Gary Cooper: American Hero

Jeffrey Meyers, Author William Morrow & Company $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-688-15494-3
On screen, Cooper (1901-1961) was the tall, lean American--cowboy, soldier, baseball player--who 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. 16 pages of b&w photo insert not seen by PW. Reader's Digest book condensation. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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