Hollywood’s seen its fair share of leading men over the years, though none could truly own the screen quite like Gary Cooper. With equal parts rugged masculinity and suave, soft-spoken charisma, Cooper dominated the box office for more than four decades, showcasing a gifted range that even today can’t be topped. From Westerns to dramas to screwball comedies, Cooper could simply do — and did — it all.
But while the storied actor was winning the hearts of fans with one classic performance after another, Cooper was living a totally different life outside of the public eye. Though rumors have swirled in the 60 years since his death, these rare details about Gary Cooper are rewriting the history of Hollywood’s most famous leading man.
Born Frank James Cooper, the iconic all-American leading man wasn’t actually all that American. Though raised in a cowboy lifestyle in Montana, both of Cooper’s parents hailed from England.
At 15, Cooper was involved in a car accident that left him with a severe hip injury. His doctor recommended horseback riding as treatment, which only left Cooper to walk with a limp for the rest of his days.
Still, the injury didn’t stop Cooper from pursuing a career as a stuntman in low-budget Westerns. Cooper found stunt work “tough and cruel,” however, leading him to hire an agent to begin seeking out acting roles.
Nan Collins, Cooper’s agent, was concerned that the aspiring actor would have trouble landing work, as there were already a handful of Frank Coopers in Hollywood. They settled on the name “Gary,” inspired by Collins’ hometown of Gary, Indiana.
After a series of small background appearances, Cooper’s big break came in 1926 with a starring role in the silent Western The Winning of Barbara Worth. In fact, the only reason Cooper even got the part was because the original actor Monte Blue never showed up to set.
Rave reviews for his performance in Barbara Worth established Cooper as a star on the rise, and audiences just couldn’t get enough of him — especially the women. By the late ’20s, Cooper was receiving a thousand fan letters a week!
Cooper’s first talking picture, 1929’s The Virginian, proved to be one of his most iconic career performances and a foundational piece of the Western genre. In fact, Cooper even debuted the famous Western line, “If you wanna call me that, smile!” in this film.
Everyone wanted to work with Cooper as “talkies” became all the rage, citing his “deep and clear” and “pleasantly drawling” voice. But in 1930, Cooper showed a fiery side beneath his pleasant, professional demeanor.
While filming Morocco (1930), tensions between Cooper and director Josef von Sternberg came to a head after Sternberg yelled directions at Cooper in German. Cooper actually lifted Sternberg off the ground and told him: “If you expect to work in this country you’d better get on to the language we use here.”
By 1931, Cooper had starred in ten films in just two years, leaving him exhausted, ill, and depressed. He decided to embark on a self-imposed exile and spent the next year drinking, dining, and painting alongside European nobility.
Cooper became more selective with his roles upon returning to Hollywood in 1932, though six years later he made the worst mistake of his career when he turned down the part of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. At the time, Cooper said he didn’t see himself as “quite that dashing.”
Still, this slip up didn’t stop Cooper from landing starring roles left and right — he even made films for multiple studios at a time. By 1939, Cooper was the highest-paid wage earner in the country, banking $482,819 (equal to $8.87 million today).
During this time, one of Cooper’s more noteworthy performances was in the role of Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees (1942). Cooper was initially reluctant to play the part, but after Gehrig’s widow approached him with the offer, he agreed and worked to develop an authentic baseball swing.
Samuel Goldwyn Productions
When World War II rolled around, Cooper was deemed too old and ill-fit to serve in combat. Cooper, however, still wished to contribute to the war effort and began touring military outposts in the South West Pacific to serve rations and boost morale.
Yet movie sets were practically battlegrounds for Cooper, as he suffered a number of injuries while filming. Cooper re-injured his hip after falling from a horse, was burned by a rifle fired by Burt Lancaster, and even suffered a shoulder injury after being hit by a piece of metal shrapnel.
Physical injury, however, paled in comparison to the injuries Cooper’s reputation suffered after his many affairs came to light. Despite his marriage to New York debutante Veronica Balfe, Cooper romanced many of his Hollywood co-stars, including Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, and Ingrid Bergman.
But perhaps Cooper’s most tumultuous affair was with the “Mexican Spitfire” herself, Lupe Vélez. Their relationship with was marred by violence, with Vélez once attacking Cooper with a knife and even reportedly trying to shoot him after he broke things off!
