Cooper, Gary: Western Hero–Unique Attributes

Gary Cooper began his career as an extra in silent Western films, including The Thundering Herd, Wild Horse Mesa, The Lucky Horseshow, The Vanishing American, Tricks, and The Enchanted Hill.

Western movies amounted to over one third (39 out of 96 pictures) of his film output.  Next to John Wayne, Cooper was second in making so many major contributions to the genre,

In most of his Westerns, as Alan Eyles showed, Cooper played tall, lean, quiet-spoken, self-conscious men, defined by gentlemanly dignity and unswerving integrity.

Nonetheless, he is still best known for the 1952 Western, High Noon, in which he played Marshal Will Kane, an aging lawman, who almost (but not quite) loses his self-respect and self-reliance.

Cooper was most suitable to play uniquely American Western hero due to his height, strong physical presence, and embodiment of values of honesty, integrity, courage, and loyalty.

In Cooper’s Westerns, the women are not there to give the films sex appeal, but to provide  internal psychological  choices for the hero.

Malone has observed that the dark-haired women–tough, savvy, competent, and sometimes of lower class and outlaws themselves–personified the hero’s own masculine, often outlaw identity.

In contrast, the fair-haired women–genteel, idealistic, vulnerable–personified the hero’s feminine potential to become more civilized.

The intense honesty associated with Cooper’s look–especially his eyes–is the honesty he demands of himself.  The struggle within his heroes comes when a situation confronts him with possible sacrifice of his physical wholeness.