High Noon

Nobody involved in the making of High Noon thought they were making more than just another, hopefully, good little Western which cost all of $750,000. It was not filled with the expected action of cowboys vs. Indians chasing each other across the plains. However, in the talented hands of several artists from the Writer Carl Foreman to Director Fred Zinnemann, to its star, my father, Gary Cooper, the beautiful ladies Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado, the sinister villains including Lee Van Cleef and the wonderful theme song composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, this “little Western” turned into an iconic film that has affected and touched world leaders from Japan to Poland and shook up American politics at the time of one of our more shameful periods – the McCarthy hearings. According to those hearings, there was a Communist under every bed. My father was extremely close to High Noon’s writer Carl Foreman, in fact, he called him Uncle Carl and when the film’s producer Stanley Kramer wanted to take him off the film because of alleged Communist propaganda, my father simply said, “If Foreman goes, Cooper goes.”

Many books and articles have been written about High Noon. The story exposed the cross currents buried in human nature and politics. We see in the film a reflection of our own inner conscience and its struggle between fear and doing what you know is right – to do what you have to do for a greater good, or in the name of justice – concepts which are not limited to any one era. In fact, there’s a very interesting parallel between High Noon and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea – both challenge our own personal definitions of Honor, Courage, Justice and Fear. My father won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Marshal Kane. It was the first time the “hero” of a film was shown to be human and vulnerable.

I strongly recommend for further reading the recent book, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel.

Maria Cooper Janis

CLOAK & DAGGER

This film was made in1946 cast my father very much against type. his role as  a nuclear scientist names Alvah Jasper  was whatthe Austrian director Fritz Lang wanted to do, and he  always said he based the character Jasper on  our  famous atomic scientist J. R. Oppenheimier. I remember going out with my parents  to visit Cal Tech  where the studio had arranged for him to get a “little coaching” from the scientific  community there. To get into the skin of an atomic scientist was not a role my father did with ease.  He was coached   in order to learn to speak with ease, some of the technical dialogue and acquire some information about the ‘splitting of atoms”!!   He was in awe  as we stood in the back of the classroom/laboratory and watched the professor  fill a huge blackboard  with numbers, diagrams, equations: He wrote so fast  the images seemed to explode all over the board, like a meadow of Paul Klee creatures come to life. In an unusual  way this was a challenging film for my father and he was nervous about delivering his scientific  dialogue with enough conviction and knowledge. As for the physical  ‘action” there are  rough fights  in this film and he did not use a double  in spite of was suffering from an old hip and back injury. The. “message” of the movie about the dangers of Atomic Energy and its misuse in the wrong hands, created controversy. In a speech that Jasper gives he passionately says— “ Peace? There is no peace. It’s year ONE of the AtomicAge and God have mercy on us all——if we think we can wage other wars without destroying ourselves etc…”.  It got thrown out by the studio and they insisted Jasper/Cooper deliver a bland, innocuous speech, which for me undermined some of the guts of the story.Poppa loved working with Lily Palmer in this, her first American film. She became a close family friend as well as his co-star, and he felt was an extremely fine actress.This is a very different Gary Cooper film, but he always wanted to try out different personas . …another facet of his versatile acting talents.

Maria Cooper Janis

THE WESTERNER

One of my father’s favorite directors to work with was William Wyler, from “The  Westerner” in 1940,  their first collaboration - to "Friendly Persuasion "in 1956. Both films created an important impact on the film career and character of Gary Cooper.

This unusual story/film- some half-truth and half-fiction was in the beginning a source of tremendous   irritation and resentment between my father and producer Samuel Goldwyn’.  My father thought that he would be portraying the historical, colorful and infamous Judge Roy Bean.  To his shock he discovered that Goldwyn had cast Walter Brennen in that plum part. When Cooper objected strongly, Goldwyn tried to placate him by saying don’t worry we will he  will expand your part!

His role in the shooting script did not please my father at all, but he finally agreed to - fulfill his contractual obligations “under a formal written protest”!

