Gary Cooper

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Gary Cooper
Gary cooper promo image.jpg
Gary Cooper, 1941
Born Frank James Cooper
(1901-05-07)May 7, 1901
Helena, Montana, U.S.
Died May 13, 1961(1961-05-13) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Cancer
Resting place
Sacred Heart Cemetery, Southampton, New York
Other names Coop
Alma mater Grinnell College
Occupation Actor
Years active 1925–61
Political party
Republican
Religion
Spouse(s) Veronica Cooper (m. 1933–61)
Children Maria (b. 1937)
Signature Gary Cooper Signature.png
Website
www.garycooper.com

Gary Cooper (born Frank James Cooper, May 7, 1901 – May 13, 1961) was an American film actor noted for his natural, authentic, and understated acting style and screen performances. His career spanned thirty-six years, from 1925 to 1961, and included leading roles in eighty-four feature films. He was a major movie star from the end of the silent film era through the end of the golden age of Classical Hollywood. His screen persona appealed powerfully to both men and women, and his range of performances included roles in most major movie genres, including Westerns, war films, adventure films, drama films, crime films, romance films, comedy films, and romantic comedy films. Cooper's ability to project his own personality onto the characters he played contributed to his appearing natural and authentic on screen. The screen persona he developed and sustained throughout his career represented the ideal American hero—a tall, handsome, and sincere man of steadfast integrity who emphasized action over intellect, and combined the heroic qualities of the romantic lover, the adventurer, and the common man.

Cooper was born and raised in Montana, and educated in Montana, England, and Iowa. He began his career as a film extra and stunt rider and soon landed acting roles. After establishing himself as a Western hero in his early silent films, Cooper became a major movie star in 1929 with the release of his first sound picture The Virginian. In the early 1930s, he expanded his heroic image to include more cautious and distrustful characters in adventure films and dramas such as Morocco (1930), A Farewell to Arms (1932), and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). During the height of his career, Cooper portrayed a new type of hero—a champion of the common man—in films such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Meet John Doe (1941), Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). In the post-war years, he took on more mature roles, portraying characters at odds with the world in films such as The Fountainhead (1949), High Noon (1952), and The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955). In his final films, Cooper played characters who rejected the violence of their past and sought to reclaim lost honor and find redemption in films such as Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Man of the West (1958).

Cooper received five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, winning twice, for Sergeant York and High Noon. He also received an Academy Honorary Award for his many memorable screen performances and contributions to the motion picture industry. He appeared on the Motion Picture Herald exhibitors poll of top ten film personalities for twenty-three consecutive years, from 1936 to 1958, and according to Quigley's annual Top Ten Money Making Stars poll, he was one of the top money-making stars for eighteen years—he topped the list in 1953. In Quigley's Top Ten All-Time Poll of Money-Making Stars, Cooper is listed fourth. Cooper was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the French Order of Arts and Letters, and the David di Donatello Special Award for his career achievements. In 1966, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers. The American Film Institute (AFI) ranked Cooper eleventh on its list of the fifty greatest male screen legends. In addition, three of his character—Will Kane, Lou Gehrig, and Sergeant York—made AFI's list of the one hundred greatest heroes and villains, all of them as heroes.

Cooper had romantic relationships early in his career with Clara Bow, Evelyn Brent, and Lupe Vélez. In December 1933, he married twenty-year-old New York debutante Veronica "Rocky" Balfe; the couple had a daughter, Maria, in September 1937. Their twenty-eight-year marriage was interrupted by a three-year separation in the early 1950s precipitated by Cooper's love affair with actress Patricia Neal. Cooper's twenty-year friendship with Ernest Hemingway was grounded in their mutual love for hunting and the outdoors. Cooper's other close friends included directors Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, and Fred Zinnemann, and actors Joel McCrea, James Stewart, and Robert Taylor. In addition to hunting, Cooper actively participated in riding, fishing, hiking, skiing, swimming, and later in life, scuba diving. His other interests included modern art, automobiles, and Western history. Cooper was naturally reserved and introspective, but was an articulate, well-informed, conversationalist on subjects that interested him. He was modest and unpretentious, frequently downplaying his acting abilities and career accomplishments. Cooper was a lifelong conservative Republican who opposed aspects of the New Deal and communism. He was raised an Episcopalian, and converted to Catholicism later in life. He died of cancer in 1961.

Early life[edit]

Frank James Cooper was born on May 7, 1901, at 730 Eleventh Avenue in Helena, Montana[1][Note 1] to English immigrants, Alice (née Brazier, 1873–1967)[4] and Charles Henry Cooper (1865–1946).[5] His father emigrated to Montana from Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire[6] and became a prominent lawyer, rancher, and eventually a state supreme court judge.[7] His mother emigrated from Gillingham, Kent, married Charles in Montana, and became a housewife and devoted mother.[8] In 1906, Charles purchased the 600-acre (240 ha) Seven-Bar-Nine[9][10] cattle ranch about fifty miles (eighty km) north of Helena near the town of Craig on the Missouri River,[11] where Frank and his older brother Arthur spent their summers and learned to ride horses, hunt, and fish.[12][13] In April 1908, the Hauser Dam failed and flooded the Missouri River valley along portions of the Cooper property, but Cooper and his family were able to evacuate in time.[14] Cooper attended Central Grade School in Helena.[15]

In the late spring of 1909, Alice, wanting her sons to have an English education, accompanied them to England and enrolled them in Dunstable Grammar School in Bedfordshire, where Cooper was educated from 1910 to 1912.[16][17][Note 2] At Dunstable, Cooper studied Latin and French, and took several courses in English history.[18] While he managed to adapt to the discipline of an English public school and learned the requisite social graces, he never adjusted to the rigid class structure and formal Eton collars he was forced to wear.[19] After completing confirmation classes, Cooper was baptized into the Anglican Church on December 3, 1911, at the Church of All Saints in Houghton Regis,[20] with his cousin Laura Freeman serving as his godparent.[21] Cooper's mother accompanied her sons back to the United States in the late summer of 1912, and Cooper resumed his education at Johnson Grammar School in Helena.[15]

At the age of fifteen, Cooper injured his hip in a car accident and returned to the Seven-Bar-Nine ranch to recuperate by horseback riding at the recommendation of his doctor.[22] The misguided therapy left him with his characteristic stiff, off-balanced walk and slightly angled riding style.[23] After attending Helena High School for two years, he left school in 1918 and returned to the family ranch to help raise their five hundred head of cattle and work full-time as a cowboy.[23] In 1919, his father arranged for his son to complete his high school education at Gallatin County High School in Bozeman, Montana.[24][25] His English teacher, Ida Davis, played an important role in encouraging him to focus on academics, join the school's debating team, and become involved in dramatics.[25][26] His parents would later credit her for helping their son complete high school, and Cooper would later confirm, "She was the woman partly responsible for me giving up cowboy-ing and going to college."[26]

In the spring of 1920, while still attending high school, Cooper took three art courses at Montana Agricultural College.[25] His interest in art was inspired years earlier by the Western paintings of Charles Marion Russell and Frederic Remington.[27] Cooper especially admired and studied Russell's Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians at Ross' Hole (1910), which still hangs in the state capitol building in Helena.[27] In 1922, Cooper enrolled in Grinnell College in Iowa to continue his art education. Cooper did well academically in most of his courses,[28] but was less successful in being accepted in the college's drama club.[22] His drawings and watercolors, however, were exhibited throughout the dormitory, and he was named art editor for the college yearbook.[29] During the summers of 1922 and 1923, Cooper worked at Yellowstone National Park as a tour guide driving the yellow open-top buses.[30][31] Despite a promising first eighteen months at Grinnell, he left college suddenly in February 1924, spent a month in Chicago looking for work as an artist, and then returned to Helena,[32] where he sold editorial cartoons to the Independent, a local newspaper.[33]

In the fall of 1924, Cooper's father left the Montana Supreme Court bench and moved with his wife to Los Angeles[22][34] to administer the estates of two relatives.[35] At his father's request, Cooper joined his parents in California on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1924.[34] In the coming weeks, after working a series of unpromising jobs, Cooper met two friends from Montana, Jim Galeen and Jim Calloway,[36][37] who were working as film extras and stunt riders in low-budget Western films for the small movie studios on Poverty Row on Gower Street.[38] They introduced him to another Montana cowboy, rodeo champion Jay "Slim" Talbot,[Note 3] who took him to see a casting director who offered him work.[40] With the goal of saving enough money to pay for a professional art course,[34] Cooper decided to try his hand at working as a film extra for five dollars a day, and as a stunt rider for twice that amount.[38]

