Gary Cooper

George Washington, Howard Roark and George Bailey

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[34] But the Pharisees hearing that he had silenced the Sadducees, came together:

[35] And one of them, a doctor of the law, asking him, tempting him:

[36] Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?

[37] Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.

[38] This is the greatest and the first commandment.

[39] And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

[40] On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.

Matthew 22: 34-40

Joe Carter at Catholic Education Resource Center has a wonderful post entitled The Fountainhead of Bedford Falls, which compares the fictional characters Howard Roark and George Bailey:

Not surprisingly, Roark has become something of a cult figure, especially among young nerdy males entering post-adolescence. Although Roark is artistically gifted and technically brilliant, he prefers to take a job breaking rocks in a quarry than sell out to The Man. He provides a model for the underemployed, misunderstood, twenty-something misfit by choice. These see themselves in the uncompromising sulker, believing it better to vandalize and destroy than allow society to co-opt their dreams.

Rand herself would have certainly envisioned things differently. She would have sneered in disgust at the idea that Roark was anything like the slacker working at Starbucks the populists marching at Tea Parties. Her hero was a cross between the modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the serial killer and child rapist William Hickman. Rand’s ideal was the nonconformist who exhibited sociopathic tendencies. She dreamed of the minority of brilliant, atheistic ubermensch who would “eventually trample society under its feet.” The vast majority of the people who read The Fountainhead might admire Roark, but they’d never emulate him.

Similarly, Capra’s audience flatters themselves by believing the message of Wonderful Life is that their own lives are just as worthy, just as noble, and just as wonderful’ as George Bailey’s. In a way, they are as delusional as the Randian Roark-worshippers. Despite the fact that they left their small-town communities for the city, put their parents in an assisted living facility and don’t know the names of their next door neighbors, they truly believe they are just like Capra’s hero.

Such delusions are the reason these characters have remained two of the most dominant archetypes of American individualism in pop culture. The pendulum of popularity is swinging back toward Rand but it’s Capra’s creation that should be our model for inspiration.

Roark is nihilistic, narrow-minded, and something of a bore. Bailey is far darker, more complex, and infinitely more interesting.

What makes George Bailey one of the most inspiring, emotionally complex characters in modern popular culture is that he continually chooses the needs of his family and community over his own self-interested ambitions and desires – and suffers immensely and repeatedly for his sacrifices.  

 Although sentimental, Capra’s movie is not a simplistic morality play. It’s true that the movie ends on a happy note late on Christmas Eve, when George is saved from ruin. But on Christmas Day he’ll wake to find that his life is not so different than it was when he wanted to commit suicide.

 He will remain a frustrated artist who is scraping by on a meager salary and living in a drafty old house in a one-stoplight town. All that has really changed is that he has gained a deeper appreciation of the value of faith, friends, and community – and that this is worth more than his worldly ambitions. Capra’s underlying message is thus radically subversive: It is by serving our fellow man, even to the point of subordinating our dreams and ambitions, that we achieve both true greatness and lasting happiness. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Pro-life Actress Patricia Neal Dies at 84

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One of the great actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age has died, Patricia Neal.  I have always found her performances riveting.  The video at the beginning of the post is from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), one of the many films her acting helped make memorable.

A Catholic, Ms. Neal wandered from the Faith as a young woman.  She had an adulterous affair with Gary Cooper.  After she became pregnant, Cooper convinced her to have an abortion, something she bitterly regretted for the rest of her life.  Monsignor James Lisante, a good friend of hers, discussed this several years ago:

“I met Patricia Neal over 20 years ago, and we have become good friends ever since. One time when she was on my television show, I said to her, “Pat, in so many ways you are a female Job.” She had, as you know, several strokes which put her in a coma for a month. She had a daughter who died of the measles at the age of seven. She had a son who was hit when he was an infant by a car in New York City, and he remains alive but brain-damaged and will be forever. Another daughter who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction; a husband who was great to her once she had the strokes, but he ultimately left her for a younger woman.

