Jackie Coogan's grandson joined The Waltons to kick off his career

It’s just like they say, like grandfather child star, like grandson child star.

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In the eighth season of The Waltons, some new family members were introduced.

Olivia Walton’s cousin Rose Burton comes to the Mountain with two kids in tow, Serena and Jeffrey Burton.

Playing little Jeffrey Burton was a child star named Keith Mitchell.

Mitchell was just starting his career, featured in a TV movie that spawned a short-lived TV series called Stickin’ Together.

New to acting, Mitchell was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the original child star, Jackie Coogan. Coogan famously costarred with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid, then went on to play Uncle Fester on The Addams Family.

Mitchell was the son of Coogan’s daughter Leslie, and he told the Sioux City Journal in 1989 that when his grandfather would visit when he was young, he always "knew grandpa was a strange man" with a remarkable career.

But when Mitchell finally watched The Kid when he was 8 years old, he didn’t see his grandfather acting with Chaplin. He saw what looked like himself.

By that time, the younger child actor had been acting for 3 years in commercials.

"I thought it was me up there," Mitchell said. "We looked alike and since I had done a couple of commercials, I recognized the technique."

After Mitchell’s sitcom failed to launch, he joined the cast of The Waltons in 1979.

As Jeffrey, Mitchell injected some extra energy into the drama. One critic in The Lincoln Star wrote in 1979 that the young boy "transforms the peaceful Walton home into pandemonium."

Describing his early acting, Mitchell joked that he wasn’t much of an actor at all at this young age.

"I was not an actor," Mitchell said. "I was a performer – a vaudeville showpiece. Someone would tell me what to do and I’d go out there and do it. My career was, up until the age of 12, what I’d like to call ‘jump and shout.’"

Mitchell appeared throughout the eighth season of The Waltons, and then continued acting in the 1980s, appearing on hit shows like Laverne & Shirley and even voicing young Tod in Disney’s The Fox & The Hound.

At this point, Mitchell felt he was ready to star in a feature film, and he was hugely disappointed when Steven Spielberg didn’t cast him in 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Spielberg told Mitchell’s agent that the child star had appeared in too many TV shows and that he was looking for an unknown child actor to star in the movie.

Reacting to this casting disappointment, Mitchell decided to distance himself from his more immature acting as a child, and at the age of 12, he adopted his grandfather’s last name and officially changed his name to Keith Coogan.

He said once he took Jackie’s name as his, more people asked him to talk about his grandfather. It "gave me a chance to talk about him more… and that’s nice," Keith said, explaining, "The purpose is to make kids my age aware of the Coogan name and what he did."

Shortly after becoming Keith Coogan, the young star took on one of his biggest movie roles in Adventures in Babysitting.

After that, he could be seen on the big screen throughout the 1990s in movies like Toy Soldiers (with Jackie Coogan’s costar John Astin’s son Sean), Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and In the Army Now.

Keith felt at this point in his career that unlike other young stars, like his Fox and the Hound costar Corey Feldman, he wasn’t trying to become famous.

"We weren’t in it for the same reasons," Keith said. "They were in it for the money or the power or the flash; I was there because I wanted to do it."

Much like Jackie Coogan, Keith was a natural performer and because he gained so much experience as a child, he felt seasoned before he hit the age of 18.

"I felt I became a different actor at 16," Keith said.

His grandfather Jackie never got to see that side of Keith, because he died in 1984. Keith was 14.

When his heart and kidney started troubling him, Jackie moved in with Keith and his mom, and Keith said they spent a lot of time together playing chess.

During those games, Jackie would always win, and he’d always give Keith acting advice.

"He just told me amazingly simple things like ‘Don’t treat the grips and the prop man and the set dresser like garbage. These people are working harder than you, physically.’" Keith said. "And he told me to be a good listener: ‘Everyone has something to say about the scene, not just the director.’"

Apart from his acting, Coogan became famous when he lobbied for and passed what became named for him: The Coogan Act. It protected child stars from parents who might squander their earnings.

Jackie was looking out for other child stars his whole life, and one of the last things he told his grandson Keith, who still acts in TV and movies today, was: "Always keep an eye on your money and you’ll do OK."