Career[edit]

Silent films, 1925–28[edit]

Cooper in The Winning of Barbara Worth, 1926

In early 1925, Cooper began his film career working as an extra and stunt rider in silent films such as The Thundering Herd and Wild Horse Mesa with Jack Holt,[41] Riders of the Purple Sage and The Lucky Horseshoe with Tom Mix,[42][43] and The Trail Rider with Buck Jones.[42] He worked for a variety of Poverty Row studios, including Famous Players-Lasky and Fox Film Corporation.[44] While his skills as a horseman led to steady work in Westerns, Cooper found the stunt work "tough and cruel", sometimes resulting in injury to the horses and riders.[41] Hoping to move beyond the risky stunt work and obtain acting roles, Cooper paid for a screen test and hired casting director Nan Collins to work as his agent.[45] Knowing that other actors were using the name "Frank Cooper", Collins changed her client's first name to "Gary" after her hometown of Gary, Indiana.[46][47][48] Cooper liked the name immediately.[49][Note 4]

Cooper found work in a variety of non-Western films, appearing, for example, as a masked Cossack in The Eagle (1925) with Rudolph Valentino, as a Roman guard in Ben-Hur (1925) with Ramón Novarro, and as a flood survivor in The Johnstown Flood (1926) with George O'Brien.[42] Gradually, he began to land credited roles that offered him more screen time, in films such as Tricks (1925), in which he played the film's antagonist, and the short film Lightnin' Wins (1926) with Eileen Sedgwick.[51] As a featured player, he began to attract the attention of major film studios.[52] On June 1, 1926, Cooper signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn Productions for fifty dollars per week.[53]

Cooper's first important film role was in The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926) with Ronald Colman and Vilma Bánky.[53] Cooper played the role of cowboy Abe Lee, who dies a hero's death after an exhaustive ride to warn a community of an impending dam disaster.[54] Cooper's experience living among the Montana cowboys gave his performance an "instinctive authenticity".[54] The film premiered on October 14 and was a major success,[55] with critics singling out Cooper as a "dynamic new personality" and future star.[56][57] Goldwyn rushed to offer the actor a long-term contract, but Cooper held out for a better deal—finally signing a five-year contract with Jesse L. Lasky at Paramount Pictures for $175 per week.[56] In 1927, with help from established movie star Clara Bow, Cooper landed high-profile roles in Children of Divorce and Wings, the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture.[58] That year, Cooper also appeared in his first starring roles in Arizona Bound, a B Western with Betty Jewel, and Nevada with Thelma Todd and William Powell—both films directed by John Waters.[59]

In 1928, Paramount paired Cooper with a youthful Fay Wray in The Legion of the Condemned and The First Kiss—advertising them as the studio's "glorious young lovers"[60]—but their on-screen chemistry failed to generate much excitement with audiences.[60][61][62] Still, with each new film, Cooper's acting skills improved and his popularity continued to grow, especially among female movie-goers.[62] During this time he was earning as much as $2,750 per film[63] and receiving a thousand fan letters per week.[64] Looking to exploit Cooper's growing audience appeal, the studio placed him opposite popular leading ladies in films such as Beau Sabreur with Evelyn Brent, Doomsday with Florence Vidor, Half a Bride with Esther Ralston, and Lilac Time with Colleen Moore.[65] The latter film, which introduced synchronized music and sound effects, became one of the most commercially successful films of 1928.[65]

Hollywood stardom, 1929–35[edit]

Cooper in The Virginian, speaking the famous line, "If you wanna call me that, smile."

Cooper became a major film star in 1929 with the release of his first sound picture The Virginian, which was directed by Victor Fleming and co-starred Walter Huston as the villainous Trampas.[66] Based on the popular novel by Owen Wister, The Virginian was one of the first sound films to define the Western code of honor and helped establish many of the conventions of the Western movie genre that have lasted to the present day.[67] The romantic image of the tall, handsome, and shy cowboy hero that embodied male freedom, courage, and honor was created in large part by Cooper's performance in the film.[68] Unlike some silent film actors who could not adapt to the new sound medium, Cooper transitioned naturally, with his deep, clear, and pleasantly drawling voice, which was perfectly suited for the characters he portrayed on screen.[69] Looking to capitalize on Cooper's growing popularity, Paramount cast him in several Westerns and wartime drama films in 1930, including Only the Brave with Mary Brian, The Texan with Fay Wray, Seven Days' Leave with Beryl Mercer, A Man from Wyoming with June Collyer, and The Spoilers with Kay Johnson.[70]

Cooper and Lili Damita in Fighting Caravans, 1931

One of the high points of Cooper's early career was his portrayal of a sullen legionnaire in Josef von Sternberg's 1930 film Morocco[71] with Marlene Dietrich in her introduction to American audiences.[72] During production, von Sternberg focused his energies entirely on Dietrich and treated Cooper dismissively.[72] Tensions came to a head after von Sternberg yelled directions at Cooper in German. The 6-foot-3-inch (191 cm) actor approached the 5-foot-4-inch (163 cm) director, physically picked him up by the collar and said, "If you expect to work in this country you'd better get on to the language we use here."[73][74] Despite tensions on the set, Cooper produced "one of his finest performances"[72] to that point in his career.[75][76] In 1931, after returning to the Western genre in Zane Grey's Fighting Caravans with spirited French actress Lili Damita, Cooper appeared in the Dashiell Hammett crime film City Streets playing a cowboy who gets involved with big-city gangsters in order to save the woman he loves.[77] Cooper finished the year appearing in I Take This Woman with Carole Lombard, and His Woman with Claudette Colbert.[78] The demands and pressures of making ten films in two years left Cooper exhausted and in poor health, suffering from anemia and jaundice.[72][79] He had lost thirty pounds during that period,[79][80] and felt lonely, isolated, and depressed by his sudden fame and wealth.[81][82] In May 1931, Cooper left Hollywood and sailed to Algiers and then Italy, where he lived for the next year.[81]

During his time abroad, Cooper stayed with the Countess Dorothy di Frasso at the Villa Madama in Rome, where she taught him about good food and vintage wines, how to read Italian and French menus in the finest restaurants, and how to socialize among Europe's nobility and upper classes.[83] After guiding him through the great art museums and galleries of Italy,[83] she accompanied him on a ten-week big-game hunting safari on the slopes of Mount Kenya in Nairobi,[84] where he was credited with over sixty kills, including two lions, a rhinoceros, an oryx, and various antelopes.[85][86] His safari experience in Africa had a profound impact on Cooper and intensified his love of the wilderness.[86] After returning to Europe, he and the countess set off on a Mediterranean cruise of the Italian and French Rivieras.[87] Rested and rejuvenated by his year-long exile, a healthy Cooper returned to Hollywood in April 1932[88] and negotiated a new contract with Paramount for two films per year, a salary of $4,000 per week, and director and script approval.[89]

Cooper and Helen Hayes in A Farewell to Arms, 1932

In 1932, after completing Devil and the Deep with Tallulah Bankhead to fulfill his old contract,[90] Cooper appeared in A Farewell to Arms,[91] the first film adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway novel.[92] Co-starring Helen Hayes, a leading New York theatre star and Academy Award winner,[93] and Adolphe Menjou, the film presented Cooper with one of his most ambitious and challenging dramatic roles,[93] playing an American ambulance driver wounded in Italy who falls in love with an English nurse during World War I.[91] Critics praised his highly intense and emotional performance,[94][95] and A Farewell to Arms became one of the year's most commercially successful films.[93] In 1933, after making Today We Live with Joan Crawford and One Sunday Afternoon with Fay Wray—both poorly received by critics and audiences—Cooper appeared in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy film Design for Living with Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March.[96] Based loosely on the successful Noël Coward play,[97][98] the film received mixed reviews and did not do well at the box office.[99] Cooper's performance—playing an American artist in Europe competing with his playwright friend for the affections of a beautiful woman—was singled out for its versatility[100] and revealed his genuine ability to do light comedy.[101] Cooper changed his name legally in August 1933.[102]

In 1934, Cooper was loaned out to MGM for the Civil War drama film Operator 13 with Marion Davies, about a beautiful Union spy who falls in love with a Confederate soldier.[103] Despite Richard Boleslawski's imaginative direction and George J. Folsey's lavish cinematography, the film did poorly at the box office.[104] Back at Paramount, Cooper appeared in his first of seven films by director Henry Hathaway,[105] Now and Forever, with Carole Lombard and Shirley Temple.[106] In the film, he plays a confidence man who tries to sell his daughter to the relatives who raised her, but is eventually won over and reformed by the adorable girl.[107] Impressed by Temple's intelligence and charm, Cooper developed a close rapport with her, both on and off screen.[105] The film was a box-office success.[104]

