See biography by J. Meyers (1998).
Frank James “Gary” Cooper (May 7, –May 13, ) was an American film actor and iconic star. He was renowned for his quiet, understated acting style and his stoic, individualistic, emotionally restrained, 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, and comprised more than one hundred films.
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.
When he was 13, Cooper 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. 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. Gary, unable to make a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, joined them, moving there that same year, reasoning that he "would rather starve where it was warm, than to starve and freeze too.
After the release of this short film, he accepted a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures. He changed his name to Gary in 1925, following the advice of casting director Nan Collins, who felt it evoked the "rough, tough" nature of her native Gary, Indiana.
"Coop", as he was called by his peers, went on to appear in over 100 films. He became a major star with his first sound picture, The Virginian, in 1929. The lead in the screen adaptation of A Farewell to Arms (1932) and the title role in 1936's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town furthered his 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. 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". 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.
In 1942, he 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 Gary Cooper portrayed him.
In 1953, Cooper won his second Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Marshal Will Kane in High Noon, 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.
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 American 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 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.
Cooper's testimony occurred a month before the Hollywood blacklist was established.
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 Cedric Gibbons. During the 1930s she also became the California state women's skeet champion. They had one child, Maria, now Maria Cooper Janis, married to classical pianist Byron Janis.
Eventually, his wife persuaded Cooper to become a Roman 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. Cooper's daughter Maria, when she was a little girl, famously spat at Neal, but many years later, the two became friends. Cooper separated from his wife between 1951 and 1954.
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 all over the world ran the headline, "Gary Cooper has cancer". One month later Cooper was dead, six days after his 60th birthday.
Charlton Heston often cited Cooper as a childhood role model, and later worked with him on The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959). Heston praised Cooper for doing his own stunts despite his age and poor health.
Note: Cooper may have been an uncredited extra in the film The Last Hour, though it is unlikely since Cooper told the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947 that he moved to Hollywood in 1924 and began acting in 1925.