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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Old West Sundown For Gary Cooper


The Real West (1961) Sets The Frontier Saga Straight

The Real West was broadcast on March 29, 1961. Six weeks later, onscreen "storyteller" and narrator Gary Cooper, this his final appearance, would be gone. The public learned between these two events that Cooper was gravely ill, that having been tipped by James Stewart in an emotional tribute to Coop at the Academy Awards ceremony (April 17), and spread the next day by worldwide press. Insiders mostly knew prior to that. Cooper himself had learned of his inoperable condition in late February, but pushed forward to complete The Real West because he believed in the project, had in fact volunteered to do it, and of course, lent stature to the finished program no one else could have duplicated. The Real West would serve as epitaph for Cooper as well as a vanished frontier it explored. Lost to a public still devoted to Cooper (popularity only enhanced by past work all over television) were three he had pacted to do for 20th Fox, The Comancheros a first, and set for January 1961 start, but docs, and his wife, knew before then that the situation was hopeless. Trades had a kind way of shielding stars where stricken, Variety and others into 1961 assuring that Cooper would work again, despite private suspicions that indeed he would not. This was done for Bogart through 1956, and was barometer of how loved these people were by an industry so enhanced by their participating in it.


Among Last Things Cooper Did --- A Savings and Loan Magazine Ad


Coop was bullish on The Real West. He spoke to Hedda Hopper about it in February 1961 and would submit to TV GUIDE for a profile to appear in the March 25-31 issue, which was week of the NBC broadcast, these fascinating glimpse of Cooper's priorities as he approached a finish. "People," he told TV GUIDE, "don't recognize me as much as they used to. Only the older people. The kids today have Frankie Avalon and Elvis Presley. They pretty much leave me alone." He spoke with Hopper of early talkie days, referring to Roy Pomeroy and how Victor Fleming stood up to the self-serving sound coordinator, this as follow-up to Coop naming his all-time favorite role, The Virginian. Great stuff --- there's bottomless well of pic history in Hopper columns. Why hasn't someone mined them for a book? --- and I mean a real anthology and not just more of the gossip stuff. The Real West would not be Gary Cooper's West. He wanted it real, and that meant departing from myths made in his and other outdoor actioners. The program still ended up being a valedictory for him, a walk into sunset as moving as William S. Hart introducing Tumbleweeds for a 1938 reissue. Producer-director of The Real West Donald Hyatt wrote a farewell for Variety (8/2/61) that was vivid recount of "The Last Performance" by Gary Cooper. You Tube has The Real West, and there is a DVD available.

5 Comments:

Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks for letting me know about this. I watched it on YouTube. It's always interesting to see 19th century photos.

Cooper looked surprisingly good for someone close to death. If memory serves,
his face looks younger here than it does in Man of the West. Did he have a
facelift late in life?

Cooper was famous for not liking long speeches. He may speak more in this
50 minutes than he did in his full length features.

8:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Cooper had the face work several years before THE REAL WEST. He does look good, as you say, considering his condition. The difficulty was with recording the narration, because by the time they did, Cooper tired easily and had to take frequent breaks.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

I wonder what the public thought about that 1961 episode of THE FLINTSTONES with a famous cowboy actor who spoke in monosyllables and looked and sounded like Gary Cooper. He escapes the studios to hang out incognito with Fred and Barney. Later he makes a fool of himself trying to convince Wilma and Betty that he is the movie star that he claims to be. The episode aired after Cooper's death and didn't exactly portray Coop as the sharpest knife in the drawer.

5:49 AM  
Blogger William Lund said...

Before there was Ken Burns' "The Civil War" series there were "Project 20" from NBC that covered a variety of topics (the Gilded Age, Life in the 30s, End of the Trail, etc). This series was a great 60 minute time travel which was perfect in covering US History for public school children.(I showed several of these documentaries in my US History class). The best of these was "The Real West" with a tired, but wonderful face and voice of Gary Cooper. I remember seeing it first run as a ten year old and it sparked a lifelong interest in history for me. Thanks for highlighting this important part of television history.

6:50 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

A number of the Project 20's are available on DVD, and many are at You Tube. They are all outstanding.

8:18 AM  

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