Based in the Great Depression era, the classic TV series The Waltons centered around the large Walton family. John Walton Jr. (John-Boy) is the main character, while his six siblings, parents, John and Olivia Walton, and paternal grandparents, Zeb and Esther Walton, play central roles as well.
Though the family were no strangers to tough times, the Waltons open their home to relatives and even strangers when they’re able. This common storyline allowed for the easy addition of Walton family members throughout the series’ 9-season run.
So when Olivia Walton’s cousin Rose Burton arrives at their doorstep in Season 8, with her children, Serena and Jeffrey, in tow, it was no surprise to The Waltons fans. Both young actors already had a little acting experience, but only one would use the role as a launching pad for a lengthy Hollywood career.
Keith Coogan, the 9-year-old actor behind Jeffrey Burton, followed in his legendary grandfather’s footsteps and carved out the beginnings of what has now become a more than 40-year career.
Jackie Coogan, the grandfather of Keith Coogan, got his start in Hollywood at the young age of three. It was at 7 years old, however, when the young actor got his big break as The Child in the 1921 film The Kid. And it was this role that inspired Keith to become an actor himself.
In a 1989 interview with the Sioux City Journal, Keith Coogan explained the inspiration. “I thought it was me up there,” Keith said of watching his grandfather in The Kid. “We looked alike and since I had done a couple of commercials, I recognized the technique.”
‘The Waltons’ Star Keith Coogan Recalls Advice From Grandfather Jackie Coogan
Like most actors who get their start at such a young age, Keith Coogan doesn’t feel his role on The Waltons was his best work. According to him, he didn’t become a real actor until the age of 12, at which point his Waltons career was long over.
“I was not an actor,” Keith Coogan 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.'”
Though Keith Coogan was born Keith Mitchell, his admiration of his grandfather led him to adopt his role model’s last name. To Keith, taking the Coogan name gave him “a chance to talk about him more.” Coogan’s main goal wasn’t to be famous but to fulfill a passion for acting and to make young people “aware of the Coogan name and what [Jackie Coogan] did.”
Sadly, Jackie Coogan died when The Waltons star was only 14, just after he began to find his stride as an actor. That said, Jackie had enough time with the young star to impart a few crucial words of wisdom that Keith Coogan carries with him to this day.
“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 recalled. “And he told me to be a good listener: ‘Everyone has something to say about the scene, not just the director.'”