What an astonishing career was had by Gary Cooper.
He began making silents in the mid-Twenties, and wound up appearing in nearly 120 titles of which he was the star of more than 80. (He died of cancer at the age of 60 in 1961.)
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to announce that Cooper also was regarded by many as the handsomest actor in Hollywood and a pretty good guy off screen to boot.
For example, Ernest Borgnine (a keen judge of character) got to know Cooper well when he worked with him on the 1954 western, Vera Cruz, which is well worth another look today.
Borgnine wrote: That six-foot-three legend was a perfect gentleman, an absolutely wonderful man. He never got excited, never got angry, never got flustered. If he flubbed a line…he apologized to the actors and director and we did it again…He was one of the most brilliant actors I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with some pretty good ones.
Cooper’s star began to really shine back in the Thirties. He made 36 movies during the decade including director Josef Von Sternberg’s Morocco opposite Marlene Dietrich; I Take This Woman opposite Carol Lombard; A Farewell To Arms opposite Helen Hayes; and Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes To Town with Jean Arthur.
His star power was of sufficient magnitude to draw huge crowds to movie premiers as the nation was in the grips of The Great Depression. We know this because Cooper’s name crops up in The Day of the Locust, described by generations of critics as the best novel ever written about Hollywood.
Author Nathaniel West ends “The Day Of The Locust — first published in 1933 — on an apocalyptic note. The novel’s protagonist, one Tod Hackett, an art director for a minor studio, finds himself in a large gathering outside Kahn’s Persian Palace Theater (read: Grauman’s Chinese, opened in 1927) where a Gary Cooper movie is premiering.
The thousands congregated anxiously await even the briefest of movie star glimpses. As depicted in the novel, the overweening worship of celebrity is a crucial component in the ensuing incitement of the bored, resentful mass of spectators, who for the most part traveled from the mid-West to relocate to the California promised land. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.
The intensity of the movie star adulation soon generates a riot of terrifying proportions, sparked by a celebrity sighting. Somebody hollered. ‘Here comes Cary Cooper,’ and then wham! The protagonist finds himself trapped inside an unruly, un-hinged mob.
He struggled desperately for a moment, then gave up and let himself be swept along. He was the spearhead of a flying wedge when it collided with a mass going in the opposite direction. The impact turned him around. As the two forces ground against each other, he was turned again and again, like a grain between millstones.
None other than F. Scott Fitzgerald admired Day of the Locust and wrote: (The short novel) has scenes of extraordinary power. Especially I was impressed by the pathological crowd at the premier.
Resentful or not, they went nuts for — Gary Cooper.