Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper

in High Noon (1952)
Born Frank James Cooper
May 7, 1901(1901-05-07)
Helena, Montana, U.S.
Died May 13, 1961(1961-05-13) (aged 60)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1925–1961
Spouse Veronica Balfe (m. 1933–1961) «start: (1933)–end+1: (1962)»"Marriage: Veronica Balfe to Gary Cooper" Location: (linkback:// (his death)
Children Maria Cooper Janis

Frank James Cooper, known professionally as Gary Cooper, (May 7, 1901 – May 13, 1961) was an American film actor.[1] He was renowned for his quiet, understated acting style and his stoic, but at times intense screen persona, which was particularly well suited to the many Westerns he made. His career spanned from 1925 until shortly before his death in 1961, and comprised more than one hundred films.

Cooper received five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, winning twice for Sergeant York and High Noon. He also received an Honorary Award in 1961 from the Academy.

Decades later, the American Film Institute named Cooper among the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars, ranking 11th among males from the Classical Hollywood cinema period. In 2003, his performances as Will Kane in High Noon, Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, and Alvin York in Sergeant York made the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list, all of them as heroes.


Early life

Cooper was born in Helena, Montana, one of two sons of an English farmer from Bedfordshire, who later became an American lawyer and judge, Charles Henry Cooper (1865–1946), and Kent (England)-born Alice (née Brazier) Cooper (1873–1967).[2] His mother hoped for their two sons to receive a better education than that available in Montana and arranged for the boys to attend Dunstable Grammar School in Bedfordshire, England between 1910 and 1913.[3][4] Upon the outbreak of World War I, Cooper's mother brought her sons home and enrolled them in a Bozeman, Montana, high school.[5]

When Cooper was 13, he injured his hip in a car accident. He returned to his parents' ranch near Helena to recuperate by horseback riding at the recommendation of his doctor. Cooper studied at Iowa's Grinnell College until the spring of 1924, but did not graduate. He had tried out, unsuccessfully, for the college's drama club.[6] He returned to Helena, managing the ranch and contributing cartoons to the local newspaper. In 1924, Cooper's father left the Montana Supreme Court bench and moved with his wife to Los Angeles. Their son, unable to make a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, joined them,[7] moving there that same year,[8] reasoning that he "would rather starve where it was warm, than to starve and freeze too."[6]


Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with Jean Arthur (1936)

Failing as a salesman of electric signs and theatrical curtains, as a promoter for a local photographer and as an applicant for newspaper work in Los Angeles,[7] Cooper found work as an actor in 1925.[8] He earned money as an "extra" in the motion picture industry, usually cast as a cowboy. He is known to have had an uncredited role in the 1925 Tom Mix Western, Dick Turpin.[9] The following year, he had screen credit in a two-reeler, Lightnin' Wins, with actress Eileen Sedgwick as his leading lady.

After the release of this short film, Cooper accepted a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures. He changed his name to Gary in 1925, following the advice of casting director Nan Collins,[10] who felt it evoked the "rough, tough" nature of her native Gary, Indiana.[11]

With Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930)

"Coop," as he was called by his peers, went on to appear in over 100 films. Cooper broke through in a supporting role in Wings (1927), the only silent film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, following that with Nevada (1927) co-starring Thelma Todd and William Powell, based on the Zane Gray novel, which was remade in 1944 as an early Robert Mitchum vehicle, the only time Cooper and Mitchum played the same role. He became a major star with his first sound picture, The Virginian (1929) opposite Walter Huston as the villainous Trampas. The Spoilers appeared the following year with Betty Compson, which was remade in 1942 with Compson lookalike Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne in Cooper's role. Cooper followed this action film with his own Dietrich film entitled Morocco (1930) in which he played a Foreign Legionnaire. Devil and the Deep (1932) featured Cary Grant in a supporting role with Talullah Bankhead and Cooper in the leads alongside Charles Laughton. The following year, Cooper was the second lead in the sophisticated Ernst Lubitsch comedy production of Noël Coward's Design for Living, billed under Fredric March in the kind of fast-talking role Cooper never played again after Cary Grant staked out the light comedy leading man field with his persona-changing The Awful Truth four years later. The screen adaptation of A Farewell to Arms (1932), directed by Frank Borzage, and the title role in Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) furthered Cooper's box office appeal.

