Friday, May 13, 2011

Gary Cooper, Dan Blocker & Robert Burks

Due to problems with Blogspot yesterday May 12, 2011, there was unfortunately no blog.

On May 13, 1961, actor Gary Cooper died. The legendary leading man who was known for his strong silent type characters was born Frank James Cooper on May 7, 1901 in Helena, Montana. The son of a Montana State Supreme Court justice, Cooper was a true “westerner,” and was raised and worked on the family ranch. Prior to becoming an actor, Cooper aspired to be an artist, attending Grinnell College in Iowa. By the early 1920’s, Cooper was in Los Angles, where he worked in numerous films as an extra and stunt man. It was Nan Collins, an agent and casting director at United Artists Studios that suggested he change his name to Gary Cooper. His big break came in 1926, when MGM cast him in The Winning of Barbara Worth, co-starring Ronald Colman. This film got the attention of Paramount Studios, who quickly signed him to a long-term contract. Cooper was now on a path to super stardom. In a film career that spanned nearly four decades (1923-1961), he appeared in over one hundred and ten motion pictures and portrayed some of the most memorable characters in motion picture history. His film credits include; The Virginian (1929), A Farwell to Arms (1932), The Lives a Bengal Lancer (1935), The Plainsman (1936), The Westerner (1940), Unconquered (1947), Distant Drums (1951), Man of the West (1958), and The Hanging Tree (1959).

He won two best actor Academy Awards, first in 1942 for Sergeant York (1941) in which he portrayed Alvin York, the sympathetic contentious objector, who became America’s most decorated military hero of World War I. He would win a second best acting Oscar in 1953 for his legendary performance as Marshal Will Kane in High Noon (1952). Cooper was nominated for three other best acting awards for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943).

In the Spring of 1960, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and it was found to have spread to his colon. After a brief recovery in which he appeared to be healthy and strong, he returned to film The Naked Edge (1961). Shortly after completion of the film, he returned home and doctors found that the cancer had now spread to his lungs and bones. Cooper took his mortality in stride like the immortal Lou Gehrig, who he played in Pride of the Yankees, Cooper was quoted as saying, “if it’s God will, that’s all right too.” Resigned to his fate, Cooper retired to his Holmby Hills, California estate to wait for the inevitable.

At the Academy Awards ceremony on April 16, 1961, Cooper was honored with a lifetime achievement Oscar; an emotional and tear-filled Jimmy Stewart accepted the award on Cooper’s behalf. He was unable to attend the event because of his failing health. Four weeks later, on May 13, 1961, with his family at his bedside, the legendary actor died. His funeral was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, California. In attendance were over four hundred mourners including numerous members of the Hollywood’s elite, among his pallbearers were good friends, Jack Benny and Jimmy Stewart.

To many people, Cooper’s on-screen persona was erroneously perceived to be much like his real life and it was said that Gary Cooper as “himself” became one of Hollywood’s most enduring symbols. But in reality Cooper was an enigma, a study in contrasts, which unlike the wholesome characters he portrayed in his films, his real life was more complicated. It was alleged that throughout his film career he had numerous affairs with many of Hollywood’s most famous leading actresses. Even with this tarnished personal image, Cooper remains one of Hollywood’s legendary good guys and his films have lived on and become some of the classics of all-time.

Cooper was buried for thirteen years at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City in the Grotto section, lot 194, space 5. He lay undisturbed until April 4, 1974, when his widow relocated his remains to Sacred Heart Cemetery, South Hampton, New York (Jesus and Mary section). Cooper’s original burial plot at Holy Cross was vacant until 1976, and is now the final resting place of Mary Alice Hathaway.

On May 13, 1972 actor Dan Blocker died. He was an American actor best remembered for his role as Eric "Hoss" Cartwright in the NBC western television blockbuster Bonanza. He was born Bobby Dan Blocker in De Kalb, Texas, son of Ora Shack Blocker (1900-1960) and his wife Mary (David) Blocker (1901-1998). Soon after Dan's birth, the family moved to O'Donnell south of Lubbock in West Texas, where they operated a store. He attended Texas Military Institute and in 1946 played football at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. He graduated from Sul Ross State Teacher's College in Alpine, where he earned a master's degree in the dramatic arts. Blocker was a high school English and drama teacher in Sonora, Texas, a sixth grade teacher and coach at Eddy Elementary School in Carlsbad, New Mexico and a finally a teacher in California. He had worked as a rodeo performer and as a bouncer in a beer bar while a student.

