Friday, August 14, 2009

Would Gary Cooper Be a Star Today?

This post began as a fun "what if?" concept but has become a rambling, barely coherent rant--make that "lament." I could go on all day about it, but I'll restrain myself here.

Something I've often thought about was whether the Golden Age stars who perhaps aren't as well known by today's average Joe or Jane could "cut it" in today's movie business. I'm sure it's just my wishful thinking and glorification of those stars and that era, but could someone like Gary Cooper be as big a star nowadays like he was in his heyday?

I have to wonder.

On the surface, it would seem that given Coop's looks, sex appeal, and nice guy reputation, he would be a darling at the box office. But would Cooper's subtle acting resonate with the moviegoer of 2009? He probably wouldn't be "emotional" enough, or "sensitive" enough, at least in the obvious, self-help, talk show-baring-of-the-soul sort of way that men engage in today. Actually, Cooper had all of those tender qualities, he just didn't wear them on his sleeve like a Clift or Dean. Maybe those 1950s actors really did change everything forever. Stoicism is kaput, but it's really subtelty and reading-between-the-lines acting that is forever gone. Grown ups can read between the lines, kids need everything spelled out for them.

In this age where movies look like video games, the 18-35 demographic is the portal to riches, and the overly-simplistic titling of any movie sequel in a film franchise (not counting James Bond) is simply titled with a number--not even a roman numeral anymore. Everything is so incredibly dumbed down today. There's a stigma against everything not fresh out of puberty. It's like the society is so afraid of being called "old", but it's more like they fear growing up. Black and white is anathema to today's audiences, even those in their fifties they who ironically grew up with the Pepsi slogan "For those who think young."

I used to hold out hope that there would be a reaction to the stultifying, vapid popular culture we have had over the past ten years: "Reality" shows, endless Law & Order and CSI spinoffs, the polarizing and sensationalized news programs airing 24/7 and that at least some quality might emerge. I realize that every decade has had its share of mindless entertainment and that only the good stuff is remembered, but I feel that we don't have that excuse anymore. The unprecedented access to anything that the internet can provide should've been, but hasn't led to any intellectual curiosity, or at least not enough to make a difference.

Oh. Gary Cooper. He'd be a rancher in Montana today, because he would be so unlike anyone working in films. He'd still be handsome, quiet, and forthright--just not in the movies.

Sorry, Coop: Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur wouldn't be employable in today's Hollywood. The fox they would just CGI...


  1. C.K. Nope, Cooper wouldn't stand a chance. Not only him. Alan Ladd, Randolph Scott, john Garfield - any of the men that kept their yaps shut and took care of business - none of them would sell tickets these days. Not even a star as current as Steve McQueen could be in the running any more. Today’s leads must have three qualities. First, no body hair - male stars have to be as hairless as newborn newts. Two, they have to be absolutely ripped with washboard abs, bulging pecks, and huge biceps. And, most importantly, three: they have to spend a good piece of screen times shouting their most private fears and feelings at top volume like spoiled children.

    Cooper would have rather cut a thumb off than blabber about himself. Ah, the good old days.

    Great, Great post! -- Mykal

  2. Hmm... I actually think the stars who would have a harder time getting by today are the more sensitive ones -- like Charles Boyer or Ronald Colman. I don't really watch new movies at all, but it seems like the macho, spitting, sweating men are the ones who get roles (seems to me, also, that a little facial hair is popular now?) I prefer the clean-shaven, debonair men from the 30's, especially if they happened to have a British or French accent. Nowadays that would never go!

    Oh, what's the use-- I think that NONE of the stars from our favorite films would make it today! And hopefully all of them would have been too proud to star in any of the trash that comes out today anyway :)

  3. Excellent points, Mykal and Kate! I rarely go to the movies anymore, and it would seem that Hollywood today is spending billions of dollars just to keep me out of the theater!

    I actually thought McQueen *might* still have a shot if today were his heyday. However, I'm pretty darned sure that my heroes Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, and James Coburn wouldn't stand a chance in the current movie climate.

    We're in the "Shia Labeaouf Era", now. Nothing personal against him, mind you as he seems like a nice kid, but he's not what I want to see in movies.

  4. C.K.: Your examples of stars not viable today is better than mine. Particularly Bronson, who would be lucky to eek out a living playing third banana heavies in today’s crop of beautiful youth. And Lee Marvin? Forget about it. A man among boys. -- Mykal

  5. I think some of the actors you mention would be able to make it in Hollywood today. The issue is the type of movies they’d be in and the level of stardom they’d reach. The major stars today seem to be the ones that are in blockbusters that are geared to the younger crowd. With big explosions and lots of noise. I’m not certain most of those stars would really work in those types of roles.

    But take some of the golden era actors and put them in movies like The Majestic (What! I loved it) or in some of the movies that William H. Macy does (he also happens to looks like he could be out of the 40s to me) and it could work. Maybe they wouldn’t be on the cover of US Weekly but I bet they’d have a following. Most likely they’d be stars along the lines of Philip Seymour Hoffman who is in fantastic movies and is a fantastic actor but never seems to be the next IT guy.

  6. Perhaps one reason Gary Cooper doesn't resonate well with today's audiences is that he's too hard to pin down, unlike, say, Clark Gable, If Cooper was more clearly indentified with the laconic western hero (sort of similar to John Wayne) it might be different, but Cooper had far more range than Wayne did (though they were both splendid actors). Can you see Wayne working for Lubitsch or making screwball (or sophisticated) comedies? I don't think he could have pulled it off -- and some of those films ("Design For Living," "Ball Of Fire") were among the best things Cooper ever did.

  7. VP81955: Now there's a great idea worth pursuing. What a great image! The young Marion Morrison working for Lubitsch! I really think it might have worked. After all, a young Wayne was very sleek and beautiful, nearly luminescent and agile, not at all like the stolid, large man he became in middle years. It’s just that at some point, Wayne simply had to become John Wayne. Yes, I think it would have worked. I think Lubitsch would have had a wonderful time with Wayne, and could really direct anyone (although a young Marion was a bit headstrong and might have tried his patience). Thanks for the great image! -- Mykal

  8. Mykal said it best in his comment. I agree with him. It's a shame though that this is the state of Hollywood these days. Probably one of the reasons I care for very few movies or stars out there today.

  9. I think Cooper would have done well on television . . . especially in one of the better ones that appear on cable. Television is where the more subtle characters are these days.

    Then again . . . you can still find subtle acting in movies that ARE NOT released during the summer.

  10. I think there are some actors around today who can do subtle. David Duchovny has a famously Cooperesque emotional register. A lot of those British actors are masters at it as well. Among actors who can do comedy and drama we have well....Clooney and um, Clooney?

    But don't get me started on the daydream that Gary Cooper is alive and owning a ranch in Montana. I needs to get some work done!


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