Coop with his parents


with Walter Huston in The Virginian (1929).
One of the most quoted lines at the time, Cooper's
"If you want to call me"

The new decade of the '30s would bring Cooper success he never would have imagined just a few short years before.

1930's Morocco, director Joseph von Sternberg introduced his protege, Marlene Dietrich, to American audiences. Such was his preoccupation with Dietrich that he almost totally ignored his male star.

Cooper's annoyance with his director stood him in good stead as the sullen and moody Legionnaire Tom Brown, a real "love 'em and leave 'em" kind of guy. Audiences loved him as a heel however, and his scenes with Dietrich fairly crackled. There was quite a lot of crackling going on between the star duo off the set as well, which only increased the animosity between von Sternberg and Cooper.

with Dietrich in Morocco (1930)

By 1931, Cooper had made an astonishing 28 movies in five years. Exhausted and not in the best of health, he went to Europe for a 'rest cure.'

Cooper went first to Paris, then to Italy, where he met society scion Dorothy di Frasso. Born Dorothy Taylor in Watertown, New York, she had married Count Carlo di Frasso, thirty years her senior. The Countess, renowned for her society connections and elaborate dinner parties, was enthralled by diamond-in-the-rough Gary and set about some extensive polishing.

She taught him social protocol, fitted him with a whole new wardrobe and sense of style, turned him into her debonair and poised escort. Cooper wasn't as comfortable with the situation as the Count, who thought nothing of it.

with Countess DiFrassoWhen Cooper travelled to Africa, Dorothy followed, arriving with a fully-equipped safari. Next came a Mediterranean cruise and Monte Carlo. Cooper gained self-confidence and a taste for wealth that would stay with him the rest of his life.

Eventually, Paramount Studios decided they needed to rein in their wandering star and cabled him some choice offers. They also let it be known that they had a new star waiting in the wings who had already been offered plum parts that might have gone to Coop - a young Englishman named Archibald Leach, who had changed his name to...Cary Grant.

"The guy's got my initials in reverse!" Cooper said - and decided it was time to return to Hollywood.

Upon his return, Cooper's next film was Devil and the Deep, which co-starred him with Tallulah Bankhead and Charles Laughton. Also in a supporting role was none other than Cary Grant, just to keep Cooper in line.

Coop also filmed stories by two great American writers, Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, and William Faulkner's Turnabout, which was titled Today We Live as a movie. He was working with top stars (Helen Hayes, Joan Crawford) and directors (Frank Borzage,Howard Hawks) and he won a contract dispute with Paramount that granted him a salary more in keeping with his star status.

Coop's dressing room became a kind of meeting place for many Paramount stars. Carole Lombard called it "the Fun House", and remarked that "even Gary talked" at these informal get-togethers. Bing Crosby recalled, "We drifted there before going home for the day - everyone liked the guy."

On Easter Sunday in 1933, Cooper attended a party given by designer Cedric Gibbons and his wife, actress Delores del Rio. The party was in honor of Gibbons' niece, Veronica Balfe, known as "Rocky."

Rocky was the daughter of a New York millionaire; she was elegant, poised and aloof beyond her 20 years. For a short time she pursued a movie career under the name Sandra Shaw, but did not dedicate herself to it with the necessary ambition.

She and Cooper began to be seen about town together, and in November of '33 he asked her to marry him. The answer was Yes. "Rocky is the ideal girl for me," Cooper said. "She can ride, shoot, and do all the things I like to do." They were married on December 15, 1933 and spent their honeymoon at the bride's parents' winter home in Arizona.

Coop next went on loan to MGM for a rather curious Civil War drama, Operator 13, playing a Confederate soldier with whom Union spy Marion Davies falls in love. The filming was not a happy experience for Coop - he did not see eye-to-eye with director Richard Boleslavsky's ideas about 'character motivation', never a big concern for Cooper. Also, Davies' lover, powerful magnate William Randolph Hearst, was constantly on the set, unreasonably jealous and hostile.

It was with relief that Coop returned to Paramount for Now and Forever - although he and costar Carole Lombard were frequently upstaged by that plucky moppet, Shirley Temple.

Although the newly married Coopers did not become reclusive, Gary did do a complete turn-about from his party-boy image that had so delighted gossip columnists.

Rocky gracefully undertook the role of "Star's Wife" yet retained her dignity and her identity, never content to exist in the shadow of her husband's fame. They complemented each other well - she was driving and energetic where he was quiet and casual.

"If I'd married a nice young man in a business suit, none of this would have happened. But he never bores me, and to be bored with the life you lead is the deadliest boredom."


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