Hollywood’s Leading Man: The Life and Career of Gary Cooper

Throughout the mid-1900s, Gary Cooper was a sought-out actor to cast in Hollywood films. When the actor was born, he was given the name Frank Cooper and was really interested in studying agriculture. However, everything changed for the young farmer when his family moved to Laos Angels.

Backstage portrait of American actor Gary Cooper
Backstage portrait of American actor Gary Cooper (1901 – 1961) as he leans on a stepladder beside several stage lights, mid 1950s. He wears a red oxford shirt and a black tie. Photo by Gene Lester/Getty Images

Cooper had new dreams and aspirations of becoming an actor. He got an agent who didn’t like the idea of the actor going by the name frank. That’s when he took on the name Gary Cooper. At the time, no one else had that first name, but that all changed once Gary Cooper became a household name.

Even though he was a talented actor, there was a lot that went on behind the scenes.

Catching His Big Break

Like most actors, Gary’s career started off relatively quietly. Considering this was the silent film-era, it doesn’t come as a surprise. He has a slow start appearing as an extra in various movies, just waiting for the opportunity to catch his big break.

American actor Gary Cooper
American actor Gary Cooper (1901 – 1961) (as Marshal Will Kane) in a scene from the film ‘High Noon’ (directed by Fred Zinnemann), California, 1952. Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Although Hollywood is a cut-throat industry and difficult to break into, Cooper landed a break in 1926… but not in the way he expected. He got the role of leading man in The Winning of Barbara Worth because the actor they cast failed to show off. It was definitely a win for Cooper, who was getting his taste of stardom.

Leading Man and Ladies Man

That part certainly put Cooper’s name on the map, and he started racking up roles ever since. He was cast in plenty of films and usually portrayed the romantic hero like in Wings and The Wolf Sang. Directors wanted to cast him, and actors wanted to work with him, especially the ladies.

Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall
Gary Cooper (1901 – 1961) stars as tobacco farmer Brant Royle and Lauren Bacall as the woman he loves in ‘Bright Leaf,’ directed by Michael Curtiz. Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Clara Bow is an actress who embodied the “it girl” status back in the twenties. She was so captivated by Cooper that she demanded he would star in a film with her. She was persistent and eventually snagged the actor a lead role in Wings. It could have been the start of his alleged tendencies to get a little too close with his co-stars.

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