There were also prevalent rumors that Cooper held a sexual relationship with Anderson Lawler, as the two actors had shared a house on and off for a year. In fact, Vélez would often sniff Cooper’s collar whenever they met to see if there was any trace of Lawler’s cologne.
The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive
But Cooper was determined to salvage his reputation by doing what he did best: making films. He founded Baroda Productions in 1959, using the studio to make The Hanging Tree, They Came to Cordura, and The Wreck of the Mary Deare, all of which conveyed themes of lost honor and desire for redemption.
Sadly, Cooper was diagnosed was an aggressive form of prostate cancer in 1960 that quickly spread to his lungs and bones. He passed away on the afternoon of May 13, 1961, just six days after his sixtieth birthday.
Shortly before his death, Cooper’s longtime pal Jimmy Stewart accepted an honorary Oscar on his behalf, telling his friend through the camera, “Coop, I’ll get this to you right away.” It’s no wonder the two were so close, as Stewart’s own life was equally filled with both incredible and heartbreaking moments.
Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, in 1908 to two hardworking parents. His father ran a hardware store and his mother was a professionally trained and accomplished pianist. Early on, Stewart picked up on his mother’s musical talent.
He could jam out on an accordion like a pro. When Stewart was young, a man traded an old one for some hardware at Stewart’s father’s store one day; incredibly, the original owner of the instrument then taught young Stewart how to play!
That wasn’t the only passion outside of acting Stewart developed, either. He was a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe and wrote his own poetry in his free time. But, those didn’t pay bills like his other pre-Hollywood gig.
Before the big bucks of blockbuster films started filling his bank account, Stewart made ends meet by working as a magician’s assistant. Regardless of his passions, anyone who met him always remembered one specific trait.
Sure, Stewart talked a whole lot when he was in front of the camera reciting lines, but when the cameras weren’t rolling, he kept to himself and rarely let people catch a glimpse of his intimate side.
Those feelings Stewart normally kept bottle up came out in the form of extreme patriotism during World War II. He enlisted in the Army to serve his country, and he flew missions as a pilot — with great success.
Unlike people who joined the war in an attempt to do as little as possible just to say they served, Stewart rose to the rank of colonel and earned the coveted Croix de Guerre medal.
By the time Stewart received the medal, he was already a known name in Hollywood. He worked with famed directors time after time, but there was one in particular who really launched his career into overdrive.
Hollywood legend Alfred Hitchcock cast Stewart in the lead roles for his films Rear Window and Vertigo. This was huge for Stewart, but unfortunately, the relationship between the actor and director came to a crashing end.
After Vertigo received unfavorable reviews, Hitchcock completely placed blame on Stewart’s physical appearance. Then, the director passed over Stewart when it came time to cast North by Northwest, choosing Cary Grant instead.
Sure, Hitchcock snubbed Stewart, but it really didn’t affect the actor’s popularity. Most people will always remember him as the father from It’s a Wonderful Life. The mood on set was far from cheery.
Even though the movie is full of tender moments, it was made not long after Stewart got back from war, which meant he was tense the whole time. His co-star, Donna Reed, even said, “This is not a happy set.”
By now, Jimmy was a huge movie star, and a lot of women swooned over him. Funny enough, he wasn’t the type to flex his playboy chops and play the dating game. Instead, he developed a deep friendship with another Hollywood icon.
Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart hit it off when they first met during their college years. The two not only became roommates, but best friends for life. Of course, love eventually made its way to Stewart.
One women he fell hard for was named Margaret Sullavan, a girl he knew from college. However, she didn’t reciprocate the feelings and kept him at an arm’s length. Luckily, another woman came around to stay.
It took until he was in his 40s to finally tie the knot, but when Stewart met model Gloria Hatrick, he knew she was the one he wanted to spend his life with. Lucky for him, she felt the same!
Eventually, the work Stewart did over his decades of fame was acknowledged by everyone in the industry. In 1985, he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his epic work, to which he replied, “This is the greatest award I received.”
Indiana, Pennsylvania — Stewart’s hometown — even constructed a museum dedicated entirely to the actor and his achievements. Even though the actor passed away in July 1997, the museum ensures his memory will never fade.
The world mourned when Jimmy Stewart died. He was a true American who was proud of his country and the work he did in Hollywood. It’s interesting how almost everyone who worked with him loved the experience. Except for one.