And I said, “In your life, Pat, if there was one thing you could change, what would it be?” And Patricia Neal said, “Father, none of the things you just mentioned.” But she said, “Forty years ago I became involved with the actor Gary Cooper, and by him I became pregnant. As he was a married man and I was young in Hollywood and not wanting to ruin my career, we chose to have the baby aborted.” She said, “Father, alone in the night for over 40 years, I have cried for my child. And if there is one thing I wish I had the courage to do over in my life, I wish I had the courage to have that baby.””

Patricia Neal has put herself on the line in saying to many, many women who have experienced abortion or thought about abortion, “Don’t make my mistake. Let your baby live.” What’s particularly painful, but poignant in this story is that some years later, Patricia became good friends with Maria Cooper, the only child of Gary Cooper and his wife. And Maria Cooper said, “You know, I know you had the affair with my father and I have long ago forgiven that. But one thing I find it hard to accept is that as an only child, I so wish that you’d had my brother or my sister. Because in so many ways, I wish so much that you had chosen life.”

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Sergeant York and Gary Cooper-Part II

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Continuing on from the first part of this post on Sergeant York and Gary Cooper.

Frank James Cooper, a\k\a Gary Cooper, was a child of the last century, being born into it on May 7, 1901, the son of Charles and Alice Cooper.  Unlike Alvin C. York, Cooper was born into a prosperous family, his father being a farmer turned attorney who would eventually serve on the Montana Supreme Court.  His parents were English immigrants from Bedfordshire, and from 1910-1913, Gary and his brother were educated in England.

After high school, Cooper went on to study at Grinnell College for a few years, although he did not receive a degree.  After an unsuccessful attempt to earn a living as an editorial cartoonist in Helena, he followed his parents out to Los Angeles where they had retired.  Cooper later said that if he was going to starve, he might as well do it where it was warm rather than where it was freezing.

Out in the land of fruits and nuts, Cooper tried his hand at many things in order to earn a living:  promoter for a  photographer, a seller of electrical signs and even applied for work as an ink-stained wretch at a newspaper.  Out of desperation for employment rather than any burning desire to be an actor, Cooper began to work as an extra in movies.  A friend, Nan Collins, advised him to change his name to Gary after her hometown of Gary, Indiana, and Cooper took her advice.  After several years as an extra, Cooper achieved early stardom in the western, The Virginian.   Although he would appear in every type of film imaginable in his career, Cooper always appeared most comfortable in Westerns, a genre which fit his understated, laid back acting style, and his laconic speech.  Cooper specialized in playing ordinary decent men, trying to do their best in extraordinary situations.  He also had a flair for comedy where his dead pan delivery, combined with a dry wit, ensured laughter whatever “funny” lines he was attempting to deliver.

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The archetypal film during this period of his career for Cooper was The Westerner where he played a cowboy who tangled with “Judge” Roy Bean, “Law West of the Pecos”, magnificently portrayed by Walter Brennan who appeared with Cooper in several films, including Sergeant York as York’s pastor.  The film is a skillful mixture of comedy and drama, with Cooper giving a bravura performance.

Alvin C. York had been approached by Hollywood producer Jesse Lasky several times, beginning in 1919, to make a movie of his life.  Each time he refused, summing up his position simply with the phrase, “This uniform ain’t for sale.”

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Sergeant York and Gary Cooper-Part I

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In 1941 the film Sergeant York was released.  A biopic on the life of America’s greatest hero of WWI, it brought together two American originals:  Alvin C. York and the actor Gary Cooper.

York arrived in this world on December 3, 1887, the third of the eleven children of William and Mary York.  He was born into rural poverty.  Although both of his parents were quite hard-working, the Yorks lived in a two-room log cabin at a subsistence level.  None of the York children received more than nine-months education, as their labor was desperately needed to farm the few hard scrabble acres that the Yorks owned and to hunt for food to feed the large family.

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