Today is the birthday of the pathbreaking Eugene “Pineapple” Jackson (1916-2001)
Jackson got his start as a child actor in silent films. He was all of five when he appeared as Verman in the screen adaptation of Penrod and Sam in 1923. In 1925, he appeared in a half dozen Our Gang shorts for Hal Roach. He is also in the 1926 Mack Sennett comedy short Flirty Four Flushers with Madeline Hurlock, Billy Bevan and Vernon Dent, and in Mary Pickford’s Little Annie Rooney (1925.)
Throughout the 20s and 30s, Jackson also appeared in vaudeville, billed as “Hollywood’s Most Famous Colored Kid Star”. His skills as a dancer served him well when talkies came in. He was cast in the ensembles of early musicals like Hearts in Dixie (1929) and Wheeler and Woolsey’s Dixiana (1929). In the late 30s and 40s he was cast as a member of the African American equivalent of the Dead End Kids, called the Harlem Tuff Kids.
Also, according to friend and film scholar Steve Massa: “As a side note – Eugene and his brother Freddie were rotoscoped by the Disney Studio and their dancing was used for the crows in Dumbo. There are frame grabs of the their live-action footage in Mindy Aloff’s book Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation. “
He continued to work as a bit player in film and television for decades. He also had a recurring role as “Uncle Lou” on the groundbreaking show Julia (1968). His last credited part was “One Armed Bass Player” in The Addams Family (1991).
To learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous