Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen
"If there'd been no Coop, Hemingway would've had to invent him" - Alistair Cooke
Ernest Hemingway: “Coop is a fine man; as honest and straight and friendly and unspoiled as he looks. If you made up a character like Coop, nobody’d believe it.”
And if you made up a character like Ernest Hemingway, how many would believe it? The mercurial Hemingway left people enchanted, hostile, confused, charmed, bruised, bitter.
Utter opposites ... nothing in common. The cowboy and the suburbanite. The conservative and the liberal. And yet these two artists (a word both men scoffed at) were the best of friends, right up to their deaths a mere seven weeks apart in 1961. But is the friendship of these two men really so surprising?
Consider this Cooper obituary: “Perhaps with Gary Cooper there is ended a certain America. That of the frontier and of innocence, which had or was believed to have an exact sense of the dividing line between good and evil.” Corriere Della Sera, Rome. Substitute the name of Hemingway’s Robert Jordan and the sentiment is just as apt and poignant.
A study of these two men is a study of the 20th century. Their internationally renowned careers (Cooper, two Best Actor Academy Awards; Hemingway, Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes) were played out over the same turbulent decades: the hedonistic 20s, the grim Depression 30s, the war-ravaged 40s, and the deceptively slumbering 50s.
It is no small irony that the lives of these two men should suffer untimely ends at the dawn of the erupting sixties. Their final, poignant chapter closed at the beginning of a decade which would challenge many of the very ideals and precepts which both men so prominently represented.
And yet, decades later, we have Liam Neeson reflecting: “…the character of Bryan Mills (Taken) fits into a cinematic iconic figure that we all recognize from way back … I’m thinking of Gary Cooper in High Noon, who is kind of a Bryan Mills. That kind of iconic figure that audiences seem to be attracted to.
Or Katniss Everdeen, the hero from The Hunger Games. For all the modern trappings, the extraordinarily courageous and selfless Katniss is really just a female updating of the Hemingway/Cooper hero. She’s Robert Jordan. She’s Will Kane. To understand Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper is to understand both the genesis of Katniss Everdeen and why
she and other contemporary characters represent what they do to audiences today.
Perhaps Cooper and Hemingway didn’t really pass the torch, perhaps they merely leant it.
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