Cooper was producer David O. Selznick's first choice for the role of Rhett Butler in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind.[12] When Cooper turned down the role, he was passionately against it. He is quoted as saying, "Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not me".[13][14] Alfred Hitchcock wanted him to star in Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Saboteur (1942). Cooper later admitted he had made a "mistake" in turning down the director. For the former film, Hitchcock cast look-alike Joel McCrea instead.

Cooper in Along Came Jones

Cooper cemented his cowboy credentials again in The Westerner (1940) opposite Walter Brennan as Judge Roy Bean and followed that immediately afterward with the lavish North West Mounted Police (1940), directed by Cecil B. DeMille and featuring Paulette Goddard.

Gary Cooper and Joan Fontaine holding their Oscars at an Academy Awards after party in 1942.

In 1942, Cooper won his first Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as the title character in Sergeant York. Alvin York refused to authorize a movie about his life unless Cooper portrayed him. Meet John Doe was released earlier the same year, a smash hit under the direction of Frank Capra. Ingrid Bergman had just made Casablanca when she and Cooper collaborated on For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), based on a novel by Cooper's close friend Ernest Hemingway. As a change of pace, he made a Western comedy lampooning his hesitant speech and mannerisms and his own image in general called Along Came Jones (1945) in which he relied on gunslinging Loretta Young to save him when the chips were down. Cooper also starred in the original version of the Ayn Rand novel The Fountainhead (1949) with Patricia Neal.

In 1953, Cooper won his second Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Marshal Will Kane in High Noon, arguably considered his finest role. Ill with an ulcer, he wasn't present to receive his Academy Award in February 1953. He asked John Wayne to accept it on his behalf, a bit of irony in light of Wayne's stated distaste for the film.[15]

Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz (1954)

Cooper continued to play the lead in films almost to the end of his life. Among his later box office hits were the stark Western adventure Garden of Evil (1954) with Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark; Vera Cruz (1954), an extremely influential Western in which he guns down villain Burt Lancaster in a showdown; his portrayal of a Quaker farmer during the American Civil War in William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion (1956); and Anthony Mann's Man of the West (1958), a hard-edged action Western with Lee J. Cobb. His final motion picture was a British film, The Naked Edge (1961), directed by Michael Anderson. Among his final projects was narrating an NBC documentary, The Real West, in which he helped clear up myths about famous Western figures.

Cooper appeared in live radio "remakes" of several of his films.

Congressional testimony

In 1944, Cooper joined the anti-communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. While filming Good Sam, he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities on October 23, 1947, characterized as a "friendly" witness. Asked if he had observed "communistic influence in Hollywood", Cooper named no one in particular but said he had "turned down quite a few scripts because I thought they were tinged with communistic ideas";[8] he also said he had heard statements such as "don't you think the Constitution of the United States is about 150 years out of date?" and "perhaps this would be a more efficient government without a Congress"— statements he characterized as "very un-American". He also told the committee the following:

"Several years ago, when communism was more of a social chit-chatter in parties for offices, and so on when communism didn't have the implications that it has now, discussion of communism was more open and I remember hearing statements from some folks to the effect that the communistic system had a great many features that were desirable. It offered the actors and artists — in other words, the creative people — a special place in government where we would be somewhat immune from the ordinary leveling of income. And as I remember, some actor's name was mentioned to me who had a house in Moscow which was very large — he had three cars, and stuff, with his house being quite a bit larger than my house in Beverly Hills at the time — and it looked to me like a pretty phony come-on to us in the picture business. From that time on, I could never take any of this pinko mouthing very seriously, because I didn't feel it was on the level."[8]

Cooper's testimony occurred a month before the Hollywood blacklist was established.