Cooper and Ann Harding in Peter Ibbetson, 1935

The following year, Cooper was loaned out to Samuel Goldwyn Productions to appear in King Vidor's romance film The Wedding Night with Anna Sten,[108] who was being groomed as "another Garbo".[109][110] In the film, Cooper plays an alcoholic novelist who retreats to his family's New England farm where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful Polish neighbor.[108] Cooper delivered a performance of surprising range and depth,[111] and the on-screen chemistry between the romantic leads worked well.[112] Despite receiving generally favorable reviews, the film was not popular with American audiences who may have been put off by the film's depiction of an extramarital affair and its tragic ending.[111] That same year, Cooper appeared in two Henry Hathaway films: the melodrama Peter Ibbetson with Ann Harding, about a man caught up in a dream world created by his love for a childhood sweetheart,[113] and the romantic adventure film The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, about a daring British officer and his men who defend their stronghold at Bengal against rebellious local tribes.[114] While the former was more successful in Europe than in the United States, the latter was nominated for six Academy Awards[115] and became one of Cooper's most popular and successful adventure films.[116][117] Hathaway had the highest respect for Cooper's acting ability, calling him "the best actor of all of them".[105]

American folk hero, 1936–43[edit]

Cooper and Jean Arthur in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, 1936

The year 1936 marked an important turning point in Cooper's career.[118] After making Frank Borzage's romantic comedy film Desire with Marlene Dietrich at Paramount—and delivering a performance considered by some contemporary critics as one of his finest[118]—Cooper returned to Poverty Row for the first time since his early silent film days to make Frank Capra's screwball comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with Jean Arthur for Columbia Pictures.[119] In the film, Cooper plays the character of Longfellow Deeds, an innocent, sweet-natured writer of greeting cards who inherits a fortune, leaves behind his idylic life in Vermont, and travels to New York where he faces a world of corruption and deceit.[120] Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin were able to use Cooper's well-established screen persona as the "quintessential American hero"—a symbol of honesty, courage, and goodness[118][121][122]—to create a new type of "folk hero" for the common man.[118][123] Commenting on Cooper's impact on the character and the film, Capra observed:

As soon as I thought of Gary Cooper, it wasn't possible to conceive anyone else in the role. He could not have been any closer to my idea of Longfellow Deeds, and as soon as he could think in terms of Cooper, Bob Riskin found it easier to develop the Deeds character in terms of dialogue. So it just had to be Cooper. Every line in his face spelled honesty. Our Mr. Deeds had to symbolize uncorruptibility, and in my mind Gary Cooper was that symbol.[124]

In his review in The New York Times, Frank S. Nugent wrote that Cooper was "proving himself one of the best light comedians in Hollywood".[125] Both Desire and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town opened in April 1936 to critical praise and were major box-office successes.[126] For his performance in Mr. Deeds, Cooper received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.[127]

Cooper and Jean Arthur in The Plainsman, 1936

Cooper appeared in two additional films for Paramount in 1936. In Lewis Milestone's adventure film The General Died at Dawn with Madeleine Carroll, he plays an American soldier of fortune in China who helps the peasants defend themselves against the oppression of a cruel warlord.[128][129] Written by playwright Clifford Odets, the film was a critical and commercial success.[128][130] In Cecil B. DeMille's sprawling frontier epic The Plainsman with Jean Arthur—his first of four films with the director—Cooper portrays Wild Bill Hickok in a highly fictionalized version of the opening of the American western frontier.[131] The film was an even greater box-office hit than its predecessor,[132] due in large part to Arthur's definitive depiction of Calamity Jane and Cooper's inspired portrayal of Hickock as a provocative and enigmatic figure of "deepening mythic substance".[133] That year, Cooper appeared for the first time on the Motion Picture Herald exhibitor's poll of top ten film personalities, where he would remain for the next twenty-two years.[134]

In the fall of 1936, while Paramount was preparing a new contract for Cooper that would raise his salary to $8,000 per week,[135] Cooper signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn for six films over six years with a minimum guarantee of $150,000 per picture.[136] Paramount brought suit against Goldwyn and Cooper, and the court ruled that Cooper's new Goldwyn contract afforded the actor sufficient time to also honor his Paramount agreement.[137] Cooper continued to make films with both studios, and by 1939 the United States Treasury reported that Cooper was the country's highest wage earner, at $482,819 (equal to $8,185,977 today).[136][138][139]

In contrast to his output the previous year, Cooper appeared in only one picture in 1937: Henry Hathaway's adventure film Souls at Sea with George Raft and Frances Dee.[140] The film received poor reviews and did not do well at the box-office.[141] Cooper referred to it as his "almost picture", saying, "It was almost exciting, and almost interesting. And I was almost good."[141] In 1938, he appeared in Archie Mayo's The Adventures of Marco Polo with Sigrid Gurie for Samuel Goldwyn Productions.[142] Plagued by production issues and a weak screenplay,[143] the film became Goldwyn's biggest failure, losing $700,000.[144] During this period, Cooper turned down several major roles,[145] including the role of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.[146] Cooper was producer David O. Selznick's first choice for part.[146] He made several overtures to the actor for over a year,[147] but Cooper had doubts about the project,[147] and did not feel suited to the role.[148] Cooper later admitted, "It was one of the best roles ever offered in Hollywood ... But I said no. I didn't see myself as quite that dashing, and later, when I saw Clark Gable play the role to perfection, I knew I was right."[148][Note 5]

Cooper and Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, 1938

Back at Paramount, Cooper returned to a more comfortable genre in Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) with Claudette Colbert.[144][151] In the film, Cooper plays a wealthy American businessman in France who falls in love with an impoverished aristocrat's daughter and persuades her to become his eighth wife.[151] Despite the clever screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder,[152] and solid performances by Cooper and Colbert,[151] audiences could not accept Cooper in the role of a shallow philanderer.[152] For many of his fans, Cooper had become "Mr. Deeds incarnate".[152] The film was a commercial failure.[153] In the fall of 1938, Cooper appeared in H. C. Potter's romantic comedy The Cowboy and the Lady with Merle Oberon.[154] In the film, Cooper plays a sweet-natured rodeo cowboy who falls in love with the wealthy daughter of a presidential hopeful, believing her to be a poor, hard-working lady's maid.[154] The efforts of three directors and several eminent screenwriters could not salvage what could have been a fine vehicle for Cooper.[153] While more successful that its predecessor, the film was Cooper's fourth straight box-office failure.[155]

In the next two years, Cooper was more discerning about the roles he accepted and made four successful films, playing more congenial roles in large-scale adventure and cowboy films.[155] In William A. Wellman's adventure film Beau Geste (1939) with Ray Milland and Robert Preston, he played one of three daring English brothers who join the French Foreign Legion to find adventure in the Sahara fighting local tribes.[156] Filmed in the same Mojave Desert locations as the original 1926 version with Ronald Coleman,[155][157] Beau Geste provided Cooper with magnificent sets, exotic settings, high-spirited action, and a role tailored to his personality and screen persona.[158] This was the last film in Cooper's contract with Paramount.[158] In Henry Hathaway's The Real Glory (1939) with David Niven and Andrea Leeds, he plays a military doctor who accompanies a small group of American Army officers to the Philippines to help the Christian Filipinos defend themselves against fanatical Muslim radicals.[159] Many film critics praised Cooper's performance, including Graham Greene who recognized that he "has never acted better".[160]

Cooper in North West Mountain Police, 1940

Cooper returned to the Western genre in William Wyler's The Westerner (1940) with Walter Brennan and Doris Davenport. In the film, Cooper plays a drifting cowboy who defends homesteaders against a corrupt judge known as the "law west of the Pecos River".[161][162] Screenwriter Niven Busch relied on Cooper's extensive knowledge of Western history while working on the script.[163] The film received good reviews and did well at the box-office,[164] with reviewers praising the performances of the two lead actors.[165] Brennan went on to receive his third consecutive Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[166] That same year, Cooper appeared in his first Technicolor picture,[167] Cecil B. DeMille's adventure film North West Mounted Police (1940) with Madeleine Carroll for Paramount.[168] In the film, Cooper plays a Texas Ranger who pursues an outlaw into western Canada where he joins forces with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who are after the same man, a leader of the North-West Rebellion.[169] While not as popular with critics as its predecessor,[170] the film was another box-office success—the sixth-highest grossing film of 1940.[171][164]

