From the first day they met in Sun Valley on Sept. 28, 1940, Ernest Hemingway and Gary Cooper remained close friends until Gary Cooper died from complications from prostate cancer on May 13, 1961. Just seven weeks later, on July 2, 1961, Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum.
Larry Morris chronicles the duo’s relationship in his new book, “Ernest Hemingway & Gary Cooper in Idaho: An Enduring Friendship,” which places the reader alongside Cooper and Hemingway in Hollywood, Cuba, New York and Idaho — the state the pair treasured. They returned to Idaho for many reasons, but it was “The hills of south-central Idaho that reminded Hemingway so much of Spain.”
Hemingway and Cooper were opposites in many ways, and that is, perhaps, the reason they remained friends for so many years. According to Morris, Hemingway was a voracious reader; Cooper “hadn’t read six books in his entire life.” (When Hemingway received advance copies of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” he signed one, “To the Coopers, to make something to supplement the Idaho Statesman as reading matter.”)
In addition, Hemingway was a fun-loving, boisterous man who enjoyed his drink and was not afraid of confrontations. Cooper was taciturn, drank moderately and did not like confrontations. Hemingway was generous — Coop not so much.
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However, both worked extremely hard at their craft and were recognized by their peers for their work. Cooper won two Academy Awards (“High Noon,” “Sergeant York”) and he starred in two Hemingway novel adaptations. He portrayed Lt. Frederic Henry in “A Farewell to Arms,” and he played Robert Jordan, opposite Ingrid Bergman, in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which was not a coincidence: “The description of Jordan as a tall and thin Montanan, with sun-streaked fair hair, and a wind-and-sun-burned face, sounds remarkably like Cooper, not Hemingway. ... Many years later, Patrick Hemingway confirmed in an interview that his father did have Gary Cooper in mind as he wrote ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls.’ ”
Ernest Hemingway, like Cooper, earned many accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 for “The Old Man and the Sea,” but it was the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 that secured Hemingway global fame, making Cooper and Hemingway two of the most famous hunting partners in the world: “Hem and Coop hunted in the marshes of Silver Creek, in the fields near Shoshone and in the wilderness near Craters of the Moon. They even went southwest to the Glenns Ferry area to get a look at the Idaho section of the Oregon Trail.”
They talked a lot during idle time or dinnertime on the trips, discussing Hemingway’s divorce from Martha Gellhorn, an independent war journalist, and his marriage to Mary Welsh, also a journalist. Cooper shared that he was unfaithful to his wife Rocky. (Cooper had many paramours, including Patricia Neal, his co-star in “The Fountainhead.”)
In a painful phone conversation on April 17, 1961, just 26 days before Cooper passed away, Hemingway congratulated the actor for his honorary Oscar and shared his own pain: “How are you, Coop? Well, Coop, I’m sick, too.” Coop was physically sick; Hemingway was struggling mentally. In fact, just eight days later, Hemingway contemplated walking into a plane’s whirling propellers in Rapid City, South Dakota, on his way home from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Morris’ new book about Cooper and Hemingway’s friendship is compelling reading matter that helps readers understand that Hemingway was capable of having a long-lasting relationship with one of his peers. Morris’ detailed research rewards Hemingway and Cooper fans with an intimate look at the final 20 years of two great artists.
Wayne Catan teaches English literature at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix.
“Ernest Hemingway & Gary Cooper in Idaho: An Enduring Friendship”
by Larry E. Morris;
The History Press ($21.99)