Personal life

Cooper was friends with Ernest Hemingway and spent many vacations with the writer in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Family and relationships

Cooper had high-profile relationships with actresses Clara Bow, Lupe Vélez and the American-born socialite-spy Countess Carla Dentice di Frasso (née Dorothy Caldwell Taylor, formerly wife of British pioneer aviator Claude Grahame-White).[16]

Una Merkel (right) with Phyllis Brooks and Gary Cooper at a Brisbane press conference on their way to entertain the troops (1943)

On December 15, 1933, Cooper wed Veronica Balfe (May 27, 1913 – February 16, 2000), known as "Rocky." Balfe was a New York Roman Catholic socialite who had briefly acted under the name of Sandra Shaw. She appeared in the film No Other Woman, but her most widely seen role was in King Kong, as the woman dropped by Kong. Her third and final film was Blood Money. Her father was governor of the New York Stock Exchange, and her uncle was motion-picture art director Cedric Gibbons. During the 1930s she also became the California state women's skeet shooting champion. Cooper and Balfe had one child, Maria, now Maria Cooper Janis, married to classical pianist Byron Janis.

In the 1950s Cooper was slowly drawn to Catholicism[N 1]</ref> and was baptized a Catholic in 1958. After he was married, but prior to his conversion, Cooper had affairs with several famous co-stars, including Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly and Patricia Neal. He pressured Neal to have an abortion in 1950, because fathering a child out of wedlock could have destroyed his career. Cooper's daughter Maria, when she was a little girl, famously spat at Neal,[18] but many years later, the two became friends. Cooper separated from his wife between 1951 and 1954.


Cooper was a staunch supporter of the Republican Party. He voted for Calvin Coolidge in 1924 and Herbert Hoover in 1928 and 1932. He openly campaigned for Wendell Wilkie in 1940, and heavily campaigned for Thomas Dewey in 1944.[19]

In 1947, he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee as a 'friendly witness'. He was a member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and in his testimony spoke out against the Communist influence in Hollywood at the time.[20] Fellow members in the Alliance included Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Victor Fleming and Barbara Stanwyck among many others.


In April 1960, Cooper underwent surgery for prostate cancer after it had spread to his colon. It spread to his lungs and bones shortly thereafter.[21]

Cooper was too ill to attend the Academy Awards ceremony in April 1961, so his close friend James Stewart accepted the honorary Oscar on his behalf. Stewart's emotional speech hinted that something was seriously wrong, and the next day newspapers ran the headline, "Gary Cooper has cancer." One month later, on May 13, 1961, six days after his 60th birthday, Cooper died.[22]

Cooper was originally interred in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Culver City, California. In May 1974 his body was removed from the Grotto Section of Holy Cross Cemetery, when his widow Veronica remarried and moved to New York, and she had Cooper's body exhumed and reburied in Sacred Heart Cemetery, in Southampton, New York, on Long Island.[23][24] Veronica "Rocky" Cooper-Converse died in 2000 and was buried near Cooper at Sacred Heart Cemetery.




