Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gary Cooper (1901-1961)

Birth name: Frank James Cooper
Birthdate: Tuesday, May 7th, 1901
Location: Helena, Montana, USA

Died: Saturday, May 13th, 1961
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of death: Cancer

Best known for: Major movie star whose career spanned from the end of the silent era to the end of its "golden" years. He came to prominence with 1929's The Virginian, and followed that with hits such as A Farewell to Arms (1932), Sergeant York (1941), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and High Noon (1952). He won two Oscars - for Sergeant York and High Noon - and was nominated for a further three - for Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (he lost to Paul Muni, James Cagney and Paul Lukas respectively). He also won a Golden Globe for High Noon.

Gary in High Noon, aged 51
There was no slowing down in Gary Cooper's career. In fact, he was at the top of his game throughout the 1950s when he started to branch out into more varied roles to complement his usual all-American hero parts. Westerns became a staple of his output in his final decade thanks to the runaway success of High Noon, but he also diversified his CV with the romantic comedy Love in the Afternoon (1957) and the romantic thriller Ten North Frederick (1958). Some critics claimed he was too old - in his late fifties - to play romantic leads.

However, while Gary's on-screen success was not faltering, his health behind the scenes was suffering. In the early 1950s, he was receiving ongoing treatment for ulcers, and during the filming of 1953's Blowing Wild he sustained a severe shoulder injury when he was hit by fragments from an exploded oil well. During the filming of 1954's Vera Cruz, Gary injured his hip falling from a horse, and was also burned when co-star Burt Lancaster fired his rifle too close and pierced his clothing.

Gary, aged 58, on the
set of The Wreck of
the Mary Deare with
Charlton Heston
Action films were where Gary's heart lay, however, so despite the ulcers and several operations for hernias, he continued to take high octane parts as his 60th year approached. After 1958's Man of the West, Gary's contract with Warner Bros. expired, and he decided to set up his own production company (Baroda Productions). Baroda produced three pictures in 1959 - March's The Hanging Tree, co-starring George C Scott; June's They Came to Cordura, with Rita Hayworth; and November's The Wreck of the Mary Deare, co-starring Charlton Heston.

After this glut of productivity, the year 1960 reined Gary in - on Thursday, April 14th he underwent surgery in Boston for prostate cancer after it metastasized to his colon. Soon after this operation, on Tuesday, May 31st, he fell ill again and endured further surgery in Los Angeles in early June to remove a malignant tumour from his large intestine.

Gary took the summer of 1960 to recuperate, and then took his family on holiday to the south of France, before travelling to the UK in the autumn to make what would become his final film - the Hitchcockian The Naked Edge, which was finally released in May 1961, the month Gary died.

Gary in his final film, The Naked
Edge, filmed in the UK toward the
end of 1960. He was 59 here
In December 1960 Gary filmed for the NBC documentary series The Real West, and just after Christmas, on Tuesday 27th, Gary's wife Veronica was told by the family doctor that his cancer had spread to his bones and lungs and was inoperable. The family decided not to tell Gary straight away, and enjoyed another holiday in Sun Valley, Idaho, in January 1961 before he finally discovered his terminal status on Monday, February 27th.

On Monday, April 17th, Gary watched the Oscars ceremony on television and saw his friend James Stewart accept an honorary award on his behalf as Gary was too ill to attend. A teary Stewart said: "Coop, I want you to know I'll get it to you right away."

The following day it was headline news around the world that Gary Cooper was dying. He received various messages of support from around the world, including Pope John XXIII, Queen Elizabeth II, Ernest Hemingway and President John F Kennedy. On Thursday, May 4th, Gary made his final public statement: "I know that what is happening is God's will. I am not afraid of the future."

In March 1961 Gary's appearance
on NBC's The Real West was
broadcast. He'd filmed it the
previous December.
Gary received his last rites on Friday, May 12th and he died peacefully the following day at 12.47pm, less than a week after his 60th birthday.

A requiem mass was held six days later at the Church of the Good Shepherd, which was attended by a plethora of Hollywood names - James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, John Ford, John Wayne, Edward G Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Marlene Dietrich among them. Gary was buried in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California.

In May 1974, when his family relocated to New York, his remains were exhumed and reburied in Sacred Hearts Cemetery in Southampton, New York.

Gary Cooper in one of his final public appearances,
on Monday, March 13th, 1961 at a boxing match
in Miami, Florida.
And to end... To think that Coop was at home watching this on TV makes it all the sadder. Within a month, he'd be dead...

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