Edward Arnold, Barbara Stanwyck, Cooper, and Walter Brennan in Meet John Doe, 1941

The early 1940s were Cooper's prime years as an actor.[172] In a relatively short period, he appeared in five critically acclaimed and commercially successful films that produced some of his finest performances.[172] When Frank Capra offered him the lead role in Meet John Doe before Robert Riskin even developed the script, Cooper accepted the offer, saying, "It's okay, Frank, I don't need a script."[173] In the film, Cooper plays Long John Willoughby, a down-and-out bush-league pitcher who is hired by a newspaper to pretend to be a man who promises to commit suicide on Christmas Eve to protest all the hypocrisy and corruption in the country.[174] Considered by some critics to be Capra's finest film at the time,[175] Meet John Doe was received as a "national event"[175] with Cooper appearing on the front page of Time magazine on March 3, 1941.[176] Cooper's performance received superb reviews, with Howard Barnes, in the New York Herald Tribune, calling it a "splendid and utterly persuasive portrayal"[177] and praising his "utterly realistic acting which comes through with such authority".[176] Bosley Crowther, in The New York Times, wrote, "Gary Cooper, of course, is "John Doe" to the life and in the whole—shy, bewildered, non-aggressive, but a veritable tiger when aroused."[178]

Joan Fontaine and Cooper at the Academy Awards, 1942

That same year, Cooper made two films with director and good friend Howard Hawks.[179] In the biographical film Sergeant York, Cooper portrays war hero Alvin C. York,[180] one the most decorated American soldiers in World War I.[181] The film chronicles York's early backwoods days in Tennessee, his religious conversion and subsequent piety, his stand as a conscientious objector, and finally his actions at the Battle of the Argonne Forest, which earned him the Medal of Honor.[182][183] Initially, Cooper was nervous and uncertain about playing a living heroic figure, so he traveled to Tennessee to visit York at his home, and the two quiet men established an immediate rapport and discovered they had much in common.[184] Inspired by York's encouragement, Cooper delivered a performance that critics called "one of his best"[185] and one of "extraordinary versatility and conviction".[185] After the film's release, he was awarded the Distinguished Citizenship Medal by the Veterans of Foreign Wars for his "powerful contribution to the promotion of patriotism and loyalty".[186] York admired Cooper's performance and helped promote the film for Warner Bros.[187] Sergeant York became the top-grossing film of the year and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards.[186][188] Accepting his first Academy Award for Best Actor from his friend James Stewart, Cooper said, "It was Sergeant Alvin York who won this award. Shucks, I've been in the business sixteen years and sometimes dreamed I might get one of these. That's all I can say ... Funny when I was dreaming I always made a better speech."[188]

Barbara Stanwyck showing Cooper the meaning of "yum-yum" in Ball of Fire, 1941

Cooper finished up the year back at Goldwyn with Howard Hawks to make the romantic comedy Ball of Fire with Barbara Stanwyck.[189] In the film, Cooper plays a shy linguistics professor who leads a team of seven scholars who are writing an encyclopedia. While researching slang, he meets Stanwyck's flirtatious burlesque stripper Sugerpuss O'Shaw who blows the dust off their staid life of books.[190] The screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder provided Cooper the opportunity to exercise the full range of his light comedy skills.[190] In his review for the New York Herald Tribune, Howard Barnes wrote that Cooper handled the role with "great skill and comic emphasis" and that his performance was "utterly delightful".[191] Though small in scale, Ball of Fire was one of the top-grossing films of the year[192]—Cooper's fourth consecutive picture to make the top twenty.[192]

Cooper's only film appearance in 1942 was also his last under his Goldwyn contract.[193] In Sam Wood's biographical film The Pride of the Yankees,[194] Cooper portrays baseball star Lou Gehrig who established a record with the New York Yankees for playing in 2,130 consecutive games.[195] Cooper was reluctant to play the seven-time All-Star, who only died the previous year from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—now commonly called "Lou Gehrig's disease".[196] In addition to the challenges of effectively portraying such a popular and nationally recognized figure, Cooper knew very little about baseball[197] and was not left-handed like Gehrig.[196] After Gehrig's widow visited the actor and expressed her desire that he portray her husband,[196] Cooper accepted the role that covered a twenty-year span of Gehrig's life—his early love of baseball, his rise to greatness, his loving marriage, and his struggle with illness, culminating in his heartrending farewell speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939 before 62,000 fans.[198] Cooper quickly learned the physical movements of a baseball player and developed a fluid, believable swing.[199] The handedness issue was solved by reversing the print for certain batting scenes.[200] The film was one of the year's top ten pictures[201] and received eleven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper's third), and Best Actress for Teresa Wright.[127]

Ingrid Bergman and Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1943

Soon after the publication of Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Paramount paid $150,000 for the film rights with the express intent of casting Cooper in the lead role of Robert Jordon,[202] an American explosives expert who fights alongside the Republican loyalists during the Spanish Civil War.[203] The original director, Cecil B. DeMille, was replaced by Sam Wood who brought in Dudley Nichols for the screenplay.[202] After the start of principal photography in the Sierra Nevada in late 1942, Ingrid Bergman was brought in to replace ballerina Vera Zorina as the female lead—a change supported by Cooper and Hemingway.[204] The love scenes between Bergman and Cooper were "rapturous" and passionate.[205][206] Howard Barnes in the New York Herald Tribune wrote that both actors performed with "the true stature and authority of stars".[207] While the film distorted the novel's original political themes and meaning,[208][209] For Whom the Bell Tolls was a critical and commercial success and received ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Cooper's fourth).[206]

Cooper signing an autograph for a servicewoman in Brisbane during his tour of the South West Pacific, November 1943

Cooper did not serve in the military during World War II due to his age and health,[172] but like many of his colleagues, he got involved in the war effort by entertaining the troops.[210] In June 1943, he visited military hospitals in San Diego,[210] and often appeared at the Hollywood Canteen serving food to the servicemen.[211] In late 1943, Cooper undertook a 23,000-mile (37,000 km) tour of the South West Pacific with actresses Una Merkel and Phyllis Brooks, and accordionist Andy Arcari.[210][211][212] Traveling on a B-24A Liberator bomber,[210] the group toured the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, Queensland, Brisbane—where General Douglas MacArthur told Cooper he was watching Sergeant York in a Manila theater when Japanese bombs began falling[210]New Guinea, Jayapura, and throughout the Solomon Islands.[213] The group often shared the same sparse living conditions and K-rations as the troops.[214] Unable to sing or dance,[210] Cooper enjoyed meeting with the servicemen and women, visiting military hospitals, introducing his attractive colleagues, and participating in an occasional skit.[214] The shows concluded with Cooper's moving recitation of Lou Gehrig's farewell speech.[214] When he returned to the United States, he visited military hospitals throughout the country.[214] Cooper later called his time with the troops the "greatest emotional experience" of his life.[212]

Mature roles, 1944–52[edit]

In 1944, Cooper appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's wartime adventure film The Story of Dr. Wassell with Laraine Day for Paramount—his third movie with the director.[215] In the film, Cooper plays an American doctor and missionary who leads a group of wounded sailors through the jungles of Java to safety.[216] Despite receiving poor reviews, Dr. Wassell was one of the top-grossing films of the year.[217] With his Goldwyn and Paramount contracts now concluded, Cooper decided to remain independent and formed his own production company, International Pictures, with Leo Spitz, William Goetz, and Nunnally Johnson.[218] The fledgling studio's first offering was Sam Wood's romantic comedy Casanova Brown with Teresa Wright. In the film, Cooper plays a man who learns his soon-to-be ex-wife is pregnant with his child, just as he's about to marry another woman.[219] The overly sentimental film received poor reviews[220] and was barely profitable.[221] In 1945, Cooper starred in and produced Stuart Heisler's Western comedy film Along Came Jones (1945) with Loretta Young for International.[222] In this lighthearted parody of his past heroic image in Westerns,[223] Cooper plays comically inept cowboy Melody Jones who is mistaken for a ruthless killer.[223] For the film's location, Cooper selected Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, where he built a Western town later called "Iverson Village".[224][225] Audiences embraced Cooper's character, and the film was one of the top box-office pictures of the year—a testament to Cooper's still vital audience appeal.[226] It was also International's biggest financial success during its brief history before being sold off to Universal Studios in 1946.[227]

