Cowboy and the Lady, The (1938): Oscar-Winning Western, Starring Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon

The Cowboy and the Lady, co-starring Merle Oberon, from a script by S.N. Behrman and Sonya Levien, based on original story by Leo McCarey and Frank R. Adams, was not one of Gary Cooper’s best films of the 1930s.

The film was compromised due to the tale’s structural flaws and change of directors: When William Wyler bowed out, he was replaced by H.C. Potter.

Even so, the movie was nominated for three Oscars, winning one, for Best Sound Recording by Thomas Moulton.

Several writers worked uncredited on the heavily plotted but convoluted screenplay (which never satisfied Cooper or Goldwyn), including Anita Loos. Dorothy Parker, and Robert Riskin (“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” also starring Cooper).

When Mary Smith (Merle Oberon) and her uncle Hannibal (Harry Davenport) are picked up in a nightclub raid, her Senator father, who is running for President, whisks her off to his Florida estate.

Bored, Mary joins her maid and the cook on a blind date with three cowboys appearing in a local rodeo show. Paired with Stretch Willoughby (Cooper), she wins him over a story that she is supporting four sisters and a drunken father.

Before sailing for Galveston, Stretch goes back to propose, but he changes his mind due to her nervous disillusions. Realizing that she’s in love with him, Mary turns up on the steamer, but Stretch ignores her. He later relents and they are married by the ship’s captain. But Mary doesn’t like rodeo-tent life, and so Stretch sends her back to Florida, expecting her to join him later on his Montana ranch.

Meanwhile, plans for the Presidential nomination of Senator Smith are hastened when the secret marriage is discovered by his aides. Stretch gets a telegram saying that Mary will be delayed, but ignores it and rushes to the Smith mansion.

Treated as a curiosity, Stretch puts them down with a brittle speech before he leaves. The Senator’s aides propose annulment, but Uncle Hannibal explains to his brother how his political ambitions are ruining his daughter’s chance for happiness. In the happy ending, the Senator withdraws from the race and escorts Mary out West to join her love Stretch.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Sound Recording:
Song: “The Cowboy and the Lady,” music by Lionel Newman, lyrics by Arthur Quenzer.
Original Score: Alfred Newman

Oscar Awards: 1

Sound Recording: Thomas Moulton

Oscar Context:

The Best Song Oscar went to “Thanks for the Memories,” from the Big Braodcast of 1938.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold received the Scoring Oscar for “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”


Gary Cooper (Stretch)
Merle Oberon (Mary Smith)
Patsy Kelly (Katie Callahan)
Walter Brennan (Sugar)
Fuzzy Knight (Buzz)
Mabel Todd (Elly)
Henry Kolker (Mr. Smith)
Harry Davenort (Uncle Hannibal Smith)
Emma Dunn (Ma Hawkins)
Walter Walker (Ames)
Berton Churchill (Henderson)
Charles Richman (Dillon)
Fredrik Vogeding (Captain)
Arthur Hoyt (Valet)
Mabel Colcord (Old Woman)


Samuel Goldwyn Production, released by United Artists.
Director: H.C. Potter.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn.
Script: S.N. Behrman and Sonya Levien, from an original story by Leo McCarey and Frank R. Adams.
Camera: Gregg Toland.
Art Director: Richard Day.
Musical Score: Alfred Newman.
Editor: Sherman Todd.
Costumer: Omar Kiam,
Associate Art Director: James Basevi.
Set Director: Julie Heron.
Special Photographic Effects: Ray Binger.
Sound Recorder: Paul Neal.
Assistant Director: Eddie Bernoudy.
Songs: by Lionel Newman, Arthur Quenzer, and L. Wolfe Gilbert, “Er-ru-ti-tu-ti” and “The Cowboy and the Lady.”