In the early to mid 20th century, Gary Cooper was one of the most ubiquitous stars in Hollywood. He’s a highly sought-after actor who appeared in dozens of hit films. Pretty much, if his name was attached to a feature, it was sure to be money-maker.
He was known for his understated, strong, and silent acting style. Cooper received quite a few accolades for his work on the silver screen; including two Academy Awards for best actor in addition to three other nominations. And in 1961, he received an Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements.
For 23 straight years, he was one of the top 10 film personalities. Likewise, for 18 years, he was one of the most profitable stars of Tinseltown. The American Film Institute ranked him at number 11 on it’s list of the top 25 greatest male stars of classic Hollywood cinema.
Gary Cooper Career Years
Throughout this 36 year long career which spanned from 1925 to 1961; Cooper appeared as the lead in 84 feature films. Before the age of talkies, he was one of the finest stars of the silent film era. After silent films fell out of vogue, he participated as one of the driving forces throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood.
What made him such a likable star to both male and female audiences was his amazing ability to project his own personality onto the characters that he played on-screen. This made his delivery feel very authentic and natural.
But even though he’s one of the most prolific and celebrated actors of his time, Cooper’s personal life was riddled with scandal and controversy. He’s well-known for being a womanizer, and his interpersonal relationships oftentimes marred by his infidelity. Join Facts Verse as we take a closer look at both the professional and private life of Gary Cooper; and how he ultimately managed to redeem himself from his philandering ways.
Gary Cooper’s Early Years And Rise To Fame
Born Frank James Cooper on May 7, 1901, in Helena, Montana, Gary was the youngest of two sons from English parents Alice and Charles Henry Cooper. His older brother, Arthur, was six years older than he was.
Gary’s father hailed from Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire, and was a prominent rancher, lawyer, and Montana Supreme Court justice. His mother, who came from Gillingham, Kent, married Charles shortly after moving to Montana in 1906.
Gary’s father owned an enormous 600-acre cattle ranch called Seven-Bar-Nine. Approximately 50 miles north of Helena near the small town of Craig, Montana. It was there that he and his brother would spend their summers while learning how to hunt, fish, and ride horses.
Gary’s mother desired for her sons to have a proper English education. So she shipped them off to England in 1909 to study at the Dunstable Grammar School in Bedfordshire. While he’s currently enrolled there, Gary and his brother lived with their father’s cousins, Emily and William Barton.
Gary Cooper’s Education
While he scored high marks at Dunstable; Gary never quite used to the rigid class structure and stuffy uniforms he had to wear while studying there.
In 1912, Gary and Arthur returned to the US and continued their education at Johnson Grammar School in Helena. At the age of 15, Gary injured his hip in a car crash. This event would leave him with his distinctive stiff, off-balanced stride and angled horse-riding style.
In 1919, Gary’s father had him transferred to Gallatin County High School in Bozeman, Montana, where he discovered his love for debating and dramatics. While attending Montana Agricultural College in Bozeman, Gary developed his interest in art before continuing his education at Grinnell College in Iowa.
In 1924, Gary’s father left the Montana Supreme Court and moved his family to Los Angeles. There, Gary found work as a film extra and stunt rider in low-budget Western films. It was then that Cooper gave up his birth name and adopted his stage name after his agent advised him against using the name Frank.
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Gary Cooper’s Many Love Interests
While Gary’s career started off pretty quiet; which isn’t that surprising considering how this was still the silent film era; he eventually scored his first big breakthrough role in 1926 when he was cast as one of the male lead roles in The Winning of Barbara Worth after the actor that the studio intended to use failed to show up for work.
From there, Gary landed role after role portraying romantic heroes in films like Wings and The Wolf Song. Clara Bow, an actress that is epitome of the Hollywood ‘it girl’ at the time; so infatuated by Gary that she insisted on him appearing with her in one of her films. But after getting close with Bow on and off set, Gary’s notorious proclivity for being a womanizer got it’s start.
It made sense that Gary Cooper was as successful as a romantic hero as we were considering his reputation for being a ladies’ man. Evidently couldn’t control himself when he was around beautiful women, and he always knew just what to say to woo them. It didn’t hurt that he’s constantly being cast as the protagonist in films that starred some of Hollywood’s most distinguished leading ladies. Practically everyone that Gary set his eyes on would say yes to advances. But even though he could bed pretty much anyone that he wanted, this would sometimes land him into somewhat problematic situations.
Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez
Gary would routinely see more than one woman at a time. Pretty much every time that he had a new female co-star, he would wind up getting her in his bedroom. But that didn’t mean he would stop seeing the other women he was sleeping with. Naturally, this pattern would eventually land him into some hot water – particularly after he met an actress named Lupe Velez.
Lupe and Gary met on the set of The Wolf Song. Quickly their on-screen romance evolved into a behind-the-scenes fling. As their relationship was blooming, Gary started appearing in talkies which led to him finding more success in the film industry. One film, in particular, The Virginian, transformed him into a superstar. The massive hit movie and cemented Gary’s image as a volatile yet romantic honorable hero. From there, it was off to the races for Cooper, who proceeded to land leading role after leading role.
Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez Break Up
While dating Lupe Velez, who was known for throwing intense fits of jealousy, Cooper had brief affairs with his Morocco co-star Marlene Dietrich and Carole Lombard, whom he co-starred with in 1931s I Take This Woman. It’s also rumored that Gary was sleeping with male actor Anderson Lawler. Valez once told a biographer that whenever Gary would come home after seeing Lawler, she would sniff for Lawler’s cologne.
Not only could Gary not remain faithful to Velez, but his mother also despised her. She thought of her as tasteless and low-class. Gary and Lupe also were prone to getting into fights over his wandering eye. On one occasion, Velez stabbed Gary with a kitchen knife during an argument. She later tried to shoot Cooper while he was attempting to board a train. It’s a wonder how they managed to make their incredibly turbulent relationship last for the three years that it did.
After breaking things off with Velez, Gary married a 20-year-old New York Debutante named Veronica Balfe in 1933. He remained faithful to his wife until 1942, when he started having an affair with Ingrid Berman during the filming of For Whom The Bell Tolls.
After starring in 1948s The Fountainhead, Cooper had an affair with co-star actress Patricia Neal. At first, they tried to keep their affair, but eventually, Gary’s wife confronted him about the rumors that she had heard about the two seeing each other. After admitting to cheating on her, the two separated in 1951.
During Cooper and Baffe’s separation, Gary would reportedly have affairs with Gisele Pascal, Lorraine Chanel, and Grace Kelly.
Gary Cooper Eventually Found Spirituality
After enduring years of personal turmoil, Gary had a spiritual conversion of sorts. While some would speculate that he only found religion as a result of illness, his daughter Mario Cooper Janis, whom he had with his wife Veronica Baffe, denied these rumors, asserting that Cooper instead found his sense of spirituality more organically on his own while contemplating existential matters pertaining to the meaning of life and mortality.
Gary would eventually get back together with his wife Veronica after taking a three-year break. After accompanying her and his daughter, who were devout Catholics, to the Vatican to have an audience with Pope Pius XII, Cooper and Baffle began the process of reconciliation. Once he came back to her, he would start going to church with her and Maria. Likely, he was looking for a bit more stability at this point in his life after spending so many years running around.
In time, Father Harold Ford, the priest at the church they attended, would finally get through to Cooper, who had taken an interest in the message he would deliver from the pulpit. After having Father Ford over for dinner one day, Gary discovered that he and him had a lot in common. For one thing, the two shared a mutual interest in firearms. They also both loved scuba diving. Gary and Ford then started regularly going on diving expeditions together, and slowly but surely, their conversations began drifting towards religion.
Pretty soon, Gary realized, as he put it, that a ‘little religion’ would probably do him good. After several months of religious studies, on April 9, 1959, Gary Cooper was formally admitted into the Catholic Church.
Gary Cooper Surgery
A year later, on April 14, 1960, Cooper underwent surgery for an aggressive form of prostate cancer that had spread to his colon. He would battle cancer for the next year or so, but it soon became evident that he was losing the fight. But Gary took it in stride. He considered what was happening to him as being God’s will and publicly remarked that he wasn’t afraid of the future when giving his final public statement on May 4, 1961.
Just eight days later, on May 12, Cooper received his last rites and passed away the following day.
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