A FEATURE DOCUMENTARY
Narrated by Sam Waterston
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"If there'd been no Coop, Hemingway would've had to invent him" - Alistair Cooke
Ernest Hemingway: “Coop is a fine man; as honest and straight and friendly and unspoiled as he looks. If you made up a character like Coop, nobody’d believe it.”
And if you made up a character like Ernest Hemingway, how many would believe it? The mercurial Hemingway left people enchanted, hostile, confused, charmed, bruised, bitter.
Utter opposites ... nothing in common. The cowboy and the suburbanite. The conservative and the liberal. And yet these two artists (a word both men scoffed at) were the best of friends, right up to their deaths a mere seven weeks apart in 1961. But is the friendship of these two men really so surprising?
Consider this Cooper obituary: “Perhaps with Gary Cooper there is ended a certain America. That of the frontier and of innocence, which had or was believed to have an exact sense of the dividing line between good and evil.” Corriere Della Sera, Rome.
Substitute the name of Hemingway’s Robert Jordan and the sentiment is just as apt and poignant.
A study of these two men is a study of the 20th century. Their internationally renowned careers (Cooper, two Best Actor Academy Awards; Hemingway, Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes) were played out over the same turbulent decades: the hedonistic 20s, the grim Depression 30s, the war-ravaged 40s, and the deceptively slumbering 50s.
It is no small irony that the lives of these two men should suffer untimely ends at the dawn of the erupting sixties. Their final, poignant chapter closed at the beginning of a decade which would challenge many of the very ideals and precepts which both men so prominently represented.
And yet, decades later, we have Liam Neeson reflecting: “…the character of Bryan Mills (Taken) fits into a cinematic iconic figure that we all recognize from way back … I’m thinking of Gary Cooper in High Noon, who is kind of a Bryan Mills. That kind of iconic figure that audiences seem to be attracted to.
Or Katniss Everdeen, the hero from The Hunger Games. For all the modern trappings, the extraordinarily courageous and selfless Katniss is really just a female updating of the Hemingway/Cooper hero. She’s Robert Jordan. She’s Will Kane. To understand Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper is to understand both the genesis of Katniss Everdeen and why
she and other contemporary characters represent what they do to audiences today.
Perhaps Cooper and Hemingway didn’t really pass the torch, perhaps they merely leant it.
Why Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway?
Raylan Givens, the hero in Elmore Leonard’s hit TV series Justified, is frequently compared by other characters to Gary Cooper. Such as:
Randall to Raylan Givens: “I’m gonna put a limp in that Gary Cooper walk.”
And with good reason, as the NY Times noted:
“Raylan, the shoot-first, anti-authoritarian sex symbol descended from both Gary Cooper & James Dean ...”
Tony Soprano on Gary Cooper: “What ever happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. He was an American.”
Who is this man, this Gary Cooper, so admired by Tony Soprano, of all people?
“High Noon is my favorite picture. And Gary Cooper is my favorite actor.”
- President Dwight Eisenhower
“High Noon is my favorite film of all time. I’ve always been most proud of Gary Cooper for how he handled himself. He is still my favorite.”
- President William Clinton
President George W. Bush on ex-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi telling him: “You’re like Cooper’ I said, I’m like Cooper?’ He said, Yes.’ I finally figured out what he meant.”
Three U.S. Presidents, decades apart, hardly politically in synch, and yet, on one issue they are: Gary Cooper.
And consider this, three admiring actors:
“In only one scene in the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, WINGS, we see the future of screen acting in the form of Gary Cooper He is quiet and natural, somehow different from the other cast members. He does something mysterious with his eyes and shoulders that is much more like ‘being’ than ‘acting’. “
“Gary Cooper was our favorite, growing up. Sergeant York, that’s what we wanted to be.”
“I had dreams - fantasies really - about acting. I watched Gary Cooper as a boy. That’s who I wanted to be.”
- Djimon Hounsou
(Blood Diamond, Amistad, In America) Benin, West Africa
Hounsou first glimpsed his destiny in the Gary Cooper films that filled the small rural theater in his childhood in the 1970s.
Who is this actor, this Gary Cooper?
How about this: Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Bill Blass, and Givenchy are hardly alike in their fashion statements. Yet, all four are in agreement in the most influential mete fashion influence in the 20th Century. Yup, Gary Cooper.
And when Peter Wood needed an American ideal to represent dignity, manliness and wisdom In contrast with today’s bitter, angry social and political landscape in his book, ‘A Bee In the Mouth Anger in America Today’ (pub. Jan. 4, 2007), he chose none other than Gary Cooper.
Just who is this Gary Cooper, anyway!
Which is exactly what Ernest Hemingway asked himself when he met Cooper in 1940 in Sun Valley, Idaho: “Can Cooper be this real? Nobody can be this real. Nobody can be this natural.”
And while we’re on Hemingway, what about him, today, from our perspective?
“Robert Jordan is one of my literary heroes. I go back to For Whom The Bell Tolls a lot. Along with Shakespeare, it is one of my favorites.”
- President Barack Obama
"My favorite character, my ideal, really, is Robert Jordan in ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’. Hemingway really understood what it is to be a man, in every sense of the word.”
- Senator John McCain
Gary Cooper, of course, played Jordan in the 1943 film. Interestingly, as Hemingway’s son Patrick, says: “My father had Cooper in mind when he was fashioning that character.”
“Ernest Hemingway influenced more contemporary authors than any other writer. By far. Including me.”
- Elmore Leonard
“We didn’t just want to write like Hemingway. We wanted to live like Hemingway!”
- Robert Stone
“Hemingway was my ideal. As a writer and as a man who lived life to the fullest.”
- Gene Hackman
“Hemingway is my favorite.”
- Tom Stoppard
Nor is Hemingway’s appeal limited to actors and writers. Consider this: Decades after his death, he is still the most popular tourist attraction in Cuba. And in Key West, too. A mere writer!
Who are Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper? And why do they still resonate, more than half-a-century after their deaths?
John Mulholland, Writer/Director
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“Even someone like me, who didn’t operate consciously under Hemingway’s shadow, was still touched by Hemingway’s shadow. He had an enormous influence on male writing in America, and his echoes ... are to be found almost everywhere.”
- JUNOT DIAZ, author
“Gary Cooper was the perfect image for our campaign to get people to vote. We’d never had free elections in Poland. I am always so touched when people ask me to autograph that image of Gary Cooper from our campaign poster.”
- LECH WALESA, President of Poland, Nobel Peace Prize
“Hemingway created the whole idea of the anti-fascist hero. I mean you can’t really have Casablanca and Humphrey Bogart and all those characters without the Hemingway character. They all kind of derive from Robert Jordan.”
- ROBERT STONE, author
“Cooper put his whole career on the block in the face of the McCarthyite witch-hunters who were terrorizing Hollywood. He was subjected to a violent underground pressure campaign by John Wayne and others aimed at getting him to leave the film...But Cooper believed in me...He was the only big one who tried.”
- CARL FOREMAN, screenwriter, director, producer (High Noon)