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Before Garrett Hedlund portrayed a cowboy in Country Strong and even before John Wayne dominated the screen, there was Gary Cooper. He got his start in the Hollywood star machine back when silent movies were giving way to the “talkies” and he is one movie star who actually grew up on a ranch in Montana and was a real-life cowboy.
That stint at being a cowboy is what convinced him he didn’t want to do such hard work the rest of his life! He started west after hearing that one of his friends had gotten work as an extra in the movies, but then lost the man’s address upon arriving in Hollywood.
He stayed despite having a hard time finding work because he figured he’d rather starve in the mild southern California weather than go back and face the bitter winters he’d left. Eventually he did find work as an extra at ten dollars a day. Then he asked the director if he could take a fall—for which he was paid and extra five dollars.
An interesting fact about Gary “Coop” Cooper (his name was originally Frank Cooper) is that his directors mentioned many times that he couldn’t act, that he was stiff as cardboard and didn’t show any emotion. Gee—is that a cowboy or what? But, the crazy thing was, when they went back through the film edits, suddenly on screen there’d be a subtlety and tension that came through in his performance. Gary Cooper had “it”—whatever “it” was. Strong, silent, trustworthy, and affable in a quiet way, his most iconic role was of the sheriff in High Noon—a film the producers thought would be a flop but one that is now considered a classic and won him an Oscar.
The studio wanted him for Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind! It was only due to his procrastination to accept the part that they finally went with Clark Gable. I think perhaps that was a good thing. I can’t think of anyone else in the role!
Another interesting tidbit is that he was something of an artist, using his down-time on the set by drawing caricatures of those around him and sometimes giving them as gifts.
In Dance with a Cowboy, my story in the Wild West Christmas anthology, just released, Gary Cooper’s personification of a cowboy was my inspiration for the main character.In Dance With a Cowboy, it is rancher Garrett Sheridan’s duty to look out for his brother’s widow and daughter when they return to Clear Springs. However, falling for Kathleen isn’t an option—not with the secrets between them. It would take a Christmas miracle…and he doesn’t believe in miracles anymore.
Here at P&P there’s been a lot of discussion about the actors who characterized cowboys in the heyday of westerns. Who is your favorite? And is there a contemporary cowboy (actor) you like just as much?
I’d like to offer a copy of Dance With a Cowboy for one lucky commenter!
BIO: From her first breath, Kathryn Albright has had a passion for stories that celebrate the goodness in people. She combines her love of history and her love of a good story to write novels of inspiration, endurance, and hope. Visit with her at www.kathrynalbright.com, on Facebook , Twitter, or Goodreads.