As the director of over fifty feature films, Alfred Hitchcock rightfully earned the title Master of Suspense. But how did he manage to craft so many terrifying masterpieces? Well, he once said, “The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them.”
Born in 1899, shy little Alfred often ran errands for his family’s store in London. But one trip ended in terror: A patrolling constable, falsely identifying him as a vagrant, tossed the boy in a cell. Alfred got out hours later, though a fear of mistaken identity plagued him forever.
When World War I erupted, Alfred felt an urge to serve even though he was too young to enlist. He joined the Royal Engineers as a cadet, which put him through years of military training. In his free time, he began sketching and jotting down short stories.
As peace resumed, Alfred turned his eye to the film industry. Though he had an impressive portfolio of written stories and drawings, he learned no studio would hand him a movie camera. Alfred would have to work his way up.
Fortunately, his artistic skills made him quite valuable in the age of silent film, as movies had to insert pictures to convey certain bits of information. In 1920, Alfred landed a job as a title card illustrator for Paramount Pictures’ newly opened London branch.
Hitchcock rose up the ranks, trying his hand at just about everything. After stepping in to save a number of troubled productions, the studio finally gave him leeway to helm his own film — with the help of someone who’d blossom into his favorite collaborator.
Alfred noticed Alma Reville, a studio “script girl,” in passing before, though it wasn’t until they wound up on the same project that they fell hopelessly in love. They married in 1926, right as both their careers were taking off.
Unlike many other directors, Hitchcock easily transitioned from silent film to talkies. Audiences couldn’t get enough of his pulse-pounding thriller movies. In spite of his success, however, Alfred couldn’t help but wonder if England was boxing him in.
He suspected that if he really wanted to become an all-time great, he had to go to Hollywood. As luck would have it, American film executives were scrambling to hire him. So, in 1940, Alfred, Alma, and their daughter Pat made the move out to California.
Reddit / jecinci
With a mountain full of promises, influential producer David. O Selznick signed Hitchcock to a seven-year contract. Soon, the director found that budgets came in smaller than expected, and the studio criticized some creative choices.
But Hitchcock did his best under the circumstances. His stature grew with every film, while he also developed his signature visual style and habit of cameoing in nearly every movie. After conquering the box office, what he desired most was an Oscar.
His best bet was with Rebecca, which snagged 11 nominations at the Academy Awards. That night proved infuriating for Hitchcock. His spirits drooped when he lost Best Director. Then, when they won Best Picture, Selznick alone went up to claim the award.
From then on, Hitchcock eagerly looked forward to the day his Selznick contract expired. He would make movies his own way, partnering with studios who knew to stay out of his way. Granted, he did have some unorthodox methods.
It was curious that A-listers like Cary Grant were eager to work with Alfred again and again. The director held the opinion that “actors should be treated like cattle.” He’d often pull pranks, like sending them boxes of mice, to elicit genuine fear.
Still, collaborators and audiences alike appreciated his twisted sense of humor. During the ’50s and ’60s, he showed off his dark jokes while hosting the TV anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It also helped make Hitchcock more popular than ever.
Still, Hitchcock couldn’t snag that Oscar. He released four classics starring Jimmy Stewart — Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo — but later refused to cast Stewart after each project fell short.
In 1960, Alfred went all-out with the controversial horror flick Psycho. The director bought up tons of copies of the original novel to keep his twist ending a secret. However, it’s controversial gore and gender-bending divided critics at the time.
Even in his 70s, Hitchcock didn’t slow down. He borderline tortured the cast of The Birds, and one accident nearly costed actress Tippi Hedren an eye. The nightmare production at least resulted in a huge success and got Alfred to admit a huge bird-related fear.
Twitter / MIS
It turns out the auteur of murder, crime, and heartbreak had a very banal phobia: eggs. After describing blood as jolly and red, he asked a reporter, “have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid?”
Hitchcock never got his directing Oscar, but he did receive an achievement award in 1968. His entire acceptance speech was “Thank you very much indeed.” However, another high honor soon came around, and it was one he never expected — a twist, if you will.
In 1980, the filmmaker’s native England bestowed him with the highest distinction. They knighted him, though he was in too poor of health to travel to London himself. Sir Alfred Hitchcock died of kidney failure just months later.
