Cooper and Hemingway,
from Photoplay magazine, October 1961
Only once did he walk away from a war unscratched. During the Spanish Civil War, which he covered as a newspaper correspondent, he was sitting in a hotel room at his typewriter when three artillery shells sailed in the window, flew over his head and went out through the far wall. The papers on his writing table fluttered to the floor, but nothing else in the room was disturbed.
Women often ask the question: Why do men like Cooper and Hemingway go out of their way to look for danger? For that matter, why does any man? A well-known psychologist gives one answer: "Men resent being tied down, resist being molded into a woman's idea of what a man should be like. If a woman would treat her husband as if he were still a bachelor, someone to attract and interest rather than subdue, then maybe her mate would find her as exciting as hunting, or fishing or anything else by which he tries to escape."
Frank Cooper, the boy who didn't want to be stuck in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, became Gary Cooper, the man who wished to be only himself, without any woman pushing him into anything. Not that women didn't try to rope, hog-tie and put their special brand on him. Lots of them tried and failed.
He married his girls
Hemingway too had his share of romances that didn't "take," except that he always married the girl. There was his first wife, Hadley Richardson, who bore him a son, but who tried to keep him home by the fireside when he wanted to be out chronicling the activities and antics of "The Lost Generation," in Paris during the '20s. After divorcing her in 1927 he married Pauline Pfeiffer, who bore him two sons. She was wealthy and a society lady; she tried to change him and he ended up by divorcing her. Then came Martha Gellhorn, and that marriage also was terminated in a divorce court.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Hemingway met the non-demanding woman he'd always been searching for. She was Mary Welsh, also a writer, a trim blonde who understood his love of adventure because she herself shared it. It was "Miss Mary," as he always called her (she called him "Papa"), who was with him that near fatal day when their plane crashed in the wild elephant and crocodile country of Uganda, on the Upper Nile. A search plane spotted the lifeless wreckage, and the world was informed that Ernest Hemingway was dead.
But he lived to laugh at his obituaries. Although he suffered a burned arm, a skull fracture, a broken spine and a ruptured kidney - and Miss Mary had some broken ribs - he staggered out of the jungle after two days. He had his wife on one arm, and a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin in his free hand. "Miss Mary had never seen a plane burn before," he said, "and that is a very impressive sight - especially when you're in the plane."
For fifteen years they were inseparable, because she went where he wanted to go. He summed up his feelings and their love in a simple sentence, "We're so happy it's sinful."
"Without her - empty..."
Once at his home at Finca Vigia in Cuba he said, "When she is away, the Finca is as empty as the emptiest bottle, and I live in a vacuum that is as lonely as a radio tube when the batteries are dead and there is no current to plug into."
Coop met his own "Miss Mary" in 1933 at a party. Her name was Veronica, she'd made a few movies under the name of Sandra Shaw, but he called her "Rocky." She'd fallen in love with him before they'd met. As a college girl she'd seen Coop on the screen in "Morocco," and that was it. And when Gary saw her, that was it, too.
They were married in December 1933 and lived together happily for twenty-seven years, except for three years, starting in 1951, when they separated. Eventually Coop returned to his wife. She said simply, "It was worth waiting to have him come back."
Shared life and death
From then on, Coop shared his life with Rocky - and he shared his death with her, too. She was the only one who knew he was dying.
At the Friars Club testimonial dinner held for him in January, he kept his secret from the world. It was only after the he Academy Award presentations in April, at which Jimmy Stewart, in accepting a special Oscar for Coop, said, "We're very proud of you, Coop. All of us are tremendously proud," that the news leaked out. Gary Cooper was dying of cancer.
Dr. Rex Kennamer, who'd had to break the bad news to him originally, recalled, "He never even flinched. I left him and later got a phone call from him. He said, "Young fellow, I know you were a little nervous about telling me the news. I just want you to know I appreciate it. Thanks for telling me."
Hemingway, too, realized he was very ill, yet he hoped to make one more trip to Africa with his friend Gary Cooper. Coop was one of the two movie stars (Marlene Dietrich was the other) whom Papa liked. And he couldn't stand the way Hollywood "massacred" his stories in the process of transferring them to the screen. When he went to "The Sun Also Rises," he declared, "Silliest damn thing I ever saw." After he viewed "The Killers," he yelled, "Get me to the bathroom - I'm going to be sick!" He thought that Cooper personally had done a good job in "A Farewell to Arms," but couldn't take the happy ending they'd tacked on it. Only "For Whom the Bell Tolls" pleased him. He said to Coop, "You played Robert Jordan just the way I saw him, tough and determined. Thank you."
The plans didn't work
But his plans for "one more safari" didn't work out. Twice he was a patient at the Mayo Clinic, and for long stretches. He was treated for high blood pressure and incipient diabetes (the ailment that had caused his own father to kill himself). His fits of depression were so severe that he was given shock treatment.
Papa's friend Coop "beat him to the barn" and died peacefully in his sleep after a four-month battle against cancer. Rocky and daughter Maria were at his bedside. Severely depressed by his friend's death and his own fading powers, Hemingway returned to his Ketchum, Idaho home after a long stay at the Mayo Clinic. One night, shortly after his return, he had dinner with his wife, and later, while he brushed his teeth, she sang him an Italian folk song. The next morning at 7 a.m., he went downstairs in his pajamas, took a 12-gauge hunting gun from the rack, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled both triggers.
Coop and Papa had made their last safari, after all.
---Paul Anthony, Photoplay magazine, 1961
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