Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen (2013)
Cast includes: Sam Waterston (Narrator)
Writer/Director: John Mulholland (Sergeant York: Of God and Country)
Genre: Documentary (120 minutes)
Gary Cooper and Ernest Hemingway are such icons, it’s hard to separate the men from the legacies. Hemingway used a slang expression, “true gen” to describe what was true and genuine vs. everything else. With both Cooper and Hemingway… there was no “everything else”… there was only true gen. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway took his own life. The funeral was like a gathering of royalty. They were mourning Hemingway, of course, but they were also mourning the end of an era. Hemingway’s best friend, Gary Cooper had died only a few weeks earlier. In many ways, the two men were on parallel paths, but there was no reason for their paths to have become so intertwined. On the surface, they had nothing in common. Among other things, both had passionate political views, and they were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet they became best friends. Before they ever met both were hoping for an opportunity to meet. And when they did, they developed a bond that would last until the end.
Growing up in Montana, Gary Cooper was a man’s man. But during WWI, he was sidelined by an injury. After the war, he planned to go to art school in Chicago. While passing through Los Angeles, he learned he could earn some spending money as a stunt man for the movies. They could use some extras who really could ride a horse. Eventually his exceptional good looks got him noticed, and he started getting lead roles… including the lead in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arm, 1932. But the two didn’t meet until 1940. By this time, each was possibly the most acclaimed celebrity in his fields… Cooper as an actor who reduced characters to just the essentials… and Hemingway as the master of verbal simplicity. (It’s hard to overstate how original this approach was at the time.) It wasn’t a stylistic thing for either of them. It was simply true gen.
Unless you were an adult in the 1930s and 40s, you probably won’t realize just how famous these two were. After WWII, Cooper’s career took a hit because of the new crop of Hollywood leading men. Hemingway had so many imitators that he was accused of being repetitive… a point Hemingway scholars adamantly challenge. However, during the height of their fame, Cooper and Hemingway were possibly the most photographed men on the planet… giving the documentary filmmakers a huge library of images to use. Cooper and Hemingway is well worth seeing, even if you’ve never given much thought to learning more about these two icons of true manhood. (You may find yourself speculating how different things could have been had Cooper understood the health hazards of smoking and Hemingway had access to anti-depressants.) At 2 full hours, it’s definitely on the long side, but it’s not just a single biography… it’s two. There are a lot of surprises along the way… one of the biggest may be how much you thought you knew, but didn’t. Fame can be fleeting, and there are too many momentary celebrities… but Cooper and Hemingway were the true gen.
3 popped kernels
Biography of two best friends… and the most famous film and literary icons of the mid 20th century
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Old photos
Primary Driver: Convey information
Language: True to life