Jackie Moran: Film History Series

Photographer Unknown, “Jackie Moran”, circa 1940s, Vintage Promotion Shot, 20.3 x 25.4 cm, Private Collection

Born in Mattoon, Illinois in January of 1923, John Edward Moran was an American film actor who is credited for roles in thirty-seven films. He is known primarily for his roles in youth-oriented films, particularly the roles of Huckleberry Finn and Buck Rogers’s sidekick Buddy Wade.

Discovered by actress and film producer Mary Pickford, Moran was taken by his mother to Hollywood, California for a 1935 screen test. Initially signed to Columbia Pictures, he was given the screen name of Jackie Moran and was cast in a significant number of supporting film roles. At the age of thirteen, he appeared in three 1936 films: the debut role of Tommy Blake in Elliott Nugent’s romantic comedy “And So They Were Married”, the uncredited role of Duckfoot in director Eric C. Kenton’s crime film “Counterfeit”, and the role of young Paul Darnley in Wesley Ruggles’s drama “Valiant is the Word for Carrie”. 

After appearing in “Outcast” and “Michael O’Halloran” in 1937, Jackie Moran played the co-star role of Huckleberry Finn in David O. Selznick’s 1938 Technicolor “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” with actor Tommy Kelly as Tom. Moran received critical praise for his natural acting skills and went on to star in several films produced by Republic and Monogram studios. In 1939, he had a role in Joseph Santley’s 1939 drama “The Spirit of Culver” where he acted alongside fellow child actors Jackie Cooper and Freddie Bartholomew. 

Cast in a cameo role for the 1939 “Gone With the Wind”, Moran played Doctor Meade’s son who, furious at his brother’s death in the war, enlists in the Confederate Army to seek revenge. Moran was next signed by Universal Pictures to play the role of Buddy Wade in its 1939 science fiction film “Buck Rogers”, a serial based on the original 1928 magazine stories and comic strip. The twelve-part serial starred Larry (Buster) Crabbe as Buck Rogers who, assisted by his sidekick Buddy, fights the evil dictator Killer Kane. The role of Kane was played by character actor Anthony Warde known for his portrayal of unsavory henchmen. Produced on a limited budget, this serial saved money on special effects by using sets and background shots from previous science fiction movies.

In eleven of his films, Jackie Moran was teamed up with child star Marcia Mae Jones, who initially co-starred with him in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” as Tom Sawyer’s cousin Mary. They also appeared in supporting roles for Deanna Durban’s 1938 musical “Mad About Music”, an exclusive boarding school film which went on to receive four Academy Award nominations. Robert F. McGowan, known for his “Our Gang” comedy shorts, cast Moran and Jones as the stars in four Monogram Studio productions that idealized life in pre-World War II America. These were the 1938 adventure film “Barefoot Boy” and a trio of films in 1940: the school dance film “Tomboy”, the mystery film “Haunted House” and the drama “The Old Swimmin’ Hole”. 

Moran continued to act in films during the years of World War II. His last major production was in David O. Selznick’s  1944 epic drama film “Since You Went Away”, an Oscar nominee for Best Picture in which Moran played a grocer’s son opposite Shirley Temple. In 1945 to 1946 near the end of his film career,  he played in a collection of teenage musical comedies produced by Columbia and Monogram studios. Among these were a lead role in the comedy-mystery “There Goes Kelly” and co-starring roles in Columbia’s “Let’s Go Steady” and Monogram’s “High School Hero”. Moran’s final film role was in Columbia’s 1946 college drama “Betty Co-Ed”.  

Little is known of Jackie Moran’s remaining forty-four years outside of what was stated by his lawyer Robert Doyle and other acquaintances in obituaries. In the 1950s, he became a script writer for secondary movies. A scriptwriter named John E. Moran produced four scripts in the 1960s for American film director and producer Russ Meyer who was known for his successful series of campy sexploitation movies. These film scripts included “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”, “Good Morning and. . .Goodbye!”, “Common Law”, and “Wild Gals of the Naked West”. In the last two films, John E. Moran was credited with small roles. 

In his later years, Moran worked in public relations for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Chicago. He relocated in 1984 to the historic town of Greenfield, Massachusetts where he wrote a novel entitled “Six Step House”. On the twentieth of September in 1990, Jackie Moran succumbed to lung cancer at the age of sixty-seven in Greenfield’s Franklin Medical Center. After a private funeral, Jackie Moran’s ashes were scattered, as requested in his will, on the backstretch of the Del Mar Racetrack, a thoroughbred horse racing facility in Del Mar, California.

Note: For those interested, the entire Universal Studios’s 1939 “Buck Rogers” serial can be found, courtesy of ComicWeb Serial Cliffhanger Theater, at the DailyMotion website located at: https://www.dailymotion.com/playlist/x4qzsf

Film Gifs of the opening credits of Chapter One of the Buck Rogers serial can be found in this site’s article entitled “Buck Rogers: Tomorrow’s World”.

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Jackie Moran as Huckleberry Finn”, 1938, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, Director David O. Selznik, Cinematographer James Wong Howe

Second Insert Image: Cinematographer Jerome Ash, “Jackie Moran and Buster Crabbe”, 1939, Film Shot from “Buck Rogers” Serial Film, Director Ford Beebe and Saul Goodkind

Third Insert Image: Movie Poster, “The Old Swimmin’ Hole”, 1940, Jackie Moran and Marcia Mae Jones, Director Robert F. McGowan, Cinematographer Harry Neumann

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Jackie Moran”, Date Unknown, Original 35mm Color Transparency, Private Collection

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