The Man They Called Coop
Is Gary Cooper one of the greatest actors of all time? I think not. I say that because to me Coop is like John Wayne. He is just being himself and he does it so well that he comes over as a great actor! Is he one of my favorite actors of all time? Yes, most definitely, probably in the top five along with Joel McCrea, Montgomery Clift, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.
What is it about this man that resonates with both male and female audiences? He is tall (6'3"). He is muscular. He is handsome. He is sincere. He is passionate. He makes you feel his smiles. He is genuine. He is funny. He is sexy. Have I left anything out?
That is why movie goers have always loved and admired this man. His films personify goodness and The Every Man and wholesomeness and the American way. He is like my brother, my best friend, my father and the guy I would like to be when I grow up. I really admire this film star of great magnitude.
But, then we come to the real Gary Cooper who was married for twenty-nine years to the same woman, yet had numerous affairs with mostly beautiful film stars. He had great parties at his home with all the stars of the time sitting around his pool and Coop right in the center of everything. He would stay with his wife, Sandra Shaw until his death at age sixty.
Gary Cooper was born in Helena, Montana on May 7, 1901. He was born to play a cowboy because that is what he was. He worked his father's ranch in Montana before deciding that was not the life for him.
He started as an extra in B westerns and slowly began to receive small parts in better films. Although he is remembered as this great western star, Cooper only made 20 westerns out of his 107 film roles. The Westerner would be another of the great cowboy roles he would play.
Most of us still think of Coop as Sheriff Will Kane in High Noon in 1952 for which he would earn his second Oscar for Best Actor.
For me, however, I remember him best for his roles in which he would portray real life characters.
My personal favorite of Gary Cooper's roles was as the true life hero of World War I, Alvin York in 1941's Sergeant York in which Coop would earn his first Oscar for Best Actor. Co-starring in the film as his wife was one of my favorite female actresses, Joan Leslie.
Cooper's slow, very deliberate delivery was so perfect for this role as a Tennessee mountain man that was a dead aim with a rifle and went off to war and almost single handed captured over 500 Germans. His portrayal is right up there near the top of my all-time list of Oscar nominated roles.
He was also a terrific leading man either in light comedy as shown here with Barbara Stanwyck, or, in strong dramatic roles as with Patricia Neal in Fountainhead. He and Neal would have a lengthy relationship and his wife would leave him for over three years only to let him come back.
Gary Cooper turned down Gone With the Wind and said that it would be one of the biggest flops in history! I can not imagine anybody but Gable as Rhett Butler.
He was very good friends for twenty years with Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway shot himself a month after Cooper died.
When Cooper's best friend, James Stewart told the world that Gary Cooper was dying of cancer, messages poured in from dignitaries all over the world including Pope John XXIII, Pablo Picasso, former president Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Queen Elizabeth II as well as the greats of the entertainment world Audrey Hepburn, Bob Hope, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Jack Benny.
President Kennedy called the next day and had a lengthy conversation with Coop.
Gary Cooper would pass away on May 13, 1961 after a long battle with prostrate cancer. He is buried in Southampton, Long Island, a place that he loved.