Legends of Hollywood
Issue Date: September 10, 2009
City: Los Angeles, CA
A cartoonist became one of the greatest actors on the silver screen. Frank James Cooper was born in Montana in 1901 and moved to Los Angeles as a young man, after a failed career as an editorial cartoonist. Cooper said he “would rather starve where it was warm, than to starve and freeze, too.” Once there, Cooper found work as a movie extra and changed his first name to “Gary,” after Gary, Indiana. A short Western film was his big break, and he went on to appear in more than 100 films.
Cooper turned down the lead role in one film, saying “Gone with the Wind will become the biggest flop in Hollywood history.” But Cooper’s career didn’t suffer. Nicknamed “Coop,” he became a Hollywood legend. Cooper was known for playing characters with strong principles, such as decorated World War I hero Alvin York, and a lone, aging sheriff fighting four outlaws. Cooper’s performance was so memorable that, according to daughter Maria Cooper Janis, “His iconic image in High Noon was selected to be the Solidarity poster for Polish Democracy.”
Cooper is regarded as one of Hollywood’s all-time leading actors, winning two Oscars for Best Actor. He was ranked 11th “Top Male Star” by the American Film Institute. Cooper died in 1961, just one month after winning a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.