The Rise of Gary Cooper Covered by His Hometown Helena Newspaper

Today we really zero in with our old newspaper coverage limiting it to just one newspaper. Gary Cooper's hometown Helena Daily Independent. Cooper wasn't only a citizen of Helena, Montana (also where Myrna Loy grew up), but briefly an employee of the Independent as an editorial cartoonist.

I searched for Cooper's cartoons for nearly two hours and am happy to say that I found ... one. You'll find it at the very bottom of this post. I was disappointed I didn't find more and while I didn't scour every page of every edition of the 1924 Independent I did run some pretty targeted searches through all 1923-26 issues and couldn't find any but the single cartoon.

I'm left to wonder if Gary Cooper really worked there as a cartoonist or if he just happened to submit one of his cartoons and have it accepted as freelance work. If you have access to any other Gary Cooper cartoons from the Independent I'd love to see them!

Gary Cooper 1939 Mars Confections Trading Card

Anyway, Plan A foiled, on to Plan B.

The Independent did do a pretty good job over the years keeping up with their very own movie star. I love the wording, especially on the earliest articles which focus more on Judge Cooper's son rather than Movie Star Gary Cooper. I quote many of the articles verbatim to keep as much of that often quaint wording intact as possible.

At the close of this post, just before Coop's cartoon, are significant excerpts from a 1937 Independent article said to be authored by Gary Cooper himself. While I'd imagine the article is actually by a ghostwriter the stories told by "Cooper" are mostly consistent with his established biography, so we'll run with it. It closes this piece out nicely.

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Gary Cooper Now a Star

"Gary Cooper, Son of Judge and Mrs. Cooper, Now a Star," November 9, 1926, page 10:

Gary (Frank) Cooper, 25- year-old son of former Associate Justice and Mrs. Charles B. Cooper, formerly of Helena, has become a real star in movie land. He has been signed to play the leading role in two new pictures by Paramount.

Helena Independent Gary Cooper ad June 21 1927

Work Attracts Attention

"Gary Cooper's Work Attracts Attention," December 12, 1926, page 11:

Gary Cooper 1920s era 5x7 Fan PhotoMontanans in California are calling attention to friends here of the rapid success of Gary Cooper, 25-year-old son of the former Associate Justice and Mrs. C.H. Cooper, who is not a star for Paramount. Gary Cooper left Helena several years ago and tackled the movie game alone. He was used as an "extra" for many months and the oath was not easy. recently the Independent carried a news item taken from the Los Angeles Times telling of the Helena boy's triump in "the Winning of Barbara Worth," filmed by Paramount.

Miss Theo Blackstron go Chinook, a former resident of Helena, has written County Commissioner H.G. Pickett telling of a letter from her sister, Mrs. E.H. Niles, of Culver City, who gives detailed information regarding the success made by Mr. Cooper in "The Winning of Barbara Worth" and other pictures. He is a real star, according to the letter to Mr. Pickett. Mrs. Niles' husband is a director of one of the large motion picture concerns and his information is that the Helena boy is on the road to even greater things in the picture world.

Judge and Mrs. Cooper are making their home in Hollywood with their son.

Helena Boy Appears as Star

Helena Independent Gary Cooper ad June 26 1927June 26, 1927, page 18:

Gary Cooper! This boy is a real news event. A Helena boy now a star in his first feature picture is to be shown ... at the Marlow.

No man in pictures ever had a bigger opportunity than Gary Cooper and no man ever gave strong indications of making good on his assignment. With his winning personality, and with the great Paramount organization, behind him.

That one seemed more like direct promotional material from Paramount rather than local editorial.

To Star in Film Featuring Home Life

"Gary Cooper Will Be Starred in New Film Featuring Home Life," January 5, 1928, page 2:

Gary Cooper, son of Judge Charles Cooper of Helena, is advancing rapidly in the motion picture world. Gary, who is well known to Helena people, has been seen on the local screen several times during the past year and has scored a hit in each of his pictures. He is not to get away from his cowboy performances, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times ...

Gary Cooper 1936 Nestle Trading CardParamount's Jesse L. Lasky said of the Cooper-Wray pairing that, "The producing of these pictures will be an experiment in an unusual way. Fay Wray and Gary Cooper, the two young people I have selected, will come to represent the best of American home life. They will represent love and not passion. I firmly believe the public will respond most heartily to this new picture."

Denies He Is to Marry

"Gary Cooper of Helena Denies He Is to Marry," May 22, 1929, page 15.

The Hubbard Keavy syndicated column quashes rumors of a Gary Cooper-Lupe Velez marriage and quotes Cooper as saying that he doesn't think a leading man should marry because it "puts him in a second class."

Keavy also writes about Cooper's old injury which keeps him from riding horses as much as people imagine he does:

Helena Independent Gary Cooper ad June 2 1929The cowboy designation must be something of a myth, because Cooper says he isn't much of a cowboy. He rode horses a lot until he was 17, he told me, and then he was burnt in an auto accident. Now he rides infrequently, and when he does it is with painful effort.

Legally Changes His Name

An Associated Press report from Los Angeles, August 29, 1933 that was printed on page 6 of the following day's Daily Independent:

Frank James Cooper of Helena, Mont., dark glasses and all, came into superior court today and received judicial approval to leave the courtroom henceforth to be legally know as Gary Cooper, motion picture actor.

At Home

October, 15, 1933, page 10:

Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Cooper held a delightful "at home" Monday evening, at their home on Sixth avenue, in honor of their brother, the well-known movie actor, Gary Cooper, who is on a hunting trip in Montana.

