Saturday, May 7, 2016

Born Today May 7: Gary Cooper


Born Frank James Cooper in Helena, Montana to English immigrant parents; he had one older sibling, a brother named Arthur.  Their father Charles had become a prominent lawyer in Montana, rising even up to the Montana Supreme Court; this allowed for the family to purchase a large ranch and live comfortably.  Their mother, Alice, wanted her two sons to have an English education, so in 1909 she escorted them back to the UK where they were enrolled in Dunstable Grammar School located in Bedfordshire.  He was educated there from 1910 through 1912.  The boys were then escorted, again by their mother, back to Montana to attend school at the Johnson Grammar School in Helena.  While in high school, he was encouraged by a teacher to join the debate club and get involved in the dramatic arts; this was his first exposure to public oration and acting of any sort.  Also while still in high school, he enrolled in college courses the agricultural college in Bozeman.  After graduating, he headed for Grinnell College in Iowa, the year was 1922.  While there he did well in his course work, but was disappointed not to be accepted at the college's drama club.  During summer's he supported himself as a guide at Yellowstone.  Disgruntled with college life, he quit suddenly in 1924 and headed to Chicago to find work as an artist, but was unsuccessful.  After a month, he headed back to his hometown of Helena, where he got work selling editorial cartoons to the local newspaper.  In the autumn of that same year, Cooper's father Charles left the Montana Supreme Court and moved with his wife Alice out to Los Angeles to work with family members living there.  At his father's request, he joined them there.  He wasn't there long before he ran into two acquaintances from back home who worked as stunt riders in the motion picture industry; they introduced him to rodeo champion "Slim" Talbot who knew people in the industry.  Talbot took Cooper to see a casting director, and he soon found work as an extra for $5.00 a day and a stunt rider for double that amount.  This is were some confusion comes into play.  Many film historians have claimed that Cooper made his film debut in 1923 in an uncredited role in a film titled The Last Hour; this highly doubtful, as Cooper didn't show up in Los Angeles until Thanksgiving of 1924.  It is much more likely that his real debut came as a "crowd extra" in Dick Turbin which came out in 1925.  From there on he got steady work in extra roles in a string of silent films throughout the 1920's.  Realizing that there was more than one actor who went by the credited name of "Frank Cooper," he figured that he needed to change his name.  Nan Collins, a casting director, that had turned agent for Cooper suggested the name "Gary" (after her hometown of Gary, Indiana) and a budding star was born. The first known credit under this name came in 1927 with The Last Outlaw, as "Garry Cooper," in an early starring role for him.  The first partial sound film he starred in came in 1928 in Lilac Time opposite Colleen Moore; though the film had no speaking parts--only sound effects with a musical score.  The first film that he starred in that actually had talking sequences in parts was The Shopworn Angel (1928), with sound provided by Western Electric Sound System.  It was, however, the very last film that he made in the 1920's that was not only his full sound film, but made him a superstar; that would be The Virginian (1929).  Directed by Victor Fleming, it is still a household name amongst connoisseurs of the western film genre.  Cooper would go on to have a very prolific film career, with some very notable roles along the way, including that of real war hero Alvin C. York in the 1941 Sergeant York , for which he won an Oscar.  He also won for High Noon (1952).  His life, though, was cut short, when a late diagnosis of prostate cancer allowed the disease to spread to his colon.  He passed on the 13th of May in 1961, just a week after marking his 60th birthday.  His funeral mass was held on May 18 and was attended by many Hollywood luminaries.  He was then interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.  However, in 1974 when his family relocated to New York, he was exhumed and his remains transported to Southampton, NY, where he was reburied at the Sacred Hearts cemetery there; a 3 ton boulder from the Montauk quarry, along with a flat grave stone mark his final resting place.  

His original grave marker in California

His new grave marker, with Montauk boulder, along with the marker for his wife's grave in Southampton, NY.

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