They Still Call Me Junior is a fascinating look into the life of one of the most prolific male child actors of the silent era. Frank “Junior” Coghlan gives us an inside look at what it was like to work with such legendary notables as Cecil B. de Mille, Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, William Boyd, Bessie Love, William Haines and many other players and directors of the silent era.
Junior Coghlan describes the successful transition he made from child roles to more mature film roles as an adolescent in the talkie era. He went on to significant success in serials, and played Billy Batson in the original The Adventures of Captain Marvel (Republic, 1941) serial, widely acclaimed as the greatest action serial of the entire talking picture era.
Following Junior Coghlan’s historic film career, he went on to an extremely successful career in the United States military, which began during World War II and spanned 23 years. For eight of the 23 years, Coghlan was associated with both the military and Hollywood. He was in charge of the Navy film cooperation program. In short, Coghlan was the man who decided which military-themed films the Navy would provide cooperation and assistance with, and which ones would not receive special treatment. It is no surprise that the veteran film performer was tapped for such a job. Who would know film better? One part of this book was especially interesting to me, and that was Mr. Coghlan’s account of the period during which he was stationed in Pensacola, which happens to he this reviewer’s current home.
Although Junior Coghlan’s life has been and is a fascinating and productive one, he gives us a glimpse into some of the sad episodes of his life. We realize his life certainly hasn’t been an easy one. He recounts how his father, at one time a wealthy and successful medical practitioner, ended up dying in a skid row hotel as a direct result of his chronic alcoholism. The accounts of the abuse suffered by Coghlan and his mother before their shattering divorce are especially heart-rending. The fact that Junior blossomed into such an intelligent and well-adjusted man in spite of the misery he and his mother went through is especially miraculous.
Junior Coghlan remains very active in the film appreciation movement to this day. He is a frequent guest and speaker at numerous film conventions all over the nation. He is a lively individual, with more than a bit of Irish charm. We are fortunate to have his story. When I read They Still Call Me Junior for the first time in 1995, I concluded that it was the most fascinating auto-biography I had read since Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir (Picador USA, English translation – 1992). They Still Call Me Junior is highly recommended.