Gallant Spirit of Gary Cooper (cont'd)
from Screen Stories magazine, August 1961
Nowhere, in all the hundreds of thousands of words that poured out of Hollywood's correspondents to the newspapers of the world,was to be found the full, true story of the courage, dignity and gallantry displayed by the Coopers during those long, dark, last months. Of particular interest was the deft and dignified manner in which Coop's "Girls," as he called them, handled the thousands of "cancer cures," some from quacks, some from legitimate doctors, and others from well-wishers, that came pouring in on them. The thought that some of those "cures" might work plagued Rocky and Maria; but how could they possibly know which of the thousands to apply to their dying Gary. Their forced gaiety throughout this ordeal was astonishing to behold.
Coop remained lord and master of the household through it all. In his movies, as in his own life, Gary Cooper was The Great American Hero who solved the problems set forth in the script. It was always he who resolved the action that brought about the traditional happy ending. He insisted on playing that kind of role. He wanted no part of unhappy, downbeat pictures. Goodness inevitably triumphed over evil; and it was always Coop who saw that it did, by taking matters in his own hands.
Then came Coop's time. "The End," his own for-real finale was ready to flash on the screen. Once again, just before the fade-out, he took over to call the shots like a true hero should. He announced to the world: "I know that what is happening is God's will. I am not afraid of the future."
And Rocky and Maria took their cue from that brave statement: "I am not afraid."
The Girls had known about the full, tragic seriousness of Coop's condition longer than he had. They were fearful after his two sessions for internal surgery in 1960. If he were fearful, too, he never showed it.
The doctor finally told The Girls the truth, shortly after the second operation. They debated whether or not to tell Coop. They decided against it.
But Coop knew it, try though they might to keep it from him. The pain told him. He made the doctors tell him how much longer he had to live. He forced the issue by insisting that he would take Rocky and Maria on "a nice, long vacation trip" after he finished shooting his last picture, The Naked Edge.
Should patients be told they have cancer? Coop's doctors, the same as others all over the world, claim it depends on the patient. Coop was a brave man. He insisted on knowing. He seemed to perceive that planning such a trip would force the doctors to show their hand. He seemed to know that they wouldn't let him go through with the trip if they knew he would die in some far-off part of the world rather than at home. They told him.
St. Matthew wrote: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Rocky and Maria knew their New Testament, and their Old, as well as Coop. They had studied right along with him when he started taking instructions in their own Roman Catholic faith back in 1958, long before he knew he was going to die. But they wanted no mourning during the short time left for him. (I mention the time of his conversion for the benefit of those readers who have written to ask if Coop became a convert to Catholicism because he knew the end was near. The answer is no. His illness had nothing to do with his conversion. He wanted to become a Catholic. Rocky and Maria didn't push him into it, although they set the good example that convinced him this was the religion he wanted.)
Rocky and Maria set about making Coop's last days as happy as possible. He knew what they were up to. He went along with the game.
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