It was another one of those tough physical locations in the desert near Tuscan, Arizona with extreme temperature fluctuations endured by the cast and crew.The role GaryCooper inhabited- a character named Cole Harden, has to use his wit, cleverness and devious tendencies in order to save his own skin, when Judge Bean wants to see him DEAD. To avoid being hung, Harden cleverly plays on Bean’s obsession with the real-life famous beauty, singer and entertainer of the day, Lily Langtry, Walter Brennen and my father became buddies while making the film. They joked around with each other with Brennen making phone calls to my father impersonating Sam Goldwyn’s angry diatribes at Cooper!!The screenwriter Niven Bush and my father also became friends as he praised how helped his writing with the factual knowledge of the real was that was so important in developing the story line.

Maria Cooper Janis

SARGEANT YORK

The intersection of  lives is a fascinating  occurrence as it unfolds in time. The lives of Sargent Alvin York  World War 1  hero and the life of film actor Gary Cooper were melded together when Alvin York told Hollywood that theonly way he would allow his story to be told would be if Gary Cooper portrayed him. It won my father his first Academy Award  and it spread the story of York’s  heroism to millions of moviegoers around the world.

Some 75 years later   at  an event  paying tribute to the  WW1 medal of honor winners  in the historical Park Ave. Armory hosted an evening at which both the Cooper family and the York family were together  listening to a beautiful song — Song for a Hero composed by Maria Cooper Janis’s concert pianist husband  Byron Janis  written as a tribute to heros everywhere.It was beautifully sung by singer opera/ broadway artist Frank Basille. Following  that was a one act play newly written about Alvin York by…I  am so glad to meet and be getting to know  the York  family, both  Col. Gerald York and last year  met with one of York’s sons Andrew Jackson York at an event when each of us unveiled  US Postal service stamps depicting our fathers. A truly unique and moving moment

A most memorable moment for me happened a few years ago when I found myself sharing a stage with one of the sons of Sargent Alvin York.We both unveiled 2 large paintings of our Fathers, commissioned by the US Postal Service, as the images for one of the new “forever” stamps that were going to be circulated in post offices around the country.This was held at the amazing World War 1 Museum in Kansas City on the anniversary of Armistice day November 11th.York had become such an American hero—though a reluctant one- as he was a pacifist and did not believe in fighting or killing. Hollywood tried  to woo the  uninterested  and elderly Alvin York, who refused to give the rights to his story to any film makers…unless… they could get Gary Cooper to portray him in a life story movie.  My father was so extremely honored and humbled by York'srequest and, the challenge to take on that role.The two men met and got along beautifully. and so, a beautiful film was made, an inspiring story told, and Gary Cooper won his first Academy Award.

Maria Cooper Janis

 CASSANOVA BROWN

This film is a very different Cooper type role.  He plays a sweet, rather awkward and naive man…not your typical Gary Cooper heroic character.My father was a co-producer on this movie followed by Along Came Jones, however wearing those 2 hats  cured him of the “producing “ bug.He was co-starred with Teresa Wright, the wonderful wife of Lou Gehrig in the Pride of The Yankees, but not so wonderful in Cassanova Brown.The husband/wife relationship was quite the opposite, in fact dramatically so!The comedy that plays thru this film did not work all the time.  That was a frustration for my father, as he in fact had a real flair and natural timing for comedy, something that is shown off wonderfully well in his film Bluebeard’s 8th Wife with Claudette Colbert, written by that master Billy Wilder and directed by Ernst Lubitch. Claudette Colbert and her husband Dr. Joel Pressman were close friends of my family, and we spent many happy weekends together at our tennis courtand around the swimming pool.

Maria Cooper Janis

NOW AND FOREVER

As Now and Forever was made in 1934 my father was still kind of “newlywed"(1933 marriage) and he didn’t want to accept more than one picture that year.  My memories years later of his comments about that film revolved mainly around one very little, cute, adorable…and highly annoying little girl named Shirley Temple who played his daughter. She already had made a name for herself in the industry. He admired a lot her intelligence and talentbut was highly irritated with her annoying habit of knowing not only her own, but everybody else’s lines when shooting a scene. Little Shirley was not shy about speaking up and correcting you in front of the cast if you made a dialogue mistake and said “and” instead of “but”. Understandably, this is never done and it drove him crazy!!!But he overcame that frustration and they actually got along very well. and their relationship and scenes together are touching and memorable.By contrast, his co-star Carol Lombard and he have an explosive relationship in the film. The contact and dynamics work very well for the story. Off screen Carole was a family friend and there was many a weekend afternoon   with the Coopers and she and Clark Gable who were madly in love with each other, just relaxing, playing tennis, swimming. I have been told she could hold her own with the guys when it came to swearing—quite a shock coming from this very feminine blond!The movie was a “sleeper” and a much better picture than popularly. acknowledged by the critics at the time. But the public was very happy!

