Gary Cooper, known to all as Coop, was one of Hollywood's most popular leading men during a career which spanned 5 decades. He received five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, winning the Oscar twice.
He also received an Honorary Award from the Academy in 1961.
It is said that he was "made for Westerns" . He was tall, dark and handsome, soft spoken and seemingly aloof but with a tremendous screen presence. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Cooper among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking at No. 11.
He was born Frank James Cooper in Helena, Montana in 1901, but as a child lived in Dunstable, England, with his mother Alice, and elder brother Arthur Le Roy (1895 - 1982). The two boys attended the prestigeous Dunstable School between 1910 and 1913.
The Winning of Barbara Worth 1926
When he was thirteen years old he was injured in an automobile accident, and had to move to his father's cattle ranch in Montana to recuperate. It was here where he learned his considerable riding skills.
After high school Cooper attended Helena, Montana and Iowa College, Grinnell, Iowa. His first stage experience was during high school and college. Afterwards, he worked as an extra for one year before getting a part in a two reeler by Hans Tissler. Eileen Sedgwick was his first leading lady. He changed his name to Gary in 1925, following the advice of his agent, who felt it evoked the "rough, tough" nature of Gary, Indiana.
He then appeared in The Winning of Barbara Worth, (1926) for United Artists before moving to Paramount. While there he appeared in a small part in the Oscar winning Wings (1927), It (1927), and other films.
Early Acting Career
Whilst filming It, Cooper had an affair with the star, Clara Bow, who saw to it that he was cast in a couple of her films. Cooper really couldn't act at this point, but he applied himself to his work in a brief series of silent Westerns for his home studio, Paramount Pictures, and, by 1929, both his acting expertise and his popularity had soared. Cooper's first talking-picture success was The Virginian (1929), in which he developed the taciturn, laconic speech patterns that became fodder for every impressionist on radio, nightclubs, and television.
The Virginian included the famous line, "When you call me that, smile" delivered to swearing badman Walter Huston. In 1930 he starred in The Texan and A Man From Wyoming before being teamed with exotic Marlene Dietrich in Morocco a desert romance in which he played, unusually, a Legionnaire.
"Coop", as he was called by his peers, went on to appear in over 100 films.He was producer David O. Selznick's first choice for the role of Rhett Butler in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind but he turned it down, thinking it would flop.This lack of prescience did not affect his career
He played an idealistic hobo turned media hero in Frank Capra's bittersweet Meet John Doe (1941), then portrayed real-life pacifist-turned-WW1 hero Alvin York in Sergeant York later that year, winning the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Alvin York had refused to authorize a movie about his life unless Gary Cooper was the actor who portrayed him.
In Ball of Fire (also 1941) with Barbara Stanwyck, Cooper showed himself to be a terrific straight man. And The Pride of the Yankees (1942, also for Goldwyn), featured him as baseball great Lou Gehrig (then recently deceased) in a touching, warm biopic that yielded another Oscar nomination.
Cooper's superstar status was now assured and he was very much in demand - scripts would pile up at his Brentwood home, he received calls about projects that would be initiated only if he would agree to be in them, or were canceled if he did not express interest. Other people advised him occasionally, but Coop chose his own parts. He trusted his instincts about what was best for him. For a time he was the highest paid person in the United States. Not the highest paid actor, the highest paid person.
Western Heroes Poll
Who was the greatest portrayer of Western heroes?
In 1952 an aging, weary looking Cooper assumed what may be his greatest role, that of the embattled marshal abandoned by the townspeople he spent years protecting, in High Noon (1952), a "traditional" Western. He won his second Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. He wasn't present to receive his Academy Award in February 1953. He asked John Wayne to accept it on his behalf.
Cooper continued to appear in films almost to the end of his life. Among his later box office hits was his portrayal of a Quaker farmer during the Civil War in William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion in 1956. His final motion picture was a British film, The Naked Edge (1961), directed by Michael Anderson. Among his final projects was serving as narrator for an NBC documentary, The Real West, in which he helped clear up myths about famous Western figures.
In April 1961 Coop won a special, career-achievement Academy Award, which was accepted in an emotional speech by his friend James Stewart. A month later he died on May 31, 1961 of lung and prostate cancer in Los Angeles, California.
Gary Cooper Resource
- Gary Cooper Biography
A short biography of Gary Cooper on Hollywood's Golden Age