Ingrid Bergman and Cooper in Saratoga Trunk, 1945

Cooper's career in the post-war years drifted in new directions as American society was changing.[228] While he still played conventional heroic roles, his films now relied less on his heroic screen persona and more on novel stories and exotic settings.[229] In November 1945, Cooper appeared in Sam Wood's romantic drama Saratoga Trunk with Ingrid Bergman for Warner Bros.[230] Filmed in early 1943, the picture's release was delayed for two years due to the increased demand for war movies.[231] In this nineteenth century period piece based on the Edna Ferber novel, Cooper plays a Texas cowboy and his ongoing relationship with a beautiful fortune-hunter.[230] While the film received poor reviews, it did well at the box office,[232] and was one of Paramount's top moneymakers of the year.[233] Cooper's only film in 1946 was Fritz Lang's romantic thriller Cloak and Dagger with Lilli Palmer for Warner Bros.[234] In the film, Cooper plays a mild-mannered physics professor who is recruited by the OSS during the last years of World War II to investigate the German atomic bomb program.[234] Playing a part based on physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer,[235] Cooper was uneasy with the role and was unable to convey the "inner sense" of the character.[236] The film received poor reviews and was a box-office failure.[237]

In 1947, Cooper appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's epic adventure film Unconquered with Paulette Goddard for Paramount.[238] In the film, Cooper plays a Virginia militiaman who defends settlers against an unscrupulous gun trader and hostile Indians on the Western frontier during the eighteenth century. The film received mixed reviews, but even long-time DeMille critic James Agee acknowledged the film had "some authentic flavor of the period".[239] This last of four films made with DeMille was Cooper's most lucrative, earning the actor over $300,000 in salary and percentage of profits.[240] Unconquered would be his last unqualified box-office success for the next five years.[239] Beginning in 1948, Cooper made several films that received poor reviews and failed at the box office. In Leo McCarey's romantic comedy Good Sam with Ann Sheridan for RKO Pictures, Cooper plays a family man determined to help others at the expense of his own family.[241] A minor comedy done in the Capra style, the film might have worked a few years earlier but came across as overly sentimental and maudlin.[242]

Cooper in The Fountainhead, 1949

After selling his company to Universal Studios, Cooper signed a long-term contract with Warner Bros. that gave him script and director approval and a guaranteed $295,000 per picture.[243] His first film under the new contract was King Vidor's drama The Fountainhead (1949) with Patricia Neal and Raymond Massey.[244] In the film, Cooper plays an idealistic and uncompromising architect who struggles to maintain his integrity and individualism in the face of societal pressures to conform to popular standards.[245] Based on the novel by Ayn Rand who also wrote the screenplay, the film's Objectivist philosophy attacks the concepts of altruism and collectivism and promotes the virtues of selfishness and individualism.[246] For most critics, Cooper was hopelessly miscast in the role of Howard Roark.[247] In his review for the New York Times, Bosley Crowther concluded he was "Mr. Deeds out of his element".[248] Cooper returned to his element in Delmer Daves' war drama Task Force (1949) with Jane Wyatt.[249] In the film, Cooper plays a retiring rear admiral who reminisces about his long career as a naval aviator and his role in the development of aircraft carriers.[249] Cooper's fine performance and the Technicolor newsreel footage supplied by the United States Navy made the film one of Cooper's most popular during this period.[250]

In the next two years, Cooper made four poorly received films. In Michael Curtiz' period drama Bright Leaf (1950) with Lauren Bacall and Patricia Neal, he plays an ambitious Southern businessman who returns to his North Carolina home town to bankrupt the aristocratic tobacco growers who once rejected him.[251] Reviewers gave Cooper high marks for his performance, but gave the film and the two female leads strong negative reviews.[252][253] Despite the critics, the film earned a respectable half million dollars in profit.[252] In Stuart Heisler's Western melodrama Dallas (1950) with Ruth Roman, Cooper plays an ex-Confederate officer who arrives in Dallas looking for the three brothers who destroyed his land and killed his family.[254] Several critics noted Cooper's age and apparent weariness on screen.[255] In Henry Hathaway's wartime comedy You're in the Navy Now (1951) with Jane Greer for 20th Century Fox, he plays a Reserve officer with little naval experience who is assigned to an experimental patrol craft manned by an equally inexperienced crew.[256] A generation too old for the part, Cooper still managed to give a winning performance in an otherwise modest film.[257] In Raoul Walsh's Western action film Distant Drums (1951) with Mari Aldon, Cooper plays an experienced Indian fighter who leads a small force into the Everglades to put down a Seminole uprising.[258] In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that Cooper was "steady and laconic throughout",[259] but the film provided few memorable moments.[260]

Cooper and Grace Kelly in High Noon, 1952

Cooper's most important film during the post-war years was Fred Zinnemann's Western drama High Noon (1952) with Grace Kelly for United Artists.[261] In the film, Cooper plays retiring sheriff Will Kane who is preparing to leave town on his honeymoon when he learns that an outlaw he helped put away and his three henchmen are returning to seek their revenge at noon. Unable to gain the support of the frightened townspeople, and abandoned by his young bride, Kane nevertheless stays to face the outlaws alone.[262] During the filming, Cooper was in poor health and in considerable pain from stomach ulcers.[263] His ravaged face and discomfort in some scenes photographed as self-doubt and contributed to the effectiveness of his performance.[263][264] Considered one of the first "adult" Westerns for its theme of moral courage,[265] High Noon received enthusiastic reviews for its artistry, with Time magazine placing it in the ranks of Stagecoach and The Gunfighter.[266] Bosley Crowther, in The New York Times, wrote that Cooper was "at the top of his form"[267] and John McCarten, in The New Yorker, wrote that Cooper was never more effective.[268] The film earned $3.75 million in the United States[266] and $18 million worldwide.[269] Cooper, following the example of his friend James Stewart,[270] accepted a lower salary in exchange for a percent of the profits, and ended up making $600,000.[269] Cooper's understated performance was widely praised,[271][264] and earned him his second Academy Award for Best Actor.[272][Note 6]

Later films, 1953–61[edit]

Following Cooper's appearance in André de Toth's Civil War Western Springfield Rifle (1952)[274]—a standard Warner Bros. film that was overshaddowed by the success of its predecessor[275]—Cooper made four films outside the United States.[276] In Mark Robson's drama Return to Paradise (1953), Cooper plays an American wanderer who liberates the inhabitants of a Polynesian island from the puritanical rule of a misguided pastor.[277] Cooper endured spartan living conditions, exhausting hours, and ill health during the three-month location shoot on the island of Upolu in Western Samoa.[278] Despite its beautiful cinematography, the film received poor reviews.[279] Cooper's next three films were shot in Mexico.[280] In Hugo Fregonese's action adventure film Blowing Wild (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck, he plays a wildcatter in Mexico who gets involved with an oil company executive and his unscrupulous wife with whom he once had an affair.[281] In 1954, Cooper appeared in Henry Hathaway's Western drama Garden of Evil with Susan Hayward. In the film, Cooper plays one of three soldiers of fortune hired by a woman in Mexico to take her to a gold mine to rescue her husband.[282] That same year, he appeared in Robert Aldrich's Western adventure Vera Cruz with Burt Lancaster. In the film, he plays an American adventurer in Mexico hired by Emperor Maximilian I to escort a countess to Vera Cruz during the Mexican Rebellion of 1866.[283] All of these films received poor reviews but did well at the box-office.[284] For his work in Vera Cruz, Cooper earned $1.4 million in salary and percent of the gross.[285]

Cooper and Dorothy McGuire in Friendly Persuasion, 1956

During this period, Cooper struggled with health issues. In addition to his ongoing treatment for ulcers, he suffered a severe shoulder injury during the filming of Blowing Wild when he was hit by metal fragments from a dynamited oil well.[285] During the filming of Vera Cruz, he reinjured his hip during a fall from a horse, and was burned when Lancaster fired his rifle too close and the wadding from the blank shell pierced his clothing.[285] During the next two years, Cooper made only two films. In 1955, he appeared in Otto Preminger's biographical war drama The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell.[286] In the film, Cooper portrays the famous World War I general who tried to convince government officials of the importance of air power, and was court-marshalled after publicly accusing the War Department of criminal negligence following a series of air disasters.[286] Some critics felt that Cooper was miscast,[287] and that his dull, tight-lipped performance did not reflect Mitchell's dynamic and caustic personality.[288] In 1956, Cooper was more effective playing a gentle Indiana Quaker in William Wyler's Civil War drama Friendly Persuasion with Dorothy McGuire.[289] Like Sergeant York and High Noon, the film addresses the theme of religious pacifism versus civic duty.[290] Cooper received his second Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actor. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, and was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.[290] Wyler's $3 million production went on to earn $8 million worldwide.[290][291]

