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Unlike some child actors, Cooper was able to sustain his stardom through adolescence. Among Cooper’s other 1930s films: “Sooky” (a sequel to “Skippy”), “Broadway to Hollywood,” “Lone Cowboy,” “Dinky,” “The Devil Is a Sissy” (with Rooney and Bartholomew), “Peck’s Bad Boy,” “White Banners,” “Gangster’s Boy,” “That Certain Age” (opposite Deanna Durbin), “What a Life” (as Henry Aldrich), “Seventeen” and “The Return of Frank James.”

After four years in the Navy, he returned to find his career had slumped.

“I managed to find work, but it was in low-budget pictures,” he recalled in 1971. “I couldn’t see myself continuing like that.

“About that time, I had become acquainted with some New York actors, like Keenan Wynn and John Garfield. Garfield kept telling me to ‘get back to New York where you can learn your craft.’ “

Cooper followed the advice and appeared as Ensign Pulver in Broadway and road companies of “Mister Roberts.” He starred in two hit comedies: “Remains to Be Seen” and “King of Hearts.” During the early 1950s, television was exploding in New York, and he acted in many live dramas. That led to his return to Hollywood and success with “The People’s Choice” and “Hennessey.”

Tiring of the weekly series grind, Cooper in 1964 accepted a five-year contract as production head of Screen Gems, the TV arm of Columbia Pictures.

“Like so many of those jobs, the honeymoon was over after the first two years,” he remarked. “Then you find yourself spending all your time trying to sell your bosses on what you want to do. My last selling job was ‘The Flying Nun.’ They kept telling me that people wouldn’t watch a show about Catholics.” He persisted, and the series starring Sally Field became a hit.

After almost 50 years in the business, Cooper thought of retiring in the early 1970s. Then producer Mike Frankovich offered him a role in “The Love Machine,” and a film to direct, “Stand Up and Be Counted.” He continued with occasional acting roles and a heavy schedule of directing for television.

Cooper remained boyish-looking and slender, with a thick head of hair. He was married three times: to June Horne (with whom he had a son, John) and Hildy Parks, then to Barbara Kraus (with whom he had a son, Russell, and two daughters, Julie and Christina).

“There’s not a child actor in the lot,” he once remarked happily.

Cooper is survived by his two sons.

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AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang contributed to this report.