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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