Cooper and Audrey Hepburn in Love in the Afternoon, 1957

In 1957, Cooper traveled to France to make Billy Wilder's romantic comedy Love in the Afternoon with Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier.[292] In the film, Cooper plays a middle-aged American playboy in Paris who pursues and eventually falls in love with a much younger woman.[292] Despite receiving some good reviews—including from Bosley Crowther who praised the film's "gossamer charm"[293]—most reviewers concluded that Cooper was simply too old for the part.[293] Audiences were also not interested in seeing Cooper's screen image tarnished by his playing an aging roué trying to seduce an innocent young girl.[293] Even Cooper later conceded, "That was a mistake."[294] The following year, Cooper appeared in Philip Dunne's romantic drama Ten North Frederick with Diane Varsi and Suzy Parker.[295] In the film, he plays a distinguished attorney whose life is ruined by a double-crossing politician and his own secret affair with his daughter's young roommate.[295] The film was based on the novel by John O'Hara.[296] While Cooper brought "conviction and controlled anguish" to his performance,[296] it wasn't enough to save what one reviewer called a "hapless film".[297]

Cooper in Man of the West, 1958

Despite his ongoing health issues and several operations for ulcers and hernias, Cooper continued to work in action films.[298] In Anthony Mann's Western drama Man of the West (1958) with Julie London and Lee J. Cobb, Cooper plays a reformed outlaw and killer who is forced to confront his violent past when the train he is riding is held up by his former gang members.[299] The film has been called Cooper's "most pathological Western" with its themes of impotent rage, sexual humiliation, and sadism.[300] In his performance, Cooper effectively conveyed the anguish of someone struggling to retain his integrity and decency in the face of overwhelming temptation.[301] Mostly ignored by critics at the time, the film is now well-regarded by film scholars[302] and is considered Cooper's last great film.[303]

Cooper in The Hanging Tree, 1959

After his Warner Bros. contract ended, Cooper formed his own production company, Baroda Productions, and made three unusual films in 1959 about redemption.[304] In Delmer Daves' Western drama The Hanging Tree with Maria Schell and Karl Malden, Cooper plays a frontier doctor who saves a criminal from a lynch mob, and when he learns of the man's sordid past, tries to manipulate him and exploit his secret.[305] Cooper delivers a "powerful and persuasive" performance showing an emotionally scarred man whose need to dominate others is transformed by the love and sacrifice of a woman.[306] In Robert Rossen's historical adventure They Came to Cordura with Rita Hayworth, he plays an army officer who is found guilty of cowardice and assigned the degrading task of recommending soldiers for the Medal of Honor during the Pancho Villa Expedition of 1916.[307] While Cooper received good reviews, most critics felt he was much too old for the part.[307] In Michael Anderson's action drama The Wreck of the Mary Deare with Charlton Heston, Cooper plays a disgraced merchant marine officer who decides to stay aboard his sinking cargo ship in order to prove the vessel was deliberately scuttled and to redeem his good name.[308] Like its two predecessors, the film was physically demanding.[309] Cooper, who was a trained scuba diver, did all of his required underwater scenes.[309] In all three roles, Cooper effectively conveyed the sense of lost honor and desire for redemption—what Joseph Conrad in Lord Jim called the "struggles of an individual trying to save from the fire his idea of what his moral identity should be".[310]

Personal life[edit]

Marriage and family[edit]

Cooper met his future wife, twenty-year-old New York debutante Veronica Balfe, at a boating party in the spring of 1933,[311] and were formally introduced on Easter Sunday at a party given by her uncle, art director Cedric Gibbons.[312][313] Called "Rocky" by her family and friends, she grew up on Park Avenue and attended posh finishing schools.[314] Her stepfather was Wall Street tycoon Paul Shields.[314] Cooper and Rocky were quietly married at her parents' residence at 778 Park Avenue on December 15, 1933.[315] According to his friends, the marriage had a positive impact on Cooper, who turned away from past indiscretions and took control of his life.[316] Athletic and a lover of the outdoors, Rocky shared many of Cooper's interests, including tennis, skeet-shooting, skiing, and riding.[317] She organized their social life, and her wealth and social connections provided Cooper access to New York high society.[318]

Their daughter Maria Veronica Cooper was born on September 15, 1937.[319] By all accounts, Cooper was a patient and affectionate father, teaching her to ride a bicycle, play tennis, ski, and ride horses.[319] Sharing many of her parents' interests, she accompanied them on their travels and was often photographed with them.[319] Like her father, she developed a love for art and drawing.[320][Note 7] As a family they vacationed together in Sun Valley, Idaho, during the fall and winter, spent summers at Rocky's parents' country house on Ox Pasture Road in Southampton, New York, and took frequent trips to Europe.[318] Cooper and Rocky were legally separated on May 16, 1951, and Cooper moved out of their home.[321] They maintained a fragile and uneasy family life with their daughter.[322] Cooper moved back into their home in November 1953,[323][324] and their formal reconciliation occurred in February 1954.[325]

Cooper and his wife owned several homes during their marriage. After their wedding, they lived on a 10-acre (4.0 ha) ranch at 4723 White Oak Avenue in Encino from 1933 to 1936.[326] In 1936, they built a large white Bermuda-Georgian house with stucco walls and a white roof at 11940 Chaparal in Brentwood, where they lived from 1936 to 1953.[326] In 1948, they purchased 15 acres (6.1 ha) of land in Aspen, Colorado, and built a four-bedroom house with an aluminum roof, which was completed in 1949; they sold the house around 1953.[327] In July 1953, they began building a lavish, 6,000-square-foot (560 m2) mansion on 1.5 acres (0.61 ha) of land at 200 North Baroda Drive in Holmby Hills.[328] The modernistic four-bedroom house featured an open floor plan, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a sculpted garden.[328] They lived there from September 1954 until his death on May 13, 1961.[328]

Romantic relationships[edit]

Prior to his marriage, Cooper had a series of romantic relationships with leading actresses, beginning in 1927 with Clara Bow, who advanced his career by helping him get one of his first leading roles in Children of Divorce.[329] They began their affair just after production ended on one of her most popular films, It (1927), and she had the studio film one more scene with Cooper.[330] During the "It Girl" publicity campaign,[331] columnists started referring to Cooper as the "It boy".[332] Bow was also responsible for getting Cooper a role in Wings, which generated an enormous amount of fan mail for the young actor.[333] In 1928, he had a relationship with another experienced and worldly actress, Evelyn Brent, whom he met while filming Beau Sabreur.[334] In 1929, while filming The Wolf Song, Cooper began an intense affair with Lupe Vélez, which was the most important romance of his early life.[335] During their two years together, Cooper had brief affairs with Marlene Dietrich while filming Morocco in the summer of 1930[336] and with Carole Lombard while making I Take This Woman in 1931.[337] During his year abroad, which lasted from May 1931 to April 1932, Cooper had an affair with the married Countess Dorothy di Frasso, while staying at her Villa Madama in Rome.[83]

After he was married in December 1933, Cooper remained faithful to his wife until the summer of 1942, when he began an affair with Ingrid Bergman during the production of For Whom the Bell Tolls.[338] Their relationship lasted through the completion of filming Saratoga Trunk in June 1943.[339] In 1948, after finishing work on The Fountainhead, Cooper began a serious love affair with actress Patricia Neal, his co-star in the film.[340] At first they kept their affair discreet, but eventually it became an open secret in Hollywood, and Cooper's wife confronted him with the rumors, which he admitted were true. He also confessed that he was in love with Neal, and continued to see her.[341][342] In October 1950, after Neal discovered she was pregnant, Cooper arranged for her to have an abortion to avoid the public scandal of having a child out of wedlock.[343][344] Cooper and his wife were legally separated in May 1951,[321] but he did not seek a divorce, fearing he would lose the respect of his daughter.[345] Neal finally ended their affair in late December 1951.[346] During his three year separation from his wife, Cooper had affairs with Grace Kelly,[347] Lorraine Chanel,[348] and Gisèle Pascal.[349]

Friendships, interests, and character[edit]

"For me the really satisfying things I do are offered me, free, for nothing. Ever go out in the fall and do a little hunting? See the frost on the grass and the leaves turning? Spend a day in the hills alone, or with good companions? Watch a sunset and a moonrise? Notice a bird in the wind? A stream in the woods, a storm at sea, cross the country by train, and catch a glimpse of something beautiful in the desert, or the farmlands? Free to everybody, such things as these, if you have kept your appreciation of them! They give you something."[350]

