Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Enduring Style

A flower and a nest. 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011. Cold, yesterday in New York with those grey skies that almost look like snow. But no go. The weatherman says maybe some snow by Christmas but don’t bank on it.

The city seemed quieter. Making my way down to Michael’s by cab, traffic seemed lighter. I always check with the cabdrivers. They said the same. Five more shopping days till Christmas – which falls on a Sunday this year – but now people are getting ready to leave town (if they are leaving town), or beginning to prepare for the holiday at home. In my apartment building, the packages are almost glutting lobby all day, coming in from United Parcel, FedEx, the US Mail, etc.
I went to lunch with Maria Cooper Janis who has a new book out, done in collaboration with G. Bruce Boyer, and a brief introduction by Ralph Lauren, about her father. It’s called Gary Cooper: Enduring Style. It’s a perfect gift for anyone you know who likes movies or fashion; a keeper, beautifully published (by PowerHouse Books) boxed in a beautiful sleeve.

Maria and I have known each other for quite a few years in the way people often know each other in New York --  brought together at cocktail parties or dinners, in the company of mutual friends. I tend to not represent people I know under those circumstances as “friends” but more as acquaintances. However, Maria is a woman who has a gentle but direct personality and is very accessible to conversation. She and I have several mutual friends and because she also extends herself to people, “friend” is easily applicable.
DPC and Maria Cooper Janis at Michael's.
I recall a night we were at the same table at Elaine’s with a couple of those mutual friends (that kind of mixing took place all the time at Elaine’s – you took a seat wherever one was available). Somehow the conversation got around to a famous Art Moderne house in Santa Monica built in the 1930s by MGM Set Director Cedric Gibbons for his wife Dolores Del Rio, a great film star of the 1920s and '30s.

One of the women at the table had owned it years later in the 1980s. I’d recently heard that the house was “haunted” and mentioned it. The former owner confirmed the story. Maria also add that indeed it was “haunted.”

Click to order Gary Cooper: Enduring Style or buy now at Archivia Books, 993 Lexington, 212.570.9565.
And how did she know, I wondered with my usual skepticism about ghost stories? Her great-uncle (her grandmother’s brother) was Cedric Gibbons and as a child Maria often visited the house with her mother. She also knew exactly where the ghost dwelled – in a secret staircase that was accessible through Dolores Del Rio’s dressing room. Maria suspected that the “ghost” was in fact, the original owner, Dolores herself.

Maria, who has long been married to the great piano virtuoso Byron Janis, is a New Yorker through and through, but she grew up in Hollywood (in Brentwood and Holmby Hills specifically ) where her father was the movie star Gary Cooper.  

Gary Cooper’s career spanned more than three decades (from the mid- 1920s until his untimely death at age 60 in 1961). He started out in Silents as an extra and a stunt man, naturally handy with a horse and a gun, and in the first five years between 1925 and 1930, he made 24 films.

He became a star in 1930, however, playing opposite Marlene Dietrich in “Morocco” directed by Josef von Sternberg. I remember him well from several of his films in the 1950s, including “High Noon,” “Friendly Persuasion,” “Love in the Afternoon” (with Audrey Hepburn), his filmography amounts to more than 90 films spanning 36 years. By 1932, for the next three decades, he was one of the top box office stars in the business.
On the far left, the eight-year-old Frank James Cooper (who later became Gary in Hollywood) with his ranch chums in Helena, Montana in 1909.
The 15-year-old Cooper wearing an Indian headress made by one of his native American Indian chums in Helena. On the set of "The Westerner" in Tucson, 1940.
Although I was very familiar with the man, the movie star, until yesterday afternoon, I had no real sense of the man himself. Suffice to say he was adored by his daughter, his only child with his only wife Veronica Balfe (always known by her friends and family as “Rocky”).

I did recall, being a devoted movie fan as a kid, that the Cooper marriage had been seriously threatened by an affair that he had with the very young actress Patricia Neal in the early 1950s. (Coincidentally, Miss Neal was a neighbor of mine, living just two blocks down from me until almost the time of her death a year ago). Although the affair ended, and Cooper went back to his wife, it was a painful experience for his daughter who was barely a teenager. Yet in later years, she befriended Neal and remained loyal to her to the end of her life.
Rocky and Gary Cooper in their first home in Van Nuys, California, 1934. On a cruise to Africa in 1932.
In Sun Valley Idaho, 1940. L. to r.: Ingrid Bergman, Gary, and Clark Gable.
Enduring Style is a book mainly of family photos – including a few by some of the great photographers of the age – of the man, from his beginnings growing up in the early 20th century on a ranch in Montana, where his father and mother, emigres from England, owned a cattle ranch. Born Frank James Cooper, the youngest of two boys, when he was 13, his parents sent him and his older brother back to their native land for an “education.”

The boy who grew up on the land of the West with children of Indian tribes as playmates, acquired some sophistication during his English schooldays that clearly enhanced what became his famous style. But the roots of his native West remained firm in his unabashed yet sensitive, masculine image. As a professional actor, he had the great good fortune, the ultimate fortune in the film business of appealing to both sexes equally.
Coop with his friend Jimmy Stewart in Malibu, 1951.
On a visit to Pablo and Jacqueline Picasso, at Picasso's Villa La Californie in Cannes, 1956, with Maria on the right, photographed by David Douglas Duncan.
Tall and rangy, laconic, yet with an artist’s sensibility, he could track a cat, rope a steer, shoot a six gun like the best gunslingers in the films he appeared, and also dress with the kind of sartorial splendor and sophistication of the Duke of Windsor. As a friend and as a father, he was observant, sensitive and kindly.

When he was given his second Academy Award in 1961, he was being hospitalized at the time for cancer that would take his life in just days. His longtime friend Jimmy Stewart, accepting for him at the Awards, almost broke down in his acceptance speech. The next day it was announced in the press for the first time that Gary Cooper had cancer. He died just six days after his 60th birthday on May 13, 1961.

The nation mourned a good man, beloved by his friends and loved and adored by his wife and daughter. This book is a tribute, but a beauty, and by the end you may feel it’s a tribute to someone you knew and loved as a friend also.
Gary taking the stanch of a Masai warrior whom he came to know on his trip to Africa. The warrior stanch, with one left up against his inner thigh, could stand still like that for long periods with his spear in the opposite hand, while waiting for his prey. Photographed in Santa Monica at the home of Cedric Gibbons and Dolores del Rio in 1934.
All photos of Gary Cooper are the personal property of Maria Cooper Janis, all rights reserved.

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