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Gary Cooper: A Father, a Man, an American

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The world of today, saturated with fears of international terrorism, global ecological crises, and a glut of hardwired broadband information networks that weave connections across the entire planet is a far cry from the world that Gary Cooper left when he died on May 13th 1961.

When my father was very ill, one of his last spoken words was in the form of a question," I wonder if we will know when a rocket ship will land on Mars"? How many times as a kid growing up in the Montana of the first decade of the 20th century, did he sleep under the stars and look up, pondering the mystery of "out there".?

As an actor, he delved into the human mystery -- to capture and portray the complex attributes of persona and character. His artist's eye observed what he encountered and his artist's soul translated that into onscreen portrayals that did what he expressed his desires to be, "to show on screen, he best that an American man can be."

The distinction between "celebrity" and "star" was quite different in those days, and while there have always been actors who self-destruct, watching it happen today seems to have become almost a blood sport. So sad, and so much the antithesis of everything my father stood for both within his profession, as a friend, and as a human being.

Some years ago at the time of his death Alistair Cook wrote a tribute to "The legend of Gary Cooper" in the Manchester Guardian Weekly:

.... Well, the friends most certainly mourn the gentle shambling "Coop", but what the world mourns is the death of Mr. Longfellow Deeds, who resisted and defeated the corruption of the big city; the snuffing out of the sheriff in High Noon heading back to duty along the railroad tracks with that precise mince of the cowboy's tread and that rancher's squint that sniffs mischief in a creosote bush, sees through suns and is never fooled. What the world mourns is its lost innocence, or a favorite fantasy of it fleshed out in the most heroic of American myths: that of the taut but merciful plainsman, who dispenses justice with a worried conscience, a single syllable, a blurred reflex action to the hip, and must face death in the afternoon as regularly as the matador, but on main street and for no pay... He represented every man's best secret image of himself: the honorable man slicing through the broiling world of morals and machines...

50 years ago on May 13/14, The New York Times ran such headlines as "Gromyko Refuses to Yield on Seats for Laos Rebels," "Congo to convene Parliament soon", "U.S. Pledges Rise in Aid To Bolster South Vietnam" and "Wave of Negro Militancy Spreading Over the South". What a changed world!

My father's century passed, but on the 50th anniversary of his death the lines of his favorite poem ring (carve) into the present reality even more forcefully than when he struggled to write them down from memory in the last painful weeks of his life. But write them down he did... from the English poet John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I hope we all don't lose touch with who we really are and can be at our best... and maybe go watch a Gary Cooper movie or two.