Copiague resident Jerry Schatz, a former child actor who appeared in several “Our Gang” comedies, often as a spoiled rich kid, and co-starred opposite such screen luminaries as Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers and Laurel and Hardy, died Wednesday morning of natural causes at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook at age 91, his daughter Renee Schatz Wolf confirmed.
“He was a child actor, a disabled World War II veteran, a Mason, a Shriner, an Odd Fellow, but most of all he was our dad,” Wolf said.
Schatz, who was born in Chicago and acted under the screen name Jerry Tucker, always downplayed his screen accomplishments. “Growing up, I thought everybody worked in the movies,” Schatz told Newsday in 2013. “I had no idea there was an outside world.”
He earned his ticket to Hollywood at age 5 when his father took him to a boxing match and had him enter the ring and recite “Gunga Din.” The head of Paramount Pictures was in the audience and was taken with the youngster.
Schatz’s screen debut — on loan to MGM — was in the Buster Keaton comedy “Sidewalks of New York” (1931), which was followed by his first “Our Gang” comedy, “Shiver My Timbers.” With his carrot-topped locks and freckled complexion, Schatz fit in perfectly with the rest of the gang and appeared in 14 shorts in the series, which was known as “The Little Rascals” when shown later on television. In his favorite episode, “Hi, Neighbor” (1934), he played a rich snob who uses his fancy fire engine to win the affections of a pretty blond girl.
Schatz also appeared in some of the biggest movies of the 1930s including “Babes in Toyland” (1934) with Laurel and Hardy, “San Francisco” (1936), “Captain January” (1936) with Temple and “Boys Town” (1938).
Still, Schatz was never enchanted with Hollywood, and in 1942 he joined the Navy as part of the demolition team aboard the destroyer USS Sigsbee. “Jerry Tucker died at the age of 16, and Jerry Schatz was reborn in the Navy,” Schatz said. “It’s not that being in the movies was anything that was bad. That’s just not my life.”
He was awarded the Purple Heart after suffering a permanent leg injury when a piece of shrapnel was caught in his leg during an attack on his ship during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. “He talked about the movies, but if you asked what he was most proud of, it was his Navy career,” Wolf said.
Schatz and his wife, Myra, who died in 2012, settled in Copiague in 1950, where he worked as an electrical engineer with RCA Global Communications. He was also actively with several military-related groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In June 2015, a portion of St. Ann’s Avenue in Copiague was renamed Jerry Schatz Place in honor of his military career and service to the community.
In addition to Wolf, Schatz is survived by his daughter, Karen Duffy; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in Powell Funeral Home in Amityville.