  1. ^ "In the mid to late fifties, my father's conversion to Catholicism started silently. He never discussed much about it but simply started joining us for Mass more often. . . . My father was still well at the time of his becoming a Catholic. His reasons for converting are his to know. He did say to [his friend Ernest] Hemingway toward the end, 'You know, that decision I made was the right one'."[17]
  1. ^ "Gary Cooper Obituary." Variety, May 17, 1961.
  2. ^ Arce 1979, pp. 17–18.
  3. ^ "125 Montana Newsmakers: Gary Cooper." Great Falls Tribune, August 28, 2011. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  4. ^ "Gary Cooper Biography (1901-1961)." Retrieved: September 3, 2011.
  5. ^ Swindell 1980, p. 33.
  6. ^ a b Current Biography 1941, pp. 170–171.
  7. ^ a b Arce 1979, pp. 22–23.
  8. ^ a b c d "Actor Gary Cooper: Testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee." CNN for the Peabody Award-winning 1998 documentary Cold War. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Gary Cooper at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "Gary Cooper Profile." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 6, 2011.
  11. ^ Arce 1979, p. 25.
  12. ^ Selznick 2000, pp. 172–173.
  13. ^ "Biography: Gary Cooper." GoneMovie. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  14. ^ Donnelley 2003, pp. 279–280.
  15. ^ Arce 1979, p. 252.
  16. ^ Swindell 1980, pp. 104–105.
  17. ^ Janis 1999, p. 160.
  18. ^ Shearer 2006, p. 88.
  19. ^ Meyer 1998[page needed]
  20. ^ Rogers 1991, p. 280.
  21. ^ Arce 1979, p. 274.
  22. ^ Arce 1979, p. 282.
  23. ^ Janis 1999, p. 167.
  24. ^ "Gary Cooper". Find a Grave. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Postal Service Previews 2009." Commemorative Stamp Program. Retrieved: November 18, 2011.
  • Arce, Hector. Gary Cooper: An Intimate Biography. New York: Bantam Books, 1980, First edition 1979. ISBN 978-0553141306.
  • Donnelley, Paul. Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries, 2nd Edition. Omnibus Press, 2005, First edition 2003. ISBN 978-1844494309.
  • Janis, Maria Cooper. Gary Cooper Off Camera: A Daughter Remembers. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999. ISBN 978-0810941304.
  • Meyer, Jeffrey. Gary Cooper: American Hero. New York: William Morrow, 1998. ISBN 978-0688154943.
  • Rogers, Ginger. Ginger: My Story. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. ISBN 978-0061564703.
  • Selznick, David O. Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: Modern Library, 2000. ISBN 0-375-75531-4.
  • Shearer, Stephen Michael. Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life. Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006. ISBN 978-0813123912.
  • Swindell, Larry. The Last Hero: A Biography of Gary Cooper. New York: Doubleday, 1980. ISBN 0-385-14316-8.

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  • Gary Cooper — mit Eleanor Roosevelt Gary Cooper, eigentlich Frank James Cooper (* 7. Mai 1901 in Helena, Montana, USA; † 13. Mai 1961 in Beverly Hills, Kalifornien), war ein US amerikanischer S …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Gary Cooper — en High Noon en 1952. Nombre real Frank James Cooper Nacimiento 7 de mayo de 1901 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gary Cooper — Gary Cooper, amerikansk skuespiller. Gary Cooper modtog i 1952 en oscar for sin rolle i westernklassikeren High Noon (Sheriffen) …   Danske encyklopædi

  • Gary Cooper — Gary Cooper, nacido Frank James Cooper (n. Helena, Montana (EE.UU., 7 de mayo de 1901 † Hollywood, California (EE.UU.), 13 de mayo de 1961). Actor estadounidense …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Gary Cooper — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Cooper. Gary Cooper …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gary Cooper — noun United States film actor noted for his portrayals of strong silent heroes (1901 1961) • Syn: ↑Cooper, ↑Frank Cooper • Instance Hypernyms: ↑actor, ↑histrion, ↑player, ↑thespian, ↑role player * * * …   Useful english dictionary

  • Gary Cooper — ➡ Cooper (II) * * * …   Universalium

  • Gary Cooper — Frank J Cooper …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Gary Cooper — …   Википедия

  • Gary Cooper — Arte Es cierto que existen personas como Willie Loman [el viajante del drama de Arthur Miller], pero no me parece que sea necesario escribir sobre ellos una obra de teatro …   Diccionario de citas

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