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L 21 months ago
And who knows how far Brian Foster can go if he relished on his background.
TonyDStrong 22 months ago
Jackie Coogan told Keith to watch out for uncles and mothers, as Jackie's uncle and mother took all the money he had made as a child actor.
LeslieCoogan 22 months ago
Just a few corrections: Keith changed his name to Coogan when he was 16 after he was hired for 'Adventures in Babysitting.' His grandfather, my father, wanted him to take the family name at 12 but I explained to Jack that Keith needed to know he 'made it' on his own and the Coogan name had nothing to do with 'making it'. Jack saw my point of view. Although Keith had three or four series, several movies of the week, dozens of guest stars and 100 commercials, he had repeatedly missed out on all the feature films that his friends were getting right and left and that was hard for him. So when he did land his first feature film, 'Adventures in Babysitting' he had earned it on his own. I never wanted him to have any doubt that it was something outside of himself that got the role. Actors can be insecure and are in such a confusing business that I wanted him to know that he made it on his own.
Michael LeslieCoogan 22 months ago
Adventures in Babysitting is a great film, and Keith is part of it.
Michael 22 months ago
Walton stories don't seem to get many comments.
LoveMETV22 Michael 22 months ago
I enjoy when they do Walton's stories, I hope they continue to do both Walton's Stories and Quizzes.
Michael LoveMETV22 22 months ago
That wasn't a nwgative comment. In some ways, I'm surprised few want to talk about the show.
LoveMETV22 Michael 22 months ago
They do try to incorporate Stories and Quizzes on the Walton's with other topics. I think there are users that watch the series. maybe not follow it faithfully though, and the topic just doesn't spark their interest. Some stories get more comments than others.
Nala92129 Michael 22 months ago
I have a question or two about the Waltons. 1) Why do the Great Depression & WWII Waltons all have 1970s hairdos? 2) Why do all the Waltons & guest stars have Brookyn accents, when they're supposed to be Appalachians, born & bred?
BuckeyeBeth Nala92129 22 months ago
1. I don’t think the powers that be on the shows during the 60s and 70s really cared about being authentic. I mean we can also point to Richard Dawson‘s very un-1940s sideburns during the last season or so of Hogans Heroes. It would’ve been nice if they had gone for authenticity on the shows but oh well. I was so used to the un-authentic hairstyles that I was actually mocked by someone for not seeing the blatant 60s/70s hairstyles in HH during the early 2000s.

2. Again, I think they the powers that be on the show (meaning the director, casting director, dialogue coach or whoever else is involved in the authenticity of the show) just didn’t care. I do remember a few that attempted the rural accent. I’m not going to comment on whether it was good or bad but if I remember correctly Richard Hatch attempted a rural accent as a Walton cousin.
Michael Nala92129 22 months ago
The hair never bothered me. Mary Ellen started with really long hair, then more styled as she became a nurse, and married. Seemed to reflect the times. As Erin becomes a businesswoman, I think she captures the era,

The boys never had what I'd consider long hair. I wasn't around in the thirties, so I have no idea what was authentic. In rural.virginia, isn't it possible the hair got a bit long at times? I don't think everyone had crewcuts.

Realistically, it's hard to expect actors, especially young, to keep period hairstyles. My friend Cindy once appeared with shorter hair, she'd been in a movie and they wanted short hair. But they had to pay her to do so.

The lack of accent never bothered me. It's probably harder to sustain in a series than in a movie. I'm really not sure what, but the series invokes the time and place. That remake of The Homecoming last December didn't convey the same feel.
Michael 22 months ago
I thiught it was interesting to watch the whole series two years ago, and suddenly realizing (I think because of the name) that this kid was the smart alec teenager in Adventures in Babysitting.
LoveMETV22 22 months ago
Thank You MeTV. Excellent story. The Walton's is in that part of the episode rotation where Rose, Serena and Jeffrey joined the Walton family. Keith did an excellent job in his role on the series. Having
Jackie Coogan as his grandfather and his grandfatherly advice must surely have helped shape Keith in his acting career then and now.
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