Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Male on Monday - Gary Cooper

This Monday our columnist, Annie West, delves into the film archives to find an old favourite, a star from the days when Hollywood produced Stars with a capital S!
OK, so he’s been dead for decades, but that’s the magic of film, isn’t it? You can watch a movie made years ago and still appreciate a darned good hero. I grew up watching Gary Cooper movies as my dad is a big fan.
Gary Cooper had a laconic charm all his own, an easy-on-the-eye presence that makes watching him in action a delight, good looking if you like the long, rangy type (I DO, I DO!), and he was a natural actor – not overly dramatic, in fact he’s quoted as saying that ‘The general consensus seems to be that I don’t act at all’. Yet you can really believe in his characters. What more could you want?
Well, there’s more - Gary Cooper holds a special place for me. Several years ago, when my writing career was going nowhere fast, I complained to my friend, the long suffering Anna Campbell, that I couldn’t write an alpha hero. Then the lightning bolt hit – that there are all kinds of alpha heroes. (Duh! Call me slow - and she did!) I realised that the type of hero I’d imprinted on was the sort Gary Cooper played so often: the courageous, chivalrous man standing, often against the odds, to protect what he believes in.
Think of ‘High Noon’, a classic western where he played an older small town sheriff marrying a gorgeous younger woman (Grace Kelly). Some just-released prisoners with a grudge head back to town to kill him. It's a story about love, conscience, courage and loyalty. His wife, who is opposed to violence, urges him to leave but he knows there is no escape. He stays to fight and protect his wife, though the townsfolk won’t help him. That story resonated with a lot of people all around the globe. ‘Solidarity’, the Polish trade union group, even appropriated the iconic image of Cooper as the lone, outnumbered marshal to use during its struggles against the then Communist regime.
Cooper was equally at home in action/adventures, as a suave sophisticate, in comedy or in ‘triumph of the common man’ films. He had a reputation as a ladies man and the movie houses capitalised on his appeal to women. Some of his films included:
‘Morocco’ with Marlene Dietrich, where he played a foreign legionnaire,
‘Lives of a Bengal Lancer’, pretty self explanatory,
‘Beau Geste’, is there a theme here?
‘A Farewell to Arms’ as Hemingway’s hero,
‘The Plainsman’ as Wild Bill Hicock,
‘Sergeant York’, in which he won one of his Oscars,
‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’, and ‘Meet John Doe’ - Frank Capra classics,

‘Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife’, a comedy with Claudette Colbert,
‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ with Ingrid Bergman, and
‘Friendly Persuasion,’ where he plays a pacifist Quaker caught up in the American Civil War (a lovely blend of humour and pathos).

Cooper was 6’3”, and worked as a guide at Yellowstone National Park, as a curtain salesman and considered a career as a political cartoonist. He began in movies as a stunt rider in low budget westerns but soon made his mark.
He was one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men for around 30 years. He was a friend of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, James Stewart and Bing Crosby! He’s reputed to have turned down the leading role in ‘Gone with the Wind’. (Gee, the things you learn when you research a blog!). I have to say I like his style – for instance his comment "The only achievement I am really proud of is the friends I have made in this community."
Next time you’re wondering what movie to view, why not try something different - dip back in time and try one of Gary Cooper's. He’s definitely worth checking out.

Annie still has to work hard at managing her alpha heroes but she does enjoy a challenge!
Annie’s latest release is FOR THE SHEIKH’S PLEASURE. It’s available now in North America and Australia/ New Zealand. To read an excerpt, pop over to her website.
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  1. Lovely stuff Annie!!!

    I'm a big one for using "classic" hero inspiration. 6'3" rangy handsome fellas won't ever go out of fashion in my book.

    And you've certainly got me wanting to see more of him. I think High Noon may be the only Gary Cooper movie I've seen and I watched it while going through a 'Grace Kelly' phase. How sad is that?

  2. Annie, actually I don't remember being that long-suffering but if you want to offer me eternal gratitude for my incredible insight ;-) , you just go ahead! How I remember it was I had a glass of something bubbly and alcoholic and I was rambling as I tend to do at such times! I love Gary Cooper and your post told me so many things about him that I didn't know. I'm with you, Ally. Long and rangy suits this chick! He sounds like a really nice man - love the friends comment. That's true in every sphere, isn't it? I want to see the Bluebeard movie. It sounds cool. I've seen the others and they're definitely worth checking out - well, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a bit turgid but he's pretty and so's she! Thanks, Annie. I don't think you can revisit the classics too many times!

  3. Ally, I suspect that his movies aren't shown on TV as much as they used to be so I'm not surprised you haven't seen much of him. There were some real beauties.

    I even have a soft spot for some of his later movies, where he's not the young hero but definitely still has presence! His role in 'Friendly Persuasion' is such fun and I also remember seeing him in 'The Wreck of the Mary Deare' a very intense story (I think close to being his last movie when he was quite ill) where he easily upstaged the younger Charlton Heston.

    You're dead right - 6'3" and rangy works for me too! Hm, I feel a hero coming on. Where's my pen?


  4. Anna, well, my memory of that conversation is centred totally around my lightning bolt moment of revelation. The rest is a blur!

    Yes, I liked the friends comment too! I have to say his smile was terrific. I'm a sucker for a nice, slow smile!

    So glad you enjoyed the 'classic' post.


  5. Hi, Annie--

    Gary Cooper! Big, happy sigh here :-). That craqgy face, that shy smile, that rumbly voice--ahhhhh :-). And his staring contest with Patricia O'Neal in The Fountainhead? Wowsa! Some of the hottest stuff on the screen.

    Excellent hero material here, that's for sure! In fact, he's the "model" for a character in one of my works-in-progress ;-).

  6. Hi Terry,

    How cool that you're writing a hero inspired by Gary Cooper. There's just something about him, isn't there?


  7. Yes, Annie, there certainly is "something" there ;-). My little-girl heart went ka-thump when I first saw him on my parents' television many, many, MANY years ago. I've been a fan ever since :-).

  8. Hi Annie! Great post. I had no idea Gary Cooper was in line for the role of Rhett. Do you know, I haven't seen High Noon? Must get it out of the video store one day.

  9. Interesting stuff! I can't imagine anyone else but Clark Gable as Rhett. Loved Gary Cooper in Mr Deeds.

  10. Christine, if ever you're down this way pop in and I'll hire a copy to show you. Definitely worth watching. One of the classic westerns.

    Authorness, Mr Deeds - yes, I haven't seen it in years. Another one to add to the list. I remember having such belief in him in that film.