I’ve often driven along I-15 and passed through Helena, Montana without a thought. Recently I discovered it was the birthplace and boyhood home of one of my Hollywood idols, Gary Cooper.
“Coop” as he was known to his peers was born Frank James Cooper May 7, 1901 in Helena. He lived there until he was in his early 20’s. His father was a judge on the Montana Supreme Court. In 1924 they moved to Los Angeles. He started in movies as an extra or stand-in for western stars. His first credited role came in 1925 in “Lightnin’ Wins”. Coop accepted a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures and changed his name to Gary.
He won two Academy Awards for Best Actor. The first in 1942 for Sergeant York, and the second in 1953 for his role as Will Kane in High Noon. This is his best known role. In total he received five nominations for Best Actor in his career. Other movies and roles of note include The Pride of the Yankees (Lou Gehrig), and one of my faves Vera Cruz.
He died on May 13, 1961 at the age of 60 of cancer. Six months prior he was awarded an honorary Oscar by the Academy. He was too ill to attend so his close friend James Stewart accepted it on his behalf.
Coop made over 100 movies from 1925 until just before his death in 1961.
On September 10, 2009 the USPS will issue a stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series honoring Gary Cooper. To the left is the image of the 44c commemorative stamp. First Day of Issue is Los Angeles, CA.