Celebrity friendships are nothing new, with the business of entertainment bringing together many gregarious comedians, actors and more with bulging egos, but some are more eyebrow-raising than others. Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg are certainly a curious friendship, as is Elton John and Eminem, but for my money, no duo are more mysterious and alluring than actor Gary Cooper and author
Star of such classic movies as 1936’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town by director Frank Capra and 1952’s High Noon by Fred Zinnemann, Cooper was one of the great stars of mid-20th-century cinema. Earning two Academy Awards across the course of his career, for 1942’s Sergeant York and High Noon, Cooper was a prominent name in the industry, recognised as one of the very best of his time. Hem with the “Long-legged son of a bitch.”Hem with the “Long-legged son of a bitch.”
Despite their totally separate lives in contemporary culture, Cooper and Hemingway became good friends from 1940 until 1961, with their relationship sparking following the film adaptation of Hemingway’s debut novel A Farewell to Arms. The film, named after the novel and directed by Frank Borzage, received widespread critical acclaim, but Hemingway wasn’t best pleased with the movie, apart from the performance of one Gary Cooper.
Many years later, the author promoted Cooper for the role of Robert Jordan in the upcoming adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls, even going so far as to state that the literary character was based on Cooper’s own integrity. The actor earned the role and became the greatest asset of the otherwise underwhelming film, strengthening the friendship of the two stars.
Sharing a love for the great outdoors, the unlikely duo spent many days across several years shooting duck and pheasant in the summer before taking to Sun Valley in the winter to ski. The pair were excitable, fuelled by a youthful exuberance that led them to seize life by the horns, poetically gazing over the wilderness with a similar sense of wonder to their favourite author, Rudyard Kipling.
As Cooper said of friendship and his true passion for the outdoors in the book Gary Cooper off Camera: A Daughter Remembers: “The really satisfying things I do are offered me, free, for nothing. Ever go out in the fall and do a little hunting? See the frost on the grass and the leaves turning? Spend a day in the hills alone, or with good companions? Watch a sunset and a moonrise?… Free to everybody”.
Indeed, Hemingway’s view was reciprocated, admiring Cooper for his passion for the outdoors and his surprising similarity to his charismatic, powerful on-screen persona. Stating in the book Gary Cooper: American Hero, Hemingway lovingly exclaimed: “If you made up a character like Coop, nobody would believe it. He’s just too good to be true”.
Rather poetically, the pair died within just seven weeks of each other in 1961, but not before they enjoyed one last holiday together, taking to Sun Valley in January of that year for a final hike through the snow.
The relationship between the pair is explored in the 2013 documentary Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen by filmmaker John Mulholland, who had plenty to say about the unpublicised relationship.
During an interview about the movie and the pair’s relationship, Mulholland stated: “Hemingway and Cooper both grew up under the sway of Teddy Roosevelt — live a dangerous life, test yourself, be a man of action. In many ways, Hemingway and Cooper defined masculinity for the first half of the 20th century. Stoic, strong, keep silent about your problems. Your emotions. They managed to hide, both men, their inner selves — sensitive, well-read, intelligent, etc”.
Take a look at the trailer for For Whom the Bell Tolls, the role which sparked the friendship between Cooper and Hemingway below.