Gary Cooper was the epitome of the strong, quiet hero. His Hollywood career spanned the silent movie era and the golden age of Westerns. The way his daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, tells it, the legendary movie star was extremely down to earth. What’s more, Cooper was a true Outsider. Born and raised on a Montana ranch, the peace he found outdoors was a constant throughout his life. And even though he wasn’t a singer, comedian, or dancer, he felt it important to contribute to the war effort during World War II by doing his best to entertain the troops.
Like many of his Hollywood peers, Cooper was so popular that his value to the war effort was greater outside combat. Further, he was 40 years old and not exactly the image of health when World War II broke out. But he approached his life in the same way that he chose the roles he wanted to play in movies, according to his daughter, Maria. Being “the best that an American man can be.”
In a recent interview with Fox News, Maria Cooper Janis talked about her Oscar-winning father’s career, life, and legacy. At one point, she was asked about the time he spent touring for the USO.
“That was extremely important to him. It meant the world to him. When he had to do his first tour, he was very nervous. He said, ‘I don’t dance. I don’t sing. I can’t tell funny jokes. What the hell am I going to do? What can I possibly give?’ At that moment, he honestly became very shy and nervous. He didn’t want to just stand there on that stage. He wanted to give something back to our troops,” said Maria.
Gary Cooper Loved Sitting and Talking with Wounded Troops
Entertaining the troops truly must have been an intimidating prospect for someone like Gary Cooper. His medium was the screen, after all. What would a crowd of battle-weary men get from him in person? Well, he figured out pretty quickly that it didn’t take much.
Gary Cooper embarked on a 23,000-mile, two-month-long tour of the South Pacific with the USO in 1943. He had the help of Phyllis Brooks and Una Merkel for the sake of entertaining the men. But he contributed in his own way too.
In her interview with Fox News, Maria Cooper Janis recalled a story about how the troops wanted to hear Cooper recite a speech from a 1942 movie called “The Pride of the Yankees” in which he played baseball legend Lou Gehrig. So he worked tirelessly to transcribe the speech from memory so he had it ready to deliver on stage.
Beyond that, one of his favorite things to do was to visit the field hospitals.
“He loved visiting and just sitting with them, talking with them. It meant the world to him. He never forgot those experiences,” said Maria.