Gary Cooper

Cooper's twenty-year friendship with Ernest Hemingway began at Sun Valley in the fall of 1940.[351] The previous year, Hemingway drew upon Cooper's image when he created the character of Robert Jordon for the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.[352] The two shared a passion for the outdoors,[351] and for many years they hunted duck and pheasant together in Sun Valley in the fall and skied together in the winter. They also enjoyed hunting jackrabbits and bobcats on the open lava flats near Craters of the Moon.[353] Both men admired the work of Rudyard Kipling—Cooper kept a copy of the poem "If—" in his dressing room—and retained as adults Kipling's sense of boyish adventure.[354] In addition to admiring Cooper's knowledge of the outdoors and hunting skills, Hemingway believed his character matched his screen persona,[351] once telling a friend, "If you made up a character like Coop, nobody would believe it. He's just too good to be true."[354] They saw each other as often as possible, and their friendship remained strong through the years.[355]

Cooper's social life generally centered around sports, outdoor activities, and dinner parties with his family and friends from the film industry, including directors Frank Capra, Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, William Wellman, and Fred Zinnemann, and actors Joel McCrea, James Stewart, Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Taylor.[356][357][358] In addition to hunting and shooting, Cooper actively participated in riding, fishing, hiking, skiing, tennis, golf, archery, swimming, and later in life, scuba diving.[359][360] Cooper never abandoned his early love for art and drawing, and over the years, he and his wife acquired a private collection of modern paintings, including works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard, George Bellows, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Walt Kuhn.[361] Cooper owned several works by Pablo Picasso, whom he met in 1956.[361] Cooper had a lifelong passion for automobiles, which he enjoyed driving fast.[362] His collection included a 1930 Duesenberg, a Jaguar, a Mercedes-Benz, and a Bentley.[362][363] His other interests included Sealyham Terrier dog breeding, Western history, and gardening.[364]

Cooper was naturally reserved and introspective, and loved the solitude of outdoor activities.[365] Not unlike his screen persona, his communication style frequently consisted of long silences[365] with an occasional "yup" and "shucks".[366][367] He once said, "If others have more interesting things to say than I have, I keep quiet."[368] According to his friends, however, Cooper could also be an articulate, well-informed conversationalist on topics ranging from horses, guns, fishing, and Western history to finance, film production, sports cars, and modern art.[368] Despite his shyness, he met the unique demands made on a movie star,[365] frequently spending time with his fans.[369] He was modest and unpretentious,[365] frequently downplaying his acting abilities and career accomplishments.[370] His friends and colleagues described him as charming, well-mannered, and thoughful, with a lively boyish sense of humor.[368] Cooper maintained a sense of propriety throughout his career and never misused his movie star status—never sought special treatment or refused to work with a director or leading lady.[369] His close friend Joel McCrea recalled, "Coop never fought, he never got mad, he never told anybody off that I know of; everybody that worked with him liked him."[369] He rarely lost his temper, and usually enjoyed the attention, flattery, and recognition that accompanied his fame.[369]

Political views[edit]

Cooper was a conservative Republican like his father, and had voted for Calvin Coolidge in 1924, Herbert Hoover in 1928 and 1932, and had campaigned for Wendell Willkie in 1940.[371] When Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for an unprecedented fourth presidential term in 1944, Cooper campaigned for Thomas E. Dewey and criticized Roosevelt for being dishonest and adopting "foreign" ideas.[372] In a radio address that he paid for himself just prior to the election,[372] Cooper said, "I disagree with the New Deal belief that the America all of us love is old and worn-out and finished—and has to borrow foreign notions that don't even seem to work any too well where they come from. I agree with Governor Dewey that our country is a young country that just has to make up its mind to be itself again."[372][373] He also attended a Republican rally at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that drew 93,000 Dewey supporters.[374]

Cooper was one of the founding members of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals,[375] a conservative organization dedicated, according to its statement of principles, to preserving the "American way of life" and opposing communism and fascism.[376] The organization—whose membership included Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck, and John Wayne—pressured the United States Congress to investigate communist influence in the motion picture industry.[377] On October 23, 1947, Cooper appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and was asked if he had observed any "communistic influence" in Hollywood.[378] Cooper acknowledged that he had, and recounted statements he'd heard suggesting that the Constitution was out of date and that the government could be more efficient without Congress—comments that Cooper said he found to be "very un-American".[378] He also testified that he had rejected a number of scripts because he thought they were "tinged with communist ideas".[378] Unlike other witnesses, Cooper did not name any individuals during his testimony.[378][379]

Religion[edit]

Cooper was baptized in the Anglican Church in December 1911 in England,[20] and was raised in the Episcopal Church in the United States.[380] While he was never an observant Christian during his adult life, many of his friends believed he had a deeply spiritual side.[381]

On June 26, 1953, Cooper accompanied his wife and daughter, who were devout Catholics,[382] to Rome where they had an audience with Pope Pius XII.[383] Still separated from his wife at the time, the papal visit marked the beginning of their slow reconciliation.[384] In the coming years, Cooper began to think seriously about his mortality and his personal behavior,[381] and started discussing Catholicism with his family.[382][385] He began attending church with them regularly,[385] and met with their parish priest, Father Harold Ford, who offered Cooper spiritual guidance.[381][385] After several months of study, Cooper was baptized as a Roman Catholic on April 9, 1959, before a small group of family and friends at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.[380][385]

Final year and death[edit]

Cooper's grave in Sacred Hearts Cemetery in Southampton, New York

On April 14, 1960, Cooper underwent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for prostate cancer after it had metastasized to his colon.[386] He fell ill again on May 31 and underwent further surgery at Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles in early June to remove a malignant tumor from his large intestine.[386] After recuperating over the summer, Cooper took his family on vacation to the south of France[387] before traveling to England in the fall to make his last film, The Naked Edge.[386] In December 1960, he worked on the NBC television documentary The Real West,[388] which was part of the company's Project 20 series.[389] On December 27, his wife learned from their family doctor, Rexford Kennamer, that Cooper's cancer had spread to his lungs and bones and was inoperable.[390] His family decided not to tell him immediately.[391]

On January 9, 1961, Cooper attended a dinner given in his honor at the Friars Club hosted by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.[388] Attended by many of his industry friends, including Sam Goldwyn, Jack Warner, Greer Garson, and Audrey Hepburn,[392] the dinner concluded with a brief speech by Cooper who said, "The only achievement I'm proud of is the friends I've made in this community." In mid-January, Cooper took his family to Sun Valley for their last vacation together.[391] While the women skied, Cooper and Hemingway hiked through the snow and talked for the last time.[393] On February 27, after returning to Los Angeles, Cooper learned that he was dying.[394] He later told his family, "We'll pray for a miracle; but if not, and that's God's will, that's all right too."[395]

On April 17, Cooper watched the Academy Awards ceremony on television and saw his good friend James Stewart, who had presented Cooper with his first Oscar years earlier, accept on Cooper's behalf an honorary award for lifetime achievement—his third Oscar.[396] Speaking to Cooper, an emotional Stewart said, "Coop, I want you to know I'll get it to you right away. With it goes all the friendship and affection and the admiration and deep respect of all of us. We're very, very proud of you, Coop."[396] The award dedication read, "To Gary Cooper for his many memorable screen performances and the international recognition he, as an individual, has gained for the motion picture industry."[397] The following day, newpapers around the world announced the news that Cooper was dying.[355] In the coming days he received numerous messages of appreciation and encouragement, including telegrams from Pope John XXIII[398] and Queen Elizabeth II,[398][399] and a phone call from President John F. Kennedy.[398][399]

On May 4, Cooper, in his last public statement, said, "I know that what is happening is God's will. I am not afraid of the future."[400] He received the last rites from Monsignor Daniel Sullivan on May 12. Cooper died quietly the following day, Saturday, May 13, 1961, at 12:47 pm.[401] A requiem mass was held on May 18 at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd, attended by many of Cooper's friends, including James Stewart, Henry Hathaway, Joel McCrea, Audrey Hepburn, Jack Warner, John Ford, John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Randolph Scott, Walter Pigeon, Bob Hope, and Marlene Dietrich.[402] Cooper was buried in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.[403] In May 1974, after his family relocated to New York, Cooper's remains were exhumed and reburied in Sacred Hearts Cemetery in Southampton, New York.[404][405] His grave is marked by a massive three-ton boulder from a Montauk quarry.[404]

Acting style and reputation[edit]

"Naturalness is hard to talk about, but I guess it boils down to this: You find out what people expect of your type of character and then you give them what they want. That way, an actor never seems unnatural or affected no matter what role he plays."[406]