Maria Cooper Janis

The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree is a film that was particularly close to my father’s heart. Certain things resonated for him relating to his Montana childhood, the lure of the gold rush days in 1873 and many of the flaws in our human nature so graphically depicted in the plot of the film. As the main character, a doctor named Joe Frail, it also provided my father with a chance to play a much darker role than usually attributed to Gary Cooper. The atypical Cooper role in the persona of Dr. Frail is not one his public was used to seeing him in and he relished the chance to play a role that stretched him. The superb cast of Maria Schell (her first American film), the wonderful Karl Malden, seasoned director Delmer Daves, came together to make this the unique film that it is. Del Daves sometimes seemed to vanish from the camp near Yakima, Washington. In the course of filming, it was discovered that he was an avid amateur geologist and rock/mineral collector and he would venture off on his own personal expeditions to find a special kind of ancient rock formation – or perhaps it was the remnants of some gold nuggets flushed out of the mountains after a heavy rain. At one point, Daves took ill and Karl Malden came to the rescue encouraged by my father to take the reins as needed. I still have a gold nugget from the site that my father made into a pendant.

As I watched my father Gary Cooper's film The Hanging Tree now, 60 plus years after it was made, I am more aware than ever of how natural Gary Cooper’s acting style was - though I don’t think he would have referred to himself as having an “acting style.” He worked at immersing himself in the character and then let his intuitive feelings and emotions about who that character was, what drove him to be and do the things he did, come naturally then he said, “I don’t have to act.”  As an unusual Gary Cooper type in The Hanging Tree, he portrays a much “darker” hero and his face reflects layers of inner conflicts not usually identified with a typical Western hero, particularly Gary Cooper. His character, a doctor named Joe Frail, is trying to escape his past memories - most raw, his personal wounding by his betrayal by his wife with his own brother. Maria Schell, the beautiful talented actress from Germany, is given her first American film and she is given a more complex female role than those usually handed to women in a Western film - she is neither a prostitute nor a school marm. There is a haunting musical score by Max Steiner and performed by Marty Robbins that threads through the film as it captures the emotional drama of anger, sadness and ultimately love which is portrayed at the end of the film.

Maria Cooper Janis

The Devil and The Deep

Before taking on a role, my father always liked to read and learn as much as possible about the life conditions and the background of the characters he portrayed. For The Devil and The Deep he did a lot of research on submarines, their technology of the day—1932— and the experience of living under the pressures imposed by life in a sub, and all of that woven into a passionate love triangle.  Tallulah Bankhead and the great actor Charles Laughton provided that conflict.Tallulah noticed when making the film, my father spent a lot of time talking with a naval officer who the studio had hired to provide a ‘reality check” for all concerned.  “What's that got to do with acting?” she asked Gary. “The point is, Poppa replied, “ if I know what I’m doing I don’t have to act”. I think one of the unique  things about Gary Cooper is that he embodied a very balanced blend of the masculine and feminine—which we all have in us  in varying degrees. The portrayal of his character in this film is  that of a man with a beautiful and elegant persona  yet ultimately strong and commanding and able to become the “hero” at the end of it all.Charles Laughton admired my father’s acting talents, and is quoted as saying, “Gary had something I should never have. It is something pure and he doesn’t know it’s there. In truth, that boy doesn’t have the least idea of how well he acts…He gets at it from the inside, from his own pure way of looking at life.”

