Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Christmas Album: Gary Cooper

Day six of our visit to Christmas Past, Hollywood style, finds us visiting a genial but understandably sheepish looking Gary Cooper in a hospital bed in 1951. Recovering from a hernia operation, the actor would undergo four of these "procedures", as the more callous medicos like to term them, between '51 and '54. With practiced politeness, he seems to be enduring the oh, so spontaneous visit of these seven gals at his bedside with tense aplomb that day in December. Call me clairvoyant, but the way that he is fingering that unlit cigarette, (those were the days in the hospital, eh?) and that uneasy little smile playing across the actor's face has caused me to muse a bit. Do you think it might be possible that Coop may not have planned on having his picture snapped in this awkward, vulnerable position? Yet, when the Roosevelt Hospital staff of over one hundred nurses came around to the wards and private rooms to spread some Christmas cheer by warbling a few Carols for the defenseless inmates, patients, some publicity hound must have figured that this wouldn't inconvenience an old hand at the game of catching the public's attention. Even the most laconic of movie stars might have reason to balk.

At fifty, I suspect that Gary Cooper was tired, bone tired, feeling like a horse who'd "been rode hard and put up wet." The last year had seen his marriage of two decades badly shaken by his involvement with Patricia Neal, and the actor was reportedly devastated by the potential impact of these events on his beloved daughter, Maria. On top of all this, he was constantly fighting an ulcer, a nagging hip pain, and then, this, his second operation of the year, scheduled just after he completed his work on High Noon for director Fred Zinnemann.


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