Taking the Long Way to Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper“”Yup, I’ve been a real chump about appreciating Gary Cooper. It took me long enough, but, finally, here I am – just loving the man.

It’s really not my fault. My first introduction to Gary was his work during the 1950s, the time when Hollywood starred its aging leading men with young female stars and didn’t think the world would think it was icky. First up was 1957’s Love in the Afternoon. Now, I just adored Audrey Hepburn as the romantic young heroine, but the creepy-crawly factor of an aging Cooper chasing her around his Paris apartment bordered on gross. He did not age in a debonair way like his old Paramount rival, Cary Grant, and was just too old for her!!

He was wonderful in High Noon, but, again, way too old for Grace Kelly. Plus, I’m not a big western fan and I only thought of him as a cowboy star. I next saw a younger version of him in Saratoga Trunk with Ingrid Bergman, but it was so bad that I just could not get the appeal. However, I knew I had to be missing something because of all the things I had read about him. In his early days in Hollywood he was famous for his physical beauty and his appeal to a bevy of sexy hot women. Really? That tired looking old guy half-heartedly pursing Audrey with all of the sophisticated charm of Donald Trump? Really?

His first big Hollywood affair was with Clara Bow. Clara was a mega-star at the time and she knew a good thing when she saw it (she famously praised him for not only his physical endowments, but for the fact that he allowed her dogs to join them in the bath). Gary shared the screen with her in Children of Divorce, It, and, more impressively, Wings.

Gary’s other conquests — pre- and post- marriage — included Lupe Velez, Countess Carla Dentice di Frasso, Bergman, Marlene Dietrich and Patricia Neal.  His love affair with Velez was apparently a volatile one (she was, after all, the Mexican Spitfire) and she and Dietrich went toe to toe over Gary during the filming of Morocco. Another famously hot lady, Tallulah Bankhead, said that she went to Hollywood to film 1932’s Devil and the Deep only to “f**k that divine Gary Cooper.” It seems she achieved her goal. So, what made Gary so hot? I had to find out! And, so I did.

Desire (1937)

As the decent guy who falls for jewel thief Dietrich, Cooper’s appeal is on full display. He is American to the core, shy and forthright, but never simple. He the American hero who is just complicated enough to have a sophisticated appeal. All I can say is – sigh!

Ball of Fire (1941)

As the nerdy academic who is bewitched by street-smart Barbara Stanwyck, Cooper is a hunky delight. While it’s just a teensy bit hard to believe that he doesn’t know how hot he is compared to his fellow bookworm professors, he just melts my heart. Plus, he sure is a good kisser for a guy whose nose was always in the books.

Meet John Doe (1941)

Could any other actor portray director Frank Capra’s uncommon common man with such humility, honesty and humanity? And dig that stray hair that falls across his forehead.

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Anyone not moved by the story of Lou Gehrig can’t have a heart. A perfect part for Cooper, for he is the 20th century American hero ideal.

So, okay, Gary, I am on board now. Your stardom lasted from the late 20s until your death in 1961. You were the real deal, a genuine Hollywood star. Irving Berlin got it just right in his song “Puttin’ on the Ritz”:

“Dressed up like a million dollar trooper, trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper)…”

Marsha Collock has been an avid fan – not scholar – of  classic films since she saw the first flicker of black and white on the TV screen. Her muse is Norma Desmond, to whom she has dedicated her blog, A Person in the Dark, a site designed for all of the wonderful people out there in the dark who have an unabashed passion for silents, early talkies, all stars and all films.