In 1957, Blocker appeared in a Three Stooges short, Outer Space Jitters, having portrayed the part of "The Goon," billed as Don Blocker. That year he appeared in episodes of The Restless Gun as a blacksmith and as a cattleman planning to take his hard-earned profit to return to his family land in his native Minnesota. Also in 1957, Blocker had a role as a bartender in an episode of the syndicated western-themed crime drama Sheriff of Cochise. In 1958, he played a prison guard and later had a recurring role as Tiny Budinger in the NBC western series Cimarron City. He also was seen in a 1958 episode of Walt Disney's Zorro, "The SeƱorita Makes a Choice."

In 1959, as Bonanza was beginning, Blocker guest-starred in an episode of the Keenan Wynn and Bob Mathias NBC series The Troubleshooters, an adventure program about unusual events surrounding an international construction company. Blocker played the outgoing "middle son" Hoss on the long-running NBC television series, Bonanza. The actor who played his elder brother Adam, Pernell Roberts, was born a scant seven months before Blocker. Dan Blocker said that he portrayed the Hoss character with a Stephen Grellet excerpt in mind: "We shall pass this way on Earth but once, if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again."

In 1968, Blocker starred with Frank Sinatra in the "Tony Rome" film sequel Lady In Cement. Stanley Kubrick attempted to cast Blocker in his film Dr. Strangelove, after Peter Sellers elected not to add the role of Major T.J. "King" Kong to his multiple other roles, but according to the film's co-writer, Terry Southern, Blocker's agent rejected the script. The role subsequently went to Slim Pickens. In 1970, the actor portrayed a love-shy galoot on, The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County, with Nanette Fabray as a love prospect. Mickey Rooney also starred. Director Robert Altman befriended Blocker while directing episodes of Bonanza. Years later, he cast Blocker as Roger Wade in The Long Goodbye. Unfortunately, Blocker died before filming commenced. The role went to Sterling Hayden and the film was dedicated to Blocker.

Blocker received partial ownership in a successful chain of Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouse restaurants in exchange for serving as their commercial spokesman and making personal appearances at franchises. Blocker was drafted into the Army and served in the Korean War as a First Sergeant. He later married the former Dolphia Parker, whom he had met while a student at Sul Ross State. All of their four children's names begin with a 'D': actor Dirk Blocker, producer David Blocker and twin daughters Debra Lee (artist) and Danna Lynn.

On May 13, 1972, in Los Angeles, Blocker died suddenly following gall bladder surgery, of a pulmonary embolism. The cast and crew of Bonanza were shaken by his death, and the writers took the then-unusual step of referencing a major character's death in the show's storyline that autumn. Bonanza lasted another season, but the final season in which Blocker did not appear is the least-requested in reruns. Blocker is buried at the Woodmen Cemetery, DeKalb, although he lived there only briefly. The common grave site is marked by a plain stone with the name "BLOCKER" engraved, and three family members are buried beside him.

On May 13, 1968, cinematographer Robert Burks died. He was an award winning cinematographe and very successful cameraman who started out as a special effects specialist for Warner Studios. He went on to become one of the finest directors of cinematography. Burks worked for both Warner Brothers and Paramount Studious, during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Burks was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite cameraman, and worked on most of the directors films during this period. In 1956, he won the Academy Award for best cinematography for Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955). Other famous film credits include, Strangers on a Train (nominated for an Academy Award in 1951), Hondo (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (nominated for an Academy Award in 1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), The Music Man (1962), The Birds (1963), and Patch of Blue (nominated for an Academy Award in 1965). On May 13, 1968, Burks and his wife Elizabeth were killed in a house fire at their Newport Beach, California home. Robert Burks is buried in lawn D, lot 1409, space 5. Locate 115 on the west curb of lawn D, eight rows east, under a pine tree is the Burks final resting place.

Michael Thomas Barry is author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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