Gary Cooper

Cooper's acting style consisted of three essential characteristics: his ability to project elements of his own personality and character onto the characters he portrayed, to appear natural and authentic in his roles, and to underplay and deliver restrained performances calibrated for the camera and the screen. Acting teacher Lee Strasberg once observed: "The simplest examples of Stanislavsky's ideas are actors such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Spencer Tracy. They try not to act but to be themselves, to respond or react. They refuse to say or do anything they feel not to be consonant with their own characters."[407] Film director François Truffaut ranked Cooper among "the greatest actors" because of his ability to deliver great performances "without direction".[407] This ability to project elements of his own personality onto his characters produced a continuity across his performances to the extent that critics and audiences were convinced that he was simply "playing himself".[408]

Cooper's ability to project his personality onto the characters he played was a critical component to his appearing natural and authentic on screen. Actor John Barrymore said of Cooper, "This fellow is the world's greatest actor. He does without effort what the rest of us spend our lives trying to learn—namely, to be natural."[93] Actor Charles Laughton, who played opposite Cooper in Devil and the Deep agreed, "In truth, that boy hasn't the least idea how well he acts ... He gets at it from the inside, from his own clear way of looking at life."[93] William Wyler, who directed Cooper in two films, called him a "superb actor, a master of movie acting".[409] In his review of Cooper's performance in The Real Glory, author and film critic Graham Greene wrote, "Sometimes his lean photogenic face seems to leave everything to the lens, but there is no question here of his not acting. Watch him inoculate the girl against cholera—the casual jab of the needle, and the dressing slapped on while he talks, as though a thousand arms had taught him where to stab and he doesn't have to think anymore."[93]

Cooper's style of underplaying before the camera surprised many of his directors and fellow actors. Even in his earliest feature films, he recognized the camera's ability to pick up slight gestures and facial movements.[410] Commenting on Cooper's performance in Sergeant York, director Howard Hawks observed, "He worked very hard and yet he didn't seem to be working. He was a strange actor because you'd look at him during a scene and you'd think ... this isn't going to be any good. But when you saw the rushes in the projection room the next day you could read in his face all the things he'd been thinking."[411] Sam Wood, who directed Cooper in four films, had similar observations about Cooper's performance in Pride of the Yankees, noting, "What I thought was underplaying turned out to be just the right approach. On the screen he's perfect, yet on the set you'd swear it's the worst job of acting in the history of motion pictures."[412] His fellow actors also admired his abilities as an actor. Commenting on her two films playing opposite Cooper, actress Ingrid Bergman concluded, "The personality of this man was so enormous, so overpowering—and that expression in his eyes and his face, it was so delicate and so underplayed. You just didn't notice it until you saw it on the screen. I thought he was marvelous; the most underplaying and the most natural actor I ever worked with."[413]

Career assessment and legacy[edit]

Cooper's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Cooper's career spanned thirty-six years, from 1925 to 1961.[414] During that time, he appeared in eighty-four feature films in a leading role.[415] He was a major movie star from the end of the silent film era to the end of the golden age of Classical Hollywood. His natural and authentic acting style appealed powerfully to both men and women,[416] and his range of performances included roles in most major movie genres, including Westerns, war films, adventure films, drama films, crime films, romance films, comedy films, and romantic comedy films. He appeared on the Motion Picture Herald exhibitors poll of top ten film personalities for twenty-three consecutive years, from 1936 to 1958.[148] According to Quigley's annual Top Ten Money Making Stars poll, Cooper was one of the top money-making stars for eighteen years, appearing in the top ten in 1936 and 1937, from 1941 to 1949, and from 1951 to 1957.[417] He topped the list in 1953.[417] In Quigley's Top Ten All-Time Poll of Money-Making Stars, Cooper is listed fourth, after John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Tom Cruise.[417] At the time of his death, it was estimated that his films grossed well over $200 million[414] (equal to $1,578,396,437 today).

In over half of his feature films, Cooper portrayed Westerners, soldiers, pilots, sailors, and explorers—all men of action.[418] In the rest he played a wide range of characters, included doctors, professors, artists, architects, clerks, and baseball players.[418] Cooper's heroic screen image changed with each period of his career.[419] In his early films (1925–30), he played the young naive hero sure of his moral position and trusting in the triumph of simple virtues (The Virginian).[419] After becoming a major star (1930–36), his Western screen persona was replaced by a more cautious, distrustful hero unwilling to commit himself to others (Morocco).[419] During the height of his career (1936–43), he played a new type of hero—a champion of the common man willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others (Mr. Deeds, Meet John Doe, and For Whom the Bell Tolls).[419] In the post-war years (1944–55), Cooper attempted broader variations on his screen image, which now reflected a hero increasingly at odds with the world who must face adversity alone (The Fountainhead, High Noon, and Billy Mitchell).[420] In his final films (1956–61), Cooper's hero rejects the violence of his past, and seeks to reclaim lost honor and find redemption (Friendly Persuasion and Man of the West).[421] The screen persona he developed and sustained throughout his career represented the ideal American hero—a tall, handsome, and sincere man of steadfast integrity[422] who emphasized action over intellect, and combined the heroic qualities of the romantic lover, the adventurer, and the common man.[423]

On February 6, 1960, Cooper was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6243 Hollywood Boulevard for his contribution to the film industry.[424] He also has a star on the sidewalk outside the Ellen Theater in Bozeman, Montana.[425] On May 6, 1961, he was awarded the French Order of Arts and Letters in recognition of his significant contribution to the arts.[426] On July 30, 1961, he was posthumously awarded the David di Donatello Special Award in Italy for his career achievements.[427] In 1966, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.[428] The American Film Institute (AFI) ranked Cooper eleventh on its list of the fifty greatest male screen legends.[429] In addition, three of his character—Will Kane, Lou Gehrig, and Sergeant York—made AFI's list of the one hundred greatest heroes and villains, all of them as heroes.[430] His Lou Gehrig line, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth," is ranked by AFI as the thirty-eighth greatest movie quote of all time.[431] More than a half century after his death, Cooper's enduring legacy is his image of that ideal American hero film audiences still find so attractive and compelling.[432] Charlton Heston once observed, "He projected the kind of man Americans would like to be, probably more than any actor that's ever lived."[433]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Film Result
1937 Academy Award for Best Actor[127] Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Nominated
1937 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Nominated
1941 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor[434] Sergeant York Won
1942 Academy Award for Best Actor[127] Sergeant York Won
1943 Academy Award for Best Actor[127] The Pride of the Yankees Nominated
1944 Academy Award for Best Actor[127] For Whom the Bell Tolls Nominated
1952 Photoplay Award for Most Popular Male Star[434] High Noon Won
1953 Academy Award for Best Actor[127] High Noon Won
1953 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor[434] High Noon Won
1957 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor[434] Friendly Persuasion Nominated
1959 Laurel Award for Top Action Performance[435] The Hanging Tree Won
1960 Laurel Award for Top Action Performance[435] They Came to Cordura Won
1961 Academy Honorary Award[127] Won

Filmography[edit]

The following is a list of feature films in which Cooper appeared in a leading role, excluding cameos.[436][437]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cooper was born on the second floor of a two-story brick house at 730 Eleventh Avenue.[2] He lived here until 1909, when he moved to England. After returning to Helena in 1912, he lived in a two-story wood framed house on a steep hill at 15 Shiland Street until 1914,[3] when the family moved to a large three-story stucco duplex at 115 North Beattie Street.[3] In 1918, the family moved to their final home in Helena, a brick house with a large front window and arched entrance at 712 Fifth Avenue, where Cooper lived until 1920.[3]
  2. ^ While in England, Cooper and his brother lived with their father's cousins, William and Emily Barton, in their ancestral home known as "The White House" at 157 High Street North in Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire from 1909 to 1912.[16]
  3. ^ Talbot later worked as Cooper's stuntman and stand-in for over thirty years, and became a close friend and hunting companion.[39]
  4. ^ Cooper's popularity is largely responsible for the popularity of the given name Gary from the 1930s to the present day.[50]
  5. ^ Cooper also turned down the leading roles in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939)[149] and two Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Saboteur (1942).[150]
  6. ^ John Wayne accepted the Oscar for Cooper who was out of the country at the time, saying, "Coop and I have been friends, hunting and fishing, for more years than I like to remember. He's one of the nicest fellows I know. I don't know anybody any nicer."[273]
  7. ^ Maria attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles for four years and became an artist, with exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York.[320]

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External links[edit]