Man of the West

Gary Cooper did more than most to shape Hollywood’s all-American archetype. But offscreen, he was as comfortable in sharp tailoring and behind the wheel of a fabulous car as he was in the company of the beautiful and famous.
Gary Cooper, circa 1945.

In episode one, season one of The Sopranos, Tony laments the egregious failings of the modern American psyche to his nonplussed therapist, the forbearing Dr. Melfi. “Let me tell ya something,” he says. “Nowadays, everybody’s gotta go to shrinks, and counsellors, and go on Sally Jessy Raphael and talk about their problems. What happened to Gary Cooper? The strong, silent type. That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do.” It’s no surprise that the emotionally dissolute Soprano should hold Cooper up as a taciturn all-American archetype. Although ‘Coop’ appeared in more than 100 movies, playing roles from a British subaltern in India (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer) to a white-tied socialite (Bluebeard’s Eighth High Noon that became his familiars. In it, Cooper played Marshal Will Kane, a small-town lawman whose sense of duty is tested when he must choose whether to face a gang of killers alone or leave town with his new wife. It gained Coop immortality, as well as a best actor Oscar and a string of adjectives: laconic, rawboned and upright among them.


Stuart Husband


December 2022


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