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Gary Cooper

Icons of the Century

Tall, lean, handsome, modest, decent — no other movie star personified the American male ideal like Cooper.

But the Montana native’s intellect and subtle sophistication and rough glamour — he was friends with artists like Picasso and writers like Hemingway — informed the deeper layer of his acting: “Meet John Doe’s” anger and defiance, Howard Roark’s idealism in “The Fountainhead,” the morally upright sheriff in “High Noon.”

John Barrymore put it this way: “This fellow is the world’s greatest actor. He does without effort what the rest of us spend our lives trying to learn — namely to be natural.” Coop’s pure physical presence also marked him indelibly in audience’s minds and his delivery of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech in “The Pride of the Yankees” can still make grown men — and women — weep.

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