What Would Gary Cooper Do?

by cowboylands

When life appears frustrating, demeaning, terrifying, unfixable, and/or immutable, it is helpful to ask: “What would Gary Cooper do?”

His example—and that of other western celluloid heroes—provides an antidote to the life of the office drone, the frustrated housewife/husband, or the cog in the machine. Following the Cowboy Way allows one to stand tall in the land of mediocrity.

Why, with the herds of movie stars available, would I pick the Coop? Because he said it best in Along Came Jones (1945): “You gotta look like you’re somebody and act like you’re somebody….You do that, pretty soon you are somebody.” (OK, it’s a comedy and he’s spoofing his cowboy image, but still a good line, dammit!) 

 How to  look like you’re somebody:

  • The boots. Whoever has walked less than a mile* in cowboy boots knows that the steady thud of their stout heels provides a degree of self-assurance that borders on guarantee.
  • The belt buckle. When you wear one, you are the champion. Of the world.
  • The hat. You have to fill the dome with—if not brains—than hot air. Talk like you own the ranch and you will.
  • Which brings us to the talk. Do you have the garrulity of Andy Devine or the laconic impact of the Duke? (Note that one is always the sidekick, and one is the movie star.)
  • The action. Like a quarter horse, you’ve got to be able to turn on a dime and be ready for the shootout, the showdown, the barroom brawl, the attack (doesn’t have to be Apache), the wagons-in-a-circle maneuver, the cutting-a-bullet-out-of-your-leg routine, the lip-lock with the beautiful/handsome love interest, or the ride-into-the sunset trick. Life, fast and furious, isn’t scripted, so it’s good to bone up on the possibilities.

Katy Jurado’s character, the widow Helen Ramirez, describes Gary Cooper’s Marshal Will Kane in High Noon (1952): He’s a man. And it takes more than big broad shoulders to make a man.

Following in the Coop’s footsteps is more than embodying a swaggering cowboy diplomacy, or carrying a big stick/gun/chip on your shoulder.  It’s about striving to take an idealized high road in conduct, as well as looking good on a horse. And not being a good rider myself, I have to add that you don’t necessarily need the other outer trappings (boots, belt buckle, hat), although they are stylish.

All is right in the Western World, then, right? Wrong. Trouble can ensue when following the Cowboy Way. But that’s a subject of another post…All images copyright 2008

Happy virtual trails. 

*If you walk more than a mile you aren’t really a cowboy, as you obviously do not have a horse, ATV, or pickup to your name. 

 

 

 

 

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Leave a Comment to “What Would Gary Cooper Do?”

  1. I bet Gary Cooper never ever loaded his horse on a pickup truck.

  2. I don’t think any of his characters did, but I’ve heard some disturbing reports on his Hollywood self. Not so gentlemanly, shall we say? It could be, though, that those who treat human beings like condoms (fill up and toss away) could be very thoughtful toward animals. But who loads a horse onto a pickup truck???? Is it possible to drive with a horse peering over the side???

  3. do subways count?

  4. btw – I think I did see high noon in the early 80s like 1980 at the St. Marks Movie house (it’s now an eyeglass place, condo building and pizzeria) with this guy I was suicidally in love with.

  5. They had to split the place into three, because of the epicness of the moment. Who else knows when they first saw High Noon? I saw it before I started to love westerns, but it is a fantastic suite of images to parse. It’s a favorite of presidents, you know. Why do world leaders like this one, and not something like Ace Ventura, Pet Detective?

  6. Who was that masked man?
    People like the mysteriousness, the sense of knowing what they’re doing though no one else does, that happens in this kind of moralistic movie. The central character is the mysterious one. No one else in the movie knows what they are going to do, except the central character and the viewer. This opens up possibilities to those in power, like presidents, who like to feel like the all-knowing all-seeing viewer, along with the power to change the outcome that the central character has.
    Mythic power.
    The mythic power is something that has been lost with the onset of the new hero, the youthful and/or bumbling one, that is prevalent today.
    Give me a new movie with an old slant.

    The Sheriff is near!

  7. That’s good–no one knows what they are going to do, except the central character and the viewer. The shots of this film bring the viewer into identification with this moral man. Great shot at the end (spoiler alert) when Grace’s character has been rescued and Cooper’s marshal grips her in his manly embrace. they are alone, all alone on the long stretch of street. the only moral people in that community. Then there’s a rush of people coming into the frame and I felt a visceral disgust at them–I had identified with the marshal, although I don’t know if I would be able to do what he did.

    I see Dead Man has a perfect example of the young bumbling hero. Johnny Depp’s William Blake doesn’t have a clue, nor will he ever.

  8. what kind of hat does gary cooper wear in high noon.

  9. This proved tougher than I thought to find out, which goes to show there are limits to the virtual range….

    Gary Cooper’s hat is different from Wyatt Earp’s, which is different from John Wayne’s, which is different from Hickok’s (but close). Stetson and other hat companies sent the hats unfinished to the guys who ordered them, so the rolled brims, or creased crowns, or sideways flap all came from the individual’s use. And every good director and costumer knew that the hats had to reflect something about the hero.

    Cooper wears a low-crowned, flattish hat, unlike the typical “Boss of the Plains,” which has a…um… bulging masculine look. His hat is also unlike the “cattleman’s” high-crown, wide-brimmed sprawl that’s the size of Texas. It is businesslike and not ostentatious–very much like Cooper’s marshal who wants only to get the job done. The crown probably is a “telescope” crown, which means that there is a crease around the circumference. His hand-rolled brim is symmetrical–he’s a tightly wound clock himself, so that makes sense.

    The closest another movie star came to a hat like Cooper’s was John Wayne, but his brim was less symmetrically handrolled. And as Wayne’s best characters are slightly off-kilter, it works.

    I learned more about hats than I would’ve thought, but the actual name, if it exists, remains elusive.

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