Maria Cooper Janis

Beau Geste

Beau Geste was made first as a silent  movie in 1926 with Ronald Coleman as the major lead. In 1939 paramount did a remake  “talkie” with my father Gary Cooper chosen to  play one of theGeste brothers, who run off together to join the French foreign legion— the others  portrayed  by Robert Preston and Ray Milland.I remember my mother telling me that it was a very tough location, filmed in the Mojave Desert,some miles from Yuma, Arizona. The studio built a complete “movie town” with tents that had wooden floor and actual working bathroom for a crew of over 700 people.

i was told a dramatic story as I was growing up about how my father had gotten word that i was very sickbut with no details.  So being stuck out in the desert he highjacked a camel and rode at full gallop to the nearest highway, where he ties the camel to a telephone pole and hitchhiked into Yuma and to the nearest hotel telephone to “phone home” to see if i was alright. Well, I later learned that colorful story was totally dreamed upby an eager PR person who fed it to the tabloids of the day!!! The adventure story itself of Beau Geste  praises courage and appealed to my father’s  early training and sense of values—and his belief in  the importance of loyalty and self-sacrifice

Maria Cooper Janis

 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

I have a new insight into the background of one of my favorite of my father's films, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, chosen by The New York Film Critic’s Circle as the Best Film of the Year (1936) and it  garnered 5 nominations from the Motion Picture Academy - Frank Capra won for Best Director.  It is one of the key films in the career of Gary Cooper and was directed by the great Frank Capra. Now I am having the pleasure of reading about Robert Riskin, who wrote the screenplay of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, in a most interesting new book written by his daughter Victoria Riskin. She writes about her father and mother, Fay Wray one of the beautiful actresses of that era.  When asked about her father and which films most closely reflected his personal philosophy, she named Mr. Deeds as one of them. His development of the character Mr. Longfellow Deeds embodies the fact of the essential goodness of ordinary people and the ability of one man to stand up to the corruption and power plays of the rich and influential. The film comments on that and the vulnerability of human nature. This all came together marvelously directed by Capra and sensitively portrayed by my father with some good bits of humor thrown in. The chemistry between Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper was hidden in the beginning but poignant when finally revealed.  I strongly recommend seeing this film if you never have, or - again, and do get a copy of Victoria Riskin’s book - it gives an extremely accurate and fascinating look into the Hollywood of that time.

Maria Cooper Janis

PRIDE OF YANKEES

The season starts to change—it stays light a little later each day and, Good news “BASEBALL SPRING TRAINING starts in Florida…which brings my mind always- to one of my father’s favorite films. THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES in which he plays the role of Lou Gehrig, referred to as The Iron Horse. He batted .300 for 12 straight seasons. His baseball career and life was tragically cut short as he was afflicted by the disease: ALS (Amyatropic Lateral Sclerosis)— known even today  as the Lou Gehrig Disease. How awful that even today some 75 years plus later, science and medicine have still not been able to find a cure.

My father was very honored to be chosen to play the role of Lou Gehrig , but he balked at first and he knew one of his major challenges would be to try to be “a lefty”  as my father was right handed.Sam Goldwyn, the producer, engaged the ‘training” services of Yankee trainer Lefty O’Doul to coach my father how to throw and bat left handed…I love this photo where O’Doul who believed that chopping wood with a long ax and from the left shoulder—with the wood-chopping stride and rhythm was essentially the same  as the batting swing…made an early comment about my father’s efforts…You throw a ball like an old woman tossing a hot biscuit!!”

“Poppa” worked out hard himself at home too, working with a large boxing/punching bag and practicing bowling with his left hand so that using it would become more natural.The idea of playing such a known and beloved person kind of intimidated my father. He said “You can’t “trick up” a part like this with mannerisms or gimmicks.” So many millions of people knew Gehrig, watched him and knew how he handled himself.

When Gehrig was honored at Yankee Stadium he gave one of the most famous ‘farewell” speeches heard either in real life or on the screen.Nothing needed to be added as he walked off the field to cheers, national public admiration and tears.Lou Gehrig continues to be an inspiration to  ballplayers and  people everywhere who know his story. My husband, concert pianist Byron Janis, who is a huge baseball fan and I brought this Lobby card from the movie as a gift to George Steinbrenner when we sat with him at an “Old Timers Day” game atYankee Stadium. He said ‘Oh, would you like me to take this down to the locker room and get the “boys” to sign it?” Of course I said”. Byron and I love looking at both sides!