Mystery and suspense drove Hitchcock’s films, but most important to their success was that they felt real, playing on anxieties true to life. In fact, just as the filmmaker passed, a certain Hollywood A-lister’s life took a Hitchcockian turn.
Looking at her humble origins, nobody could’ve predicted that Natalie Wood would become one of the biggest stars in the world. Of course, no one could’ve predicted she would vanish so suddenly either.
She was born Natalia Zakharenko in San Francisco in 1938 to Russian parents. Her father worked as a laborer while her mother had aspirations of stardom. With their meager finances, her dreams of seeing her name in lights never came true.
Natalia developed a fascination with cinema, and her mother brought her to the theater as often as she could manage. Soon enough, the two of them started hanging around movie sets, and one day some crew members took notice of young Natalia.
She started landing small film roles at age five. But what really set her apart from other aspiring child stars was the 1947 Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street. Now going by Natalie Wood, she saw other roles come flooding in.
Unlike other child performers who have careers that burn out in a year or two, Natalie gracefully transitioned into more adult roles. She showed real depth in juicy parts like Judy, James Dean’s love interest in Rebel Without a Cause.
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Natalie also shimmered as Maria in West Side Story, even though she didn’t do her own singing. Critics began to view her as a muse for teenage rebelliousness, and the good reviews really paid off.
By the time she turned 25, Natalie had received three Oscar nominations. She seemingly had nowhere to go but up, and every household in America knew her name. But at the same time, she made as many headlines for her personal life as she did for her career.
The beautiful young Natalie rotated through some of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors. For a short time, she even dated Elvis Presley, but they split before she could become queen to the King of Rock and Roll.
But at age 19, Natalie tied the knot with leading man Robert Wagner. Her mother thoroughly opposed the marriage, and Natalie finally relented in 1962. She and Robert divorced, though they hadn’t seen the last of each other.
As her film career continued to prosper, Natalie fell in love with producer Richard Gregson. They wed in 1969. Though she remained one of the biggest stars in the world, big changes for Natalie were on the horizon.
Her whole world changed when she brought her daughter Natasha into the world. Wanting to make motherhood a top priority, she announced her semi-retirement from show business.
Even after she divorced Richard, Natalie only handpicked projects here and there, particularly in the realm of made-for-TV films. She impressed critics in this budding format, and her success brought her back in the orbit of an old collaborator.
Though she rejected some huge starring roles, she wound up cast on projects with ex-husband Robert Wagner. They rekindled their flame before too long, and Natalie ended up marrying him for a second time in 1972.
But this second chance wasn’t all smooth sailing. Natalie and Robert bickered, and rumors of infidelity floated around. Still, they hoped a weekend cruise on Robert’s yacht would ease their troubles. They had some interesting company aboard the Splendour too.
NY Daily News
Natalie was in the middle of shooting a sci-fi flick called Brainstorm, and her co-star Christopher Walken joined the couple on the getaway. They apparently flirted, which only caused tempers to flare.
On that November night in 1981, Robert and Natalie had a tense argument — fueled by jealousy and alcohol — before splitting off to different parts of the vessel. By the time the other yacht passengers decided to turn in, nobody could find Natalie.
There was simply no trace of her. The yacht goers questioned whether or not they heard a woman scream in the night, but nobody could quite confirm it. Left with no other option, they called the police for assistance.
Hours later, authorities located the body of Natalie Wood. She was just 43. As fans and colleagues paid tribute to her, questions swirled around her death. The coroner ruled it an accidental drowning, though others weren’t so sure.
For one thing, Natalie’s younger sister Lana said she had a severe phobia of the water. Natalie never would’ve gone for a midnight swim, so, she concluded, she must have either fallen in or been pushed. She also got a few bruises on her tumble off the yacht.
Wagner’s behavior was also peculiar. He often refused to cooperate with investigators and instructed the yacht’s captain to withhold information about that night. He never faced any official charges of wrongdoing, though authorities did name him a “person of interest” in 2018 when they reopened the case.
However, Walken was adamant that he didn’t see anything suspicious that night. In his sparse comments on Natalie’s death, he shared his belief that a tragic accident befell her. Walken has never cast suspicions on Robert Wagner, his would-be rival.
