Gary Cooper

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Overview

Published to coincide with his centennial in May 2001, this definitive biography of a Hollywood icon portrays actor Gary Cooper as a man of complex and sophisticated tastes, as well as large appetites. Meyers offers a riveting, inside look at Cooper's career; his tempestuous relationships with Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Clara Bow, and Tallulah Bankhead; and his legendary friendship with Ernest Hemingway.
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Gary Cooper: American Hero

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Overview

Published to coincide with his centennial in May 2001, this definitive biography of a Hollywood icon portrays actor Gary Cooper as a man of complex and sophisticated tastes, as well as large appetites. Meyers offers a riveting, inside look at Cooper's career; his tempestuous relationships with Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Clara Bow, and Tallulah Bankhead; and his legendary friendship with Ernest Hemingway.
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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
[This] new biography, the first substantial work on Cooper in close to twenty years, brings his life and career into focus. The author bucks the current biography trend by admiring his subject.
Former President Bill Clinton
A fascinating biography of Cooper, really interesting and a great book.
Jonathan Lethem

Gary Cooper, on the evidence of Jeffrey Meyers' crisply written, persuasively researched but nevertheless unsatisfying biography, managed in his life to fulfill each of the classic filmic images for which he is remembered: Cooper was, in turn, the halting, inarticulate man of honor of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and the many westerns; the passively magnetic clotheshorse of his silent films and Morocco; and the seasoned seducer of younger women of Love in the Afternoon. Unfortunately, the man we meet in Meyers' book doesn't seem to have lived out the truth behind these images all that deeply. The on-screen Cooper still resonates, but if the man himself had greater levels of complication, Meyer hasn't found a way to penetrate them.

Known for intelligent, cleareyed books on F. Scott Fitzgerald, D.H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway, Meyers may have been spoiled for this project by a string of biographical subjects whose own articulate testimony provided a route of access to their inner lives. Or perhaps Meyers was a little impatient at finding himself more intelligent than his subject. He seems to struggle against this realization, repeatedly asserting the value and appeal of Cooper's nobility and decency, yet unable to anchor such assertions in the bland sea of professional triumphs, romantic conquests and hunting expeditions that seem to have been Cooper's life. Meyers' readings of the films are piercing and felt; his reading of the life glances off Cooper's glossy surface. Revealingly, the reader feels his interest quicken whenever Hemingway (a main Cooper pal) or writer/director Billy Wilder stray onto the stage -- these more intellectual figures compel Meyers the way Cooper never does.

A biographer employs two sets of tools -- the hardware of research and the software of imaginative sympathy with his subject. On the first count, American Hero appears impeccable. But the second, more delicate set of tools Meyers seems to have misplaced. Or perhaps Cooper has lifted them out of his biographer's hands: "I did have a reputation of not getting along too well with interviewers," Meyers quotes Cooper as saying. "I got a sort of reputation for saying yep or nope."

At the end of Gary Cooper: An American Hero, that yep and nope still stand as the last word. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On screen, Cooper (1901-1961) was the tall, lean American cowboy, soldier, baseball playe rwho embodied the ideals of duty, honor and integrity in a beguiling natural acting style. Off screen, he was the tall, lean American whose hedonism conflicted with the types of heroic roles that made him famous, most notably Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Marshall Will Kane in High Noon (1952), for which he won his second Oscar (the first came in 1942 for Sgt. York). In this diligent biography, Meyers (Bogart: A Life in Hollywood) relies heavily on abridging Cooper's films and drawing analogies to his life. (He finds that Love in the Afternoon [1957] "reflected Cooper's relations with his mistresses," for example.) Cooper turned his personal charm, "ravishing androgyny" and riding skills into a film career that spanned more than 30 years, from 1925 to his death. The democratic hero of the movies had a British education; voted Republican; was a "friendly" witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee (though he never named names); and loved the trappings of wealth. But until mid-career, Meyer notes, Cooper was more famous for his tempestuous affairs with stars like Lupe Velez, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly and Patricia Neal for than his acting ability. While Meyers ably assembles these aspects of Cooper's character, his account of the Montana-born icon never quite gets up to a full gallop.
Library Journal
Actor Gary Cooper was a dichotomy. He was born and educated in England, yet he was the quintessential screen cowboy, the square-jawed honest symbol of the American West. He usually played laconic, "aw shucks, ma'am" characters, yet he was a sophisticated world traveler and man about town. He was politically conservative and a man's man (Hemingway's best friend), yet he loved women and his love life was tempestuous. This well-researched biography chronicles Cooper's life from his childhood growing up on a ranch in Montana to his stardom during Hollywood's golden age. Meyers (Bogart: A Life in Hollywood, LJ 12/96) had the cooperation of Cooper's daughter as well as his friends, and what emerges is a balanced portrait of the man and his films. Each film is carefully discussed, as is his personal life. Meyers includes extensive notes, a lengthy bibliography and a filmography in which he rates Cooper's films. An outstanding biography of a film icon, who, alas, has probably already been forgotten by today's generation. Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Bay Area Cooperative Lib. System, CA
Kirkus Reviews
The indefatigably prolific Meyers (Bogart: A Life in Hollywood, 1997, etc.) continues to work his way through the major icons of American film. Gary Cooper didn't set out to be an actor. Given a choice, he would have preferred to be a painter in the mold of the great western artist Charles Russell. But he was born into the roles in which he became best known, a lanky, laconic westerner, son of English parents living in Montana, raised on a ranch but educated (albeit briefly) in England. He fell into film acting more or less by accident, taking extra and stunt work while living with his family in Hollywood in the mid-1920s, replacing a missing actor on a silent western and revealing an affinity for the camera. His rise was stunningly fast, so much so that in 1931 he suffered a nervous breakdown. When he returned after a few months' rest, he became bigger than ever. What is forgotten about Cooper is that his best work was not in westerns (or his equally famous pair of Frank Capra films, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Meet John Doe) but, rather, in the more rarified world of romantic comedy, particularly in an unlikely but highly successful series of collaborations with the urbane Ernst Lubitsch (Design for Living, Desire), Howard Hawks (Ball of Fire) and Billy Wilder (Love in the Afternoon), and romantic dramas like A Farewell to Arms. Meyers seems more interested in recounting Coop's numerous sexual conquests—his tempestuous affair with Lupe Velez, his several marriages and various dalliances—than in the films, and his critical judgment is unexceptional. Frankly, he has little of interest to say about the films, and whenhe attempts to generalize (as in a lengthy peroration on the role of the 1929 version of The Virginian in shaping the film western), his statements are riddled with cliches and inaccuracies. The book's lifeless prose suggests great haste and no small lack of interest.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815411406
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST COOPER
  • Pages: 415
  • Sales rank: 363,121
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Meyers is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of Hemingway: Life into Art, Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe, and Joseph Conrad (all four titles available from Cooper Square Press). He lives in Berkeley, California.
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