On September 15, 1937, the Coopers' only child was born, a girl they named Maria. From the beginning Coop and Rocky would provide a very sheltered existence for Maria, keeping her out of the limelight and away from the press as much as possible.

As the thirties drew to a close, Cooper made some wise decisions (turning down the roles of Robert Conway in Lost Horizon and Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind) and some not so well-advised - The Adventures of Marco Polo, and Souls at Sea, for instance. (The latter he called his "almost" picture: "It was almost exciting, and almost interesting. I was almost good.") He did wrap up the decade with an excellent choice - William Wellman's rousing Foreign Legion tale, Beau Geste, released in 1939.

The Coopers took a trip to Europe, and Coop's formerly isolationist politics did an abrupt about-face after stopping in Nazi Germany. (He was virtually the last American film star to visit there before the European outbreak of World War II.) "There's no question that those people want a war," he said. "They're determined to become a world power and seem to feel that's the only way to become one. Those storm troopers - the atmosphere in Berlin - well, I've never sensed such tension."

In the summer of 1940 the Coopers vacationed in Sun Valley, Idaho and started a life-long friendship with the Ernest Hemingways. The author invited Cooper to read his latest novel, still in galley form, "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Cooper immediately identified with the story, professing to Hemingway that if it was ever made into a movie, he wanted the part of Robert Jordan. "That's good," Hemingway replied. "It was written for you."

In 1940 it appeared that Clark Gable, The King of the Movies, had as runners-up only Spencer Tracy and perhaps two more recent comers, Cooper's one-time "successor" Cary Grant, and Coop's new good friend, James Stewart. Soon, however, and for quite some time, Cooper would overtake them all in popularity.

It had been five years since Cooper had worked with director Frank Capra; their second film together, Meet John Doe, was a huge success when released in early 1941, although today it does not hold up as well as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. However, Time magazine featured Coop on its cover, saluting "a personality that de-schmaltzes sentiment and de-rants rhetoric."

As the United States faced the prospect of yet another World War, Cooper's next film focused on a hero of the first War, Sergeant Alvin York. A backwoods boy who sees the error of his rowdy ways and gets religion, York overcame his moral and ethical objections to war and performed the single greatest known act of heroism of World War I. His story was turned into a very timely movie by director Howard Hawks, and no one could have portrayed the hero's self-effacing stubborn determination better than Gary Cooper.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agreed - at the Oscars ceremony on February 26, 1942, Cooper won the award for Best Actor of 1941.
Perhaps of equal importance to Coop was the distinguished citizenship medal he received from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a ceremony attended by 53-year-old Alvin York, and a very proud Charles Cooper.

Cooper's next project could not have been more of a change of pace - the delightful comedy, "Ball of Fire".

In a story by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, directed by snappy-paced master Howard Hawks, Coop played Professor Bertram Potts, whose ivory tower is besieged and conquered by fun-loving showgirl Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck). Ginger Rogers was initially slated for the role; when she became unavailable, Coop suggested
his Meet John Doe co-star Stanwyck. He later joked that it had been a bad move - he gave the bumbling Professor a charming innocence, but it was Ms. Barbara who deliciously stole the show.


Ball of Fire, with Barbara StanwyckEarly in 1942 Cooper was interested in the Cecil B. Demille sea spectacle, Reap the Wild Wind, in which he would be pitted against John Wayne. Samuel Goldwyn had other ideas.

Goldwyn, whose command of English was not always quite up to par, told Cooper, "Forget about raping the wind - I have a great picture for us to be doing!"

Goldwyn was correct - the role he had in mind for Coop was that of baseball slugger Lou Gehrig, and the movie was to be "The Pride of the Yankees."  Gehrig, the legendary first baseman for the New York Yankees, had died in June of 1941 at the age of 38.
He suffered from a rare progressive paralysis that today is simply known as Gehrig's Disease.

Cooper spent many weeks in training as serious as any big-league ball player's. However, a former teammate of Gehrig's called attention to the fact that Gehrig had been a left-hander - which Cooper was not.   This problem was solved by filming
the right-handed Cooper at bat and then reversing the print.

The letters on his uniform, on other uniforms, even on signs in the background all had to be printed backwards in order to appear normal in the finished film.

Coop gave a first-rate, sensitive portrayal of the doomed sports hero, receiving another Academy Award nomination. (So did his co-star Teresa Wright - Wright won the award, but not for her role as Mrs. Gehrig. She took home the statue for her supporting role in Mrs. Miniver.)

as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the YankeesYankees was directed by Sam Wood,with whom Coop would work in five films during the 1940s.  Wood made a statement about his star that would be echoed and paraphrased by just about anyone who worked with Cooper throughout all of his career: "You're positive he's going to ruin your picture. I froze in my tracks the first time I directed him. I thought something was wrong with him, saw a million-dollar production going down the tubes. I was amazed at the result on the screen.  What I thought was under-playing turned out to be just the right approach.  On the screen he's perfect, yet on the set you'd swear it's the worst job of acting in the history of motion pictures."

Cooper was very much in demand - scripts would pile up at his Brentwood home, he received calls about projects that
would be initiated only if he would agree to be in them, or were canceled if he did not express interest. Other people advised him occasionally, but Coop chose his own parts. He trusted his instincts about what was best for him.

In 1943 plans were underway to film Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls as a big-budget Technicolor extravaganza. Just as Cooper and the author had discussed, there was no question about who would play Spanish Civil War activist, Robert Jordan. The role of the heroine Maria was a plum part many actresses were lobbying to get - the competition was followed by the press in a way that was reminiscent of the search for Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind" four years previously.


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