugar’!” instead.
It may sound strange, but Cooper’s portrayal of Perry White is one of the things that have stuck with me over the years. Sure, Christopher Reeve is/was/and-always-will-be Superman because of those films. But for me, Cooper’s portrayal of the hard-hitting newspaperman is every bit as important. So much so, that when they made Superman Returns in 2006, my biggest concern — aside from Brandon Routh — was who they would get to replace Cooper.
Cooper had such presence. His performance solidified for me what a newspaper editor should be. Tough. Rushed. Always on a deadline. Always grasping for the perfect metaphor.
We’re sitting on top of the story of the century here! I want the name of this flying whatchamacallit to go with the Daily Planet like bacon and eggs, franks and beans, death and taxes, politics and corruption.
Somehow it’s fitting that, as we talk about Superman this week in our “Crisis of Conscience” series, that we take a moment to remember the man who played Perry White as well. A lot has been said about Superman’s decision to renounce his American citizenship. It’s been a media frenzy as the right-wing politicos denounce it as an attack on American values.
A good reporter doesn’t get great stories — a good reporter makes them great.
As a journalist, Perry White would have made it a headline in 96-point type: “Superman: American No More” No question mark. No exclamation point. No editorializing. Just the facts.
Cooper’s early career included appearing in 15 Our Gang comedy shorts produced by Hal Roach. He was later cast as Skippy, the titular character in a film directed by his uncle, Norman Taurog. Cooper was nominated for an Academy Award as best actor in that film, the first child actor to be nominated and still the youngest.
As an adult, Cooper entered a new phase in his career. He began to produce and direct television. His work on the shows The White Shadow and M*A*S*H earned him Emmys.
Sadly, this isn’t the first Perry White that Superman fans have lost. Read Bryce Zabel’s remembrance of Lane Smith from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It’s the first comment below.