Gallant Spirit of Gary Cooper (cont'd)
from Screen Stories magazine, August 1961
It was two days after Jimmy Stewart's "slip" on the Oscar-cast that Coop told The Girls: "I wish the story hadn't gotten out. I don't want people fussing and weeping over me." He requested his press agents to try and keep all news bulletins about his ailment down to a minimum. This, of course, was like trying to stem the Niagara. Millions of shocked and grieving fans demanded to know every possible detail about the condition of their idol.
The phone calls, telegrams and cables came in by the thousands. Letters of sympathy and advice, estimated at over 60,000, came pouring in from all over the world.
Coop appreciated the sympathy, but wondered at the it's-terrible-to-have-cancer tone of the letters. He told Rocky, "Please make sure everyone knows how much their messages mean to me. They have added greatly to my peace of mind. I only wish some of the writers would take a more positive approach to the menace of cancer. I've got it, sure; but I'm not afraid to use the word. Some of them act like it's a dirty word. That's the wrong attitude. We should all bring it out in the open, recognize that it exists - and fight it! Cancer is everybody's enemy. We can't 'think' an enemy out of existence by ignoring it."
Rocky and Maria were in agreement. They would help him fight. Prayer was now the strongest weapon they knew. They all prayed. Their many friends and fans prayed. The pastor of their church, Monsignor Daniel Sullivan said: "He is accepting it. His reaction reveals his fine character and balance."
Coop's faith, a "natural faith" that he had long before he became a Catholic, was his greatest boon in those last days. His delight in seeing his old friends, practically up to the last, reminded me of his availability at all times when he was making a picture. Unlike so many other actors, his dressing room was always open to the press or anyone on the lot who wanted to see him. It wasn't condescension on Coop's part. He meant it. There was no sham about him. There aren't many like him left in Hollywood.
The usually sunny California skies were leaden on the day of Coop's funeral. Coop had requested that he be buried in a casket of pine, made from the majestic trees through which he had ridden his trusty movie steeds so many times. His wish was fulfilled. The plain pine casket was placed inside a larger mahogany one.
More dignity was lent to the rites through the beautiful chanting of the Mitchell Boys' Choir, without the usual organ accompaniment. Monsignor Sullivan sang the Mass. Bishop Timothy Manning, in his eulogy, said, " It is our duty to measure this man's life against the purpose for which he was created, and as such to proclaim him a good and faithful man. He was a family man, who surrounded and protected his family from all the things that eat at the very roots of our society."
The pallbearers were Coop's close friends: Jimmy Stewart, Henry Hathaway, Jack Benny, Bill Goetz, Jerry Wald, and Charlie Feldman. Grave yet tearless, Rocky and Maria walked behind the casket, with Coop's 87-year-old mother Alice and his brother Arthur, as it was borne through the church to the hearse out on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Among the top names of Hollywood attending the services - many of whom are seldom seen in public these days - were Norma Shearer, Dean Martin, Walter Pidgeon, Buddy Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Jimmy Durante, Martha Hyer, John Wayne, Rosalind Russell, Robert Stack, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Fred Astaire, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, and Karl Malden. I have never seen so many stars at a funeral. Not one fan broke the lines to ask for an autograph.
Rocky and Maria wore black, but did not cover their faces with veils. They were dry-eyed, but their grief was unmistakable. The tears would come later. For the present, they would be dignified, as Coop would want them to be.
They buried Coop at Holy Cross Cemetery. After the casket was lowered into the earth, Rocky and Maria stepped forward. Each dropped a vermilion poppy on the casket, and then turned to the cars that would take them to their home, where the curtains and blinds were finally drawn.
There is no headstone
on Coop's grave, but it is marked by a plaque. The grave is hard to find, Coop
wanted it that way.
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