 Maria Cooper Janis

WINGS

This film WINGS is about the use of airplanes in World War 1 and the talented and brave men  who flew them to daredevil extremes.It  notably   won the  First Best Picture of the Year  Academy Award in Hollywood in 1927  and introduced on screen, oh so  briefly, a young  handsome unknown actor who  we literally- hear say a only a  couple of lines—his last words being  “Luck or no Luck when your time comes you’re going to get it”! and he walks out of the tent. Brief minutes later we see a shadow pass over the tent, hear a loud crash, and we know the pilot’s luck ran out! The movie audiences reacted so strongly and flooded the studio with letters wanting to know who was that incredible looking young man who gets killed?  And so, a Star was born, who became  one of the Icons of the Movie Industry    In those 90 seconds Gary Cooper  captured  the audience  with a force of personality and a look in his eyes that overshadowed the 2 established stars of Wings, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen . Director William Wellman, a terrific pilot himselfwho was part of the group of American pilots who joined to fight for the French in WW1 called  the Lafayette Escadrille, directed the air fight scenes. One scene called for a plane to cash into a farmhouse. None of the stunt men wanted to do it, and Bill said “Never mind- I’ll do it myself”. You have never seen air combat scenes like this anywhere on the screen—even today, and, with no trick photography! My father’s career was launched by Wings. He never forgot that humble beginning which introduced one of the most revered stars and actors of the 20th century. With his looks, personality and integrity Cooper came to represent the best a Hero can be …the best an American can strive to beon screen and off.

 Maria Cooper Janis

A FAREWELL TO ARMS

It does seem like Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway were  destined to meet and become friends, although Farewell to Arms was made before those two men had encountered each other.My father’s co-star was Helen Hayes, the First Lady of theAmerican theater. The story takes place in war torn Italy in World War 2, and the two of them fall in love. In real life Helen,by her own admission, became totally smitten by my father. She said “ …if only he had  wiggled his finger at me tocome meet  him, I would have left my husband  ( the writer Charles McArthur, and child and gone off with him.” She said that during one of their love scenes in the picture- in between ‘takes’ she was looking adoringly into Coopers eyes.  Gary looked back at me,  took me firmly by my shoulders- and said “ NO, HELEN , NO”. But they remained friends even through much of her acting life was still devoted to the theater and in New York City…The studio shot 2 different endings for the film…the Hemingway ending  in which she dies in  in her lovers arms, and  the Hollywood “Happy Ending—she lives.. The theater  distributors  opted for the happy ending. However  when the movie was released in 1948 and the war had ended,  the studio  re edited it and used  Hemingway ending-- she dies in  Coopers arms. When I  met Miss Hayes for the first time, my husband and I were invited to visit her at her home in Nyack , New York. She greeted us at the front door and as she opened it, saw me kind of  silhouetted against the sunlight outside, she  exclaimed “ Oh,  you look just like  Gary standing there, tall and quiet.”It was a very emotional moment for me…I really did not know what to say…only had  deep feelings running through  me. And a long ago connection was still there. And how beautiful she was then and now…She was angel.

Maria Cooper Janis

 

DALLAS

Dallas was made as one of a group of films the studio offered my father with not much leeway in choosing yeah or nay. It was a Western between two non-Westerns - Bright Leaf, based on a true tobacco family drama and Distant Drums, that dealt with not the American West but the Seminole Indians in Florida. Getting “back in the saddle” was something my father was always comfortable with, but an actor/artist always wants to stretch his own limits and feel he’s moving in new directions, honing his craft. Was he able to do that in Dallas? I don’t know, he never spoke about it and I suspect, as Picasso said, “I learn from the paintings that don’t work.” Maybe to study Dallas, one can see what spurred my father to move on and bring other elements to his roles in Westerns.