Many of his old friends were delighted to greet him again. A gay reminiscent evening was enjoyed.

Gary Cooper Looks Back

"Gary Cooper, Helena Boy, Tells Story of His Rise to Stardom" was "written for The Independent by Gary Cooper," according to the byline. Page 5 of the July 26, 1937 edition.

Gary Cooper 1930s Real Photo PostcardAll text first person from Cooper:

... Part of my education I had in England when, at the age of 9, I was sent to a grammar school at Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Just before I was 13, I returned to my birthplace, Helena, Mont., for my high school career ...

He mentions spending two years on his father's cattle ranch where he went to recover from his car accident.

... I went to college at Grinnell, Iowa. Once, and only once, during my two years there did I try to crash the drama group ...

When I got down to earning my living, I started as a cartoonist on The Helena Independent. Five years later I had ambitions enough in this line to journey to Los Angeles for a chance on a bigger paper ...

That ambition flopped, "But I had to eat. So I decided to become an extra."

Gary Cooper 1945 Screen Art Cowboys and Cowgirls 5x7 Paper PhotoMore than a year of this kind of work dispelled the El Dorado vision of the movies ... Often my last nickel would go for a loaf of bread, to get the most for my money, and, for want of a dining-room, I would sneak behind a billboard and devour the bread there.

Next Cooper details his discovery and rise from the extra ranks:

Hans Tiesler, an independent producer, picked me out of the crowd of one of those rare days when I did have work and gave me the leading part in a series of two-reel westerns opposite Eileen Sedgewick.

... The most surprised person in the world was myself when I found that my work was accepted. I even got the chance to do small parts in feature pictures after that.

Cooper writes that his life had already improved immensely by that point. He could even save some money. Then the next step:

Gary Cooper 1920s 5x7 Large Trading CardA part I played in "The Winning of Barbara Worth" really started the ball rolling. B.P. Schulberg, who was then managing director at Paramount, told me he wanted to give me a test ...

When I walked in, there were a lot of stolid-faced executives and directors sitting around, facing the door. I stepped into the room and waited, embarrassed, for someone to say something. All they did was stare at me, and I never spent a more nervous moment in my life.

Just when it all became too much for him, Cooper was led out of the room and then in about a half an hour:

... I signed my name to a contract, the result of that silent interview. One of the big mysteries of my life is what made them come to that decision.

Gary Cooper concludes:

I guess I've forgotten all about going back to Montana and cow-punching. A quiet home life in Hollywood, where I can mind my own business, is just as gratifying.

1924 political cartoon by Gary Cooper

Gary Cooper political cartoon signed F. Cooper from the November 2, 1924 edition of the Helena Daily Independent.

Gary Cooper The Westerner advertisement 1940

A full page from the Helena Independent, November 1, 1940, shows the local marketing centering around hometown Cooper in conjunction with his latest film, The Westerner. The tall ad picturing Cooper at the bottom right is for shopping at Globe, Helena's oldest clothing store, and states it is "operating in the same location under the same management as when Gary Cooper was a boy in Helena."

TCM Summer Under the Stars 2012

Gary Cooper 1935 Gallaher Tobacco CardIf you watched the first 22 hours of Gary Cooper day on TCM Sunday and turned off your TV after The Fountainhead aired you would be left thinking Gary Cooper didn't have a career before 1941. A similar problem to yesterday for TCM: The channel doesn't air any of Cooper's Silent or 1930's work from Paramount.

One exception, 1933's One Sunday Afternoon closes out Gary Cooper day (and earns a big DVR alert by virtue of the sentence to follow). It's a Paramount title that Warner Brothers bought rights to so they could remake it as The Strawberry Blonde in 1941. So Turner owns the rights, nothing to keep them from showing that one.

(Neil Hamilton in the Hugo Barnstead part played by Jack Carson in the remake? Hamilton is best remembered as Commissioner Gordon from 1960's Batman TV fame. Ought to be interesting! PS: Fay Wray plays the Olivia de Havilland part.)

Otherwise, if you like your Gary Cooper over-40, then Sunday is plenty good. Classic biopics Sergeant York and The Pride of the Yankees play as does screwball comedy favorite Ball of Fire. A handful of Cooper's better known later Westerns fill in most of the rest of the schedule, though none of them is High Noon (1952).

Sunday, August 26 - Gary Cooper - TCM Summer Under the Stars Schedule

  • 6:00 am - Dallas (1950) starring Gary Cooper, Ruth Roman, Raymond Massey
  • 8:00 am - Along Came Jones (1945) starring Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, William Demarest
  • 9:45 am - Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend (1991) - Documentary
  • 10:45 am - Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Margaret Wycherly
  • 1:00 pm - Garden of Evil (1954) starring Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark
  • 3:15 pm - Love in the Afternoon (1957) starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier
  • 5:30 pm - The Pride of the Yankees (1942) starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan
  • 8:00 pm - Ball of Fire (1941) starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Dana Andrews
  • 10:00 pm - Man of the West (1958) starring Gary Cooper, Lee J. Cobb, Julie London
  • 12:00 am - Friendly Persuasion (1956) starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins
  • 2:30 am - The Fountainhead (1949) starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey
  • 4:30 am - One Sunday Afternoon (1933) starring Gary Cooper, Fay Wray, Neil Hamilton

Note: All times EST

Gary Cooper day at the Summer Under the Stars blogathon

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