A Quiet Hero.
Gary Cooper ’26, winner of the best-actor Oscar in 1952 for his role in High Noon, risked his career to partner with the film's writer and producer, Carl Foreman, who was under persecution by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
When Foreman learned Cooper had jeopardized his contract with Warner Brothers, he removed Cooper from the partnership, though Cooper protested. High Noon became a smash hit. Foreman left the country, unable to find work, but said he never forgot Cooper's act of solidarity.
Behind the scenes.
Gary Cooper '26 was not always considered a tall, dark, handsome, and stoic actor. During his teenage years, when he was known as Frank Cooper, he was picked on for his clumsiness, lankiness, English accent, and academic shortcomings. Cooper flourished at Grinnell and left a permanent footprint on Hollywood.
Frank Cooper was born in 1901 to Charles and Alice Cooper in Helena, Montana. When Cooper turned 10 his mother sent him and his brother to the Dunstable Grammar School in Bedfordshire, England. Upon the declaration of World War I, the two boys returned to Montana and enrolled in public school. Despite an overseas education, Frank Cooper was never known to be academically inclined. Family friends referred to Frank Cooper as “Judge Cooper's wild kid”. Cooper’s collegiate career was just as rocky as his high school career. He enrolled and dropped out of two Montana colleges then applied to Grinnell College.
At Grinnell, Frank “Cowboy” Cooper was very well liked. He was best known for riding horses up and down the North Campus loggia. Recent lore says he also rode the horses up the Langan Hall staircases. He was involved with a singing quartet that frequently stood outside the Quad dining hall to serenade girls as they walked in and out. Most surprisingly, Cooper was not known as an actor. His short-lived acting career at Grinnell involved an audition for the acting club in which he was asked not to come back. After two years at Grinnell, Cooper left in the spring of 1924. He left his mark on campus as the “cowboy” and even carved his initials into his Langan dorm room closet.
He departed Grinnell for California. His first attempts at life as an artist were unsuccessful and he ended up working as a horseback riding stuntman for $10 a day. He soon got his breakthrough in the Western film The Winning of Barbara Worth. Around that time, he became Gary Cooper. Since then, Cooper made over 100 movies and received five Academy Awards. He received the 1942 Oscar for best actor for his performance in Sergeant York and the same award in 1953 for his performance in High Noon. Due to illness, Cooper was not able to receive his final award, the 1961 Honorary Award, at the Academy Awards.
After years of battling cancer, High Noon and Grinnell’s “Cowboy” Cooper passed away in April of 1960. Grinnell named the lobby leading to Hallie Flanagan Theatre to honor one of its most celebrated alumni, Gary Cooper.
Thank you to Fred Currier ’46 for the donation of a signed photo of Gary Cooper '26 to Grinnell College