Gary Cooper

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Gary Cooper, legendary film actor, was born on May 7 (1901) in Helena, Montana to English immigrants. He was born Frank James Cooper but changed his name to Gary in 1925 because another actor was already using the name Frank Cooper. His agent suggested “Gary” because she was from Gary, IN.

Cooper grew up in Montana and learned to ride horses and enjoy the outdoors during summers on his father’s ranch. He spent 1909 to 1912 in England where his mother wanted him to get an English education, but he then returned to Helena. He left high school in 1918 to work on the ranch but did finish high school later in Bozeman. He credited his English teacher there as “the woman partly responsible for getting me to give up cowboy-ing and go to college.” 

His very early interest was in art. He even attended Grinnell College in Iowa for two years to study art. But then he moved to Los Angeles at the request of his father, who had moved there to manage the estates of some relatives. To earn some money Gary starting taking jobs as an extra in movies, especially as a stunt rider. His work was steady and expanded into acting roles. 

He hit the big time with the release of “The Virginian” in 1929, his first sound picture. That film set the tone of the Western genre for decades to come. 

He had leading roles in 84 films from 1925 to 1961. He played in many different genres: Westerns, war, adventure, drama, crime, romance, comedy, and romantic comedy. 

He won an academy award for best actor in 1942 for “Sergeant York” and again in 1953 for “High Noon”. The photo portrays him as Will Kane in “High Noon”, the besieged marshal of a frightened town that won’t come to his aid when faced by four killers. During the filming he was in considerable ill health, and his suffering showed in his face and made his performance all the more believable. “High Noon” is one of my most favorite Westerns. If you have not watched, do so now! 

He also received an honorary academy award in April 1961 for lifetime achievement shortly before his death. 

Cooper was one a few actors (along with John Wayne and Spencer Tracy) who were said to project their own persona into their screen characters; they played themselves in movies. He appeared natural and authentic on the screen, a reflection of his understated acting style. 

He became close friends with Ernest Hemingway in 1940. They were both passionate about the active, outdoor life. Their friendship lasted the rest of his life. 

He married Veronica Balfe in December 1933. She, too, enjoyed an active outdoor life, and her wealth and high society connections brought Cooper into that culture. They did separate briefly in the early 1950s, but they were then together until he died on May 12, 1961. 

A quote of Cooper’s that I like:
"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.”