Maria Cooper Janis

VERA CRUZ

For my father going to Mexico both for work and vacation was eagerly anticipated or planned.Any time a film location was set for there he was delighted.Vera Cruzthe script was being worked on day by day, so no time to learn lines ahead of timenot my father’s favorite way to work.But the drama for himcame when he and Lancaster are in a cabin surrounded by the ‘bad guys” shooting out of windows to save their lives. Burt was standing behind my father and his gun went off by accident, shooting the “Blanks into my father’s left shoulder. An inch higher it would have taken off his left ear or scarred the side of his face. As it was, the wadding from the blank left a tattoo type of scar the size of a silver dollar in Poppas skin The tension between the two characters in the film   builds— who gets the gold, who gets the woman???  And then---the final shoot out.

Maria Cooper Janis

 THE VIRGINIAN

It’s hard to realize that in 1929 out of 20 thousand movie theaters only1500 were wired for sound. My father  had a naturally deep voice that served him well as the “talkies”  transformed the film industry. Owen Wister’s The Virginian hit the screens with a huge impact—the book itself from which the  film was made had sold 1.6 million copies in those days, and   it gave my father one of the classic lines in Western movie  history….”If you want to call me that , Smile” The story is not  ‘dated” and in fact there is a resonance with  another film classic of Gary Cooper’s,  High Noon. The point being you don’t run away from your duty- even as it puts your own life on the line. The romantic cowboy/hero image of my father pulls you into the very essence of the story, in fact, to the essence of Gary Cooper himself…on screen and off.

Maria Cooper Janis

Morocco

The film Morocco stands out as a high point in Gary Cooper’s early   career.  With his co-star Marlena Dietrich and his director, the infamous Josef von Sternberg it was quite a leap into the fire.The physical chemistry between Cooper and Dietrich was obvious on screenand off. This did not please their director who was obsessed with her and jealous.  He was known for being a tyrant on the set, but did get great performances from his primary love Marlena. My Father felt the rest of the cast was pretty much left on their own to lay their scenes. And no one ever “bullied” Gary Cooper. He stood up to Sternberg and told him offverbally and physically when the occasion arose.  His role as a devastatingly handsome American in the French Foreign Legion who, “loved women and left them”, was the epitome of the Wild Legionnaire.   Coopers role was highly praised in this film of unrequited love, adventure, and those seeking revenge-

Maria Cooper Janis

SARATOGA TRUNK

As the chemistry was strong between Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, it was a natural coupling for them to be paired in the film adaption of Edna Ferber’s best selling novel, Saratoga Trunk. Both movies were directed by Sam Woods but Saratoga Trunk had any number of problems including a lack of directorial vision to make the film come off, costing $1.75 million to make and coming in 42 days behind schedule. Stories don’t always move well from the page to the stage and even though it was a pleasure to watch Cooper and Bergman together on the big screen, it was not at the top of anyone’s must-see list.

As a sidebar - the white Stetson hat that my father wore in Saratoga Trunk is the hat that he gave to Pablo Picasso many years later when we visited the great painter in the South of France. In several of David Douglas Duncan’s fabulous photography books on Picasso, you can find the artist proudly wearing this hat - he carried it off well!

Maria Cooper Janis

Children Of Divorce

Children of Divorce made in 1927, represented an early major learning curve in Gary Cooper's acting career.

A much publicized romance with the "IT "girl Clara Bow and himself had the gossip columns buzzing. In fact, it was she who helped him get the part in that film. It turned out to be a tough moment for my father as he was not used to playing the kind of character the role required - that of a fast talkin' society boy type, sophisticated and spoiled. It was a big jump from the "born in the saddle" western cowboy and his other smaller roles.

In one scene where he is supposed to be smartly drinking champagne with Clara Bow, he apparently spilled it all over her in 23 straight takes! Up tight and flustered, Cooper got himself fired and became very depressed thinking his acting career was over.

B.P. Schulberg, a major Associate Producer at Paramount, went to bat for my father, arranged to have him re-hired, and talked to his other leading lady, Ester Ralston, encouraging her to be extra kind to him. When a new director Josef von Sternberg was hired, things on set took a better turn, my father’s confidence returned and so the magic that emanated from Gary Cooper on screen become evident again.

The romance between him and Clara Bow ran its course. In fact, her way of life he found depressing but he remained fond of her and was grateful for her part in shaping his early Hollywood life.

Maria Cooper Janis