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.





  • Linda M

    Ms. Collack, what took you so long? I fell in love with Gary Cooper when I was just a little girl (probably 10) in the 60’s watching late night movies when I was supposed to be asleep.
    I first saw Gary Cooper in North West Mounted Police – beautiful, Unconquered – viral, and Ten North Frederick – old and worn. Yet in each movie, totally totally handsome and vulnerable. Of course, as a little girl back then, I didn’t realize that I was watching the same man, nor did I know that he had already passed away by the time that I had discovered him. But since then, Gary Cooper has been my favorite movie star.

    From there, I would see him in various movies whenever I had the chance and fall in love with him all over again. Like in, Now and Forever (although a bit of a cad), The Cowboy and the Lady, Beau Geste, The Westerner, For Whom the Bells Toll, Good Sam, Friendly Persuasion, The Hanging Tree, and so many many more including the three previously mentioned above.

    To me, no one has ever come close to my Gary Cooper in looks, talent, etc. etc. etc.!!!

    • DollyT

      Hi Linda, I beat you by 4 years when I saw “Sargeant York” released in 1941 and saw almost all of his pictures until the end. Sargeant York, Unconquered and Friendly Persuasion has and always will be my favorites.

      • Linda M

        Either way, we’ve got good taste. I never had the opportunity to see him on the big screen, only TV and videos.

  • http://twitter.com/Bryankr Bryan Ruffin

    I am so sorry you had such a “late” introduction to Gary Cooper! I had mine with his early Westerns. He was younger and the roles were…..rather different. I loved the idea that his characters were never really clear cut. One couldn’t tell, for certain, which side of the law they were on! He was the lead, he had a white hat on, but you still had to wait for the story to develop and his character with it before you really knew. I loved it! I still watch one whenever they come on, and for no other reason than that he is in it!

  • Wayne P.

    Yes, he sure was gifted with talent…in a lot of his best pictures he played the strong, silent type who was mostly virtuous and of good character. Its too bad those high moral quality traits didnt carry over so well to his personal life and he also lived hard by hanging out with Ernest Hemingway and doing quite a bit of drinking to go along with the extra-marital affairs. Back in that time both he and Spencer Tracy were rumoured to have wanted the Catholic Church to annull their marriages when their wives wouldnt give them divorces but that could never happen so they stayed married to the same woman over the years and just carried on like business as usual as those type of sordid details werent reported by the print/radio and/or TV media to the general public since it might tarnish the reputations of such celebrities but, more importantly, damage their careers. When my brother got my Mom an auto-biography of him some years back I was not surprised in the least to find that Bill Clinton wrote the forward as he was a huge Coop fan who hasnt flown either! What do they say? Birds of a feather flock together…something like that…;)

    • Wayne P.

      Whoops…meant to say biography above because, of course, Coop didnt write that one!

    • Linda M

      I understand and agree with what you are saying, especially the part about the big studio cover ups. Evenstill, Gary Cooper was and will always be my favorite movie star. And while I mostly fell in love with his various characters, which I am sure were a part of him, sadly, he was not the best husband and probably should not have been married in the first place.

      My second favorite movie star, James Stewart, may not have been perfect in his personal life – is anyone – but he (James) was a much better man in his private life than my first love, Gary. Unlike my Gary, James did love his wife to the day that he died.

      Anyhow, it makes me feel good that Gary Cooper and James Stewart were friends, which proves that Gary had some good influences in his life too.

      Nevertheless, I am still not convinced that it was just acting (talent). Gary Cooper possessed some of that goodness along with strength within him in order to portray all those likeable and memorable characters. Remember too, that he was a hero during the 1947 “un-American” hearings.

  • fbusch

    Ah, Beau Geste, to have a vikings funeral with a dog at my feet!! I still gather films like this, they calm my soul.

  • Mel

    It took me a few years to appreciate him, also. I was about 12 years old when I saw Marco Polo–an absurd account of history–but when I saw him kiss Sigrid Gurie, I was hooked. That was over 40 years ago. He is still at the top of my list of any movie star I could meet…

  • georgia cee

    He was just the sexiest star ever…and he sure didn’t go around being sensitive all over the place. You just knew he was more complex than he seemed and it was all inside to be discovered just by you.

  • Norman Gillen

    Patricia Neal, in her 1988 auto-bio “As I Am,” discussed her discreet love affair with Gary Cooper quite openly. She recalled that once during the early 1950s, they both visited an acting class for young performers who were very much into Stanislavsky and the Method. As one might expect, the youngsters’ ideas on performing differed radically from Cooper’s, which seemed a bit too conservative for their tastes. Yet, when they invited him to join in on their usual activities, he consented to do so, enthusiastically. By the time class had ended, the students learned a couple of things about their visitor — that he was as humble and gracious as his screen persona, and he wasn’t just the “yep, ma’am” performer they had dissed so many times while at his films. They discovered he really could act.

  • Jack Fitzpatrick

    Groucho Marx once said, “I saw Gary Cooper and George Raft do a scene in front of a cigar store and I thought that the Indian was overacting.”

  • tone26

    he was very dull and stodgy

  • dave816

    Just watch Ball of Fire and see how good he was.

  • Cara

    Or Sergeant York. Very different character. He won an Oscar and deserved it. And when he was young, he was gorgeous. He could play drama and comedy. The sign of an excellent actor.

  • Verneaux

    Watch Mr Deeds Goes to Town and you’ll never watch the dreadful rmake again.

  • Tom K.

    Love “Sgt. York” and “High Noon” for Gary Cooper’s portrayal of those honorable, steadfast characters. Who else could have played those roles ? They just don’t make movies like those any more. ( They should. )