Known evidence still cannot fully explain what happened to Natalie Wood. Perhaps we will never know. As tragic as her ending may be, her legacy is firmly cemented in Hollywood. She posthumously received a star on the Walk of Fame in 1986.
Ultimately, she’s best remembered as the little Russian girl who morphed into a star. Public interest in her mysterious death is still going strong today; maybe devoted fans searching for answers can take inspiration from a solved Hollywood crime…
Actor Dylan McDermott might be a household name, but that wasn’t always the case. Once he was just a little boy growing up in a troubled home. But instead of focusing on his dark past, Dylan put his heart and soul into his dream of becoming an actor.
Dylan was born in the quiet town of Waterbury, Connecticut, on October 26, 1961. Like so many other youngsters growing up, he saw his idols on the big screen and had dreams of following in their footsteps and becoming a famous movie star.
When Dylan was 15, that dream finally started to come true. His parents split when he was young, and his father, Richard, married the playwright Eve Ensler, who was known for her play The Vagina Monologues. She began scripting roles for the teenager—then known as Mark—in her own original productions.
Even though she was only a few years older than Dylan, Eve happily adopted him when she married his father. Though the couple would eventually divorce, Dylan and Eve were so close that, when she miscarried a son, he took on the name “Dylan,” which Eve had planned to give to her unborn child.
Eve’s support of her adoptive son helped him thrive. He scored a major coup appearing in the film Twister in 1989, and in 1999 he won a Golden Globe Award for his appearance in the popular TV series The Practice. But none of these successes could erase the memories of his dark past…
Before Dylan moved in with his father, he’d lived with his mother, Diane. Diane was just 15 when he was born, and Richard was two years older. After Richard left her, Diane moved into a house with John Sponza, a well-established figure in local organized crime.
From a very young age, John had a criminal bent. He was arrested for the first time when he was 15, and he was rumored to have once shot a man who crossed him in the face. But because his father was a police officer, John managed to avoid prosecution.
Life with John was not easy for Dylan. The man regularly hurled verbal abuse his way and terrorized his mother, both emotionally and with physical abuse. Diane was simply too frightened to take her son and leave.
Diane tried to comfort Dylan and keep him safe from John. When the violence continued to escalate, Diane threatened him, saying that her ex-husband—Dylan’s father—had spent time in jail and wouldn’t mind putting John in his place.
On February 9, 1967, John told Dylan—who was just five years old—to go outside in the frigid weather. Dylan wasn’t wearing a warm coat, but he was scared, so he did as he was told. Once he was outside, he heard a sound that he would never forget: a gunshot.
Even though Dylan saw his mother removed from the house on a stretcher and put into an ambulance, he didn’t understand that she was dead. His grandmother kept the truth from him and his younger sister for over a year.
While Dylan might not have known the truth, the police were already investigating and they thought John’s story was suspicious. John originally claimed that Diane touched the pistol he was cleaning and that it went off, killing her accidentally in the kitchen.
Then John’s story began to change. He claimed that Diane took his gun and went into the garage deliberately to take her own life. However, the forensics team said that the point of entry for the bullet proved that couldn’t have been the case…
However, in spite of their suspicions, no charges were ever filed against John. For more than four decades, Diane’s death was recorded as having been the result of an accidental shooting.
For the next 40 years, Dylan worked hard to make his Hollywood dreams come true. After being raised by his grandmother, he finally reconnected with his father and, in turn, with Eve. But he never forgot about his mother…
In order to survive and thrive in Hollywood, Dylan had to push down the memories of losing his mother so violently. However, in 2011, he finally felt ready to confront these tragic memories.
Dylan got in touch with authorities in his old hometown and told them he still had questions about his mother’s death. Three detectives agreed to reopen the cold case; that was when they quickly discovered that something just wasn’t right…
The investigators learned that the original case files were missing. They wanted to interview John again, but they couldn’t—in 1972, he’d been murdered and his body was left in the trunk of a car.
Dylan and the investigators weren’t about to let the case go unsolved, however. The police conducted more interviews and scoured old press reports from the time of the murder. Armed with new information, they were able to finally give Dylan and his family peace for the first time: they determined that John, indeed, killed Diane.
Of course, John would never face a trial for his actions. But the fact that the case was solved—and that John received his own sort of karmic punishment—was the closure that Dylan needed to help him return to his life as a happily married father and actor.