May 18, 2015

Gary Cooper: Helena's Hollywood Hero

by Susan R. Near, Development & Marketing Officer

In over 100 movies, actor and Helena native, Gary Cooper portrayed a wide array of characters – soldiers, cowboys, and ordinary Joes – all with charm and a succinct stateliness.  However, Gary Cooper was best known as the tall, Western American hero of 20th century film. During his 36-year movie career, Gary Cooper became one of Hollywood's leading men. When moving pictures were silent, his first jobs were as an extra in Westerns. Cooper quickly made the transition from silent film to talkies, and from stunt man to leading man.

Gary Cooper’s big break came in 1926 with a part in "The Winning of Barbara Worth."  He then  appeared in "Wings," the first movie to receive a Best Picture Oscar.  "The Virginian," the screen adaptation of Owen Wister's classic 1901 Western novel released in 1929, was Cooper’s first "talkie" and helped launch his career.  Cooper's on-film presence – tall, handsome and shy – had an immediate appeal to the movie-going public. 
Gary Cooper publicity photo for "The Westerner;" 1940;
Photo credit: Culver Pictures, Inc.
MHS Photo Archives Gary Cooper Research Collection Box 2, Folder 2

In the 1930s, Cooper was Hollywood's #1 male box-office star – earning him both unbelievable wealth and fame during the dark years of the Great Depression. In movies like "A Farewell To Arms," the first film adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway novel; Frank Capra's screwball comedy, "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town;" and "The Plainsman," Cooper's roles depicted the common man who persevered through adversity–and as always–was the hero. Some of Gary Cooper's most famous movies came in the 1940s and 1950s.  The leading roles in "Sergeant York" (1941) and "High Noon" (1952) earned Cooper two Best Actor Academy Awards. Many of his films remind us of his own heritage, bringing to a culmination his image as a true Western American hero.

Gary Cooper started out life as Frank James Cooper, the second son of Charles H. and Alice Brazier Cooper, both British-born. Charles immigrated to Montana in 1885, and studied law in Helena. Alice Brazier came to Helena in 1893, and she and Charles married in 1895. Their first child, Arthur, was born soon after. By the time Frank was born on May 7, 1901, Charles had earned his law degree and was busy expanding his political circle - even introducing Theodore Roosevelt when the candidate visited Helena during the 1904 Presidential campaign.

Family finances were good, and in 1906, Charles purchased a 600-acre ranch, the Seven Bar Nine near Craig. It was a place to 'turn the boys loose.'  The ranch, also known as Sunnyside, was along the Missouri River, but was 60 miles from Helena. "We had fast, convenient transportation from Helena to Dad's ranch," Cooper later remembered, "but that was only when we went by train. If we decided to hitch up the horse to the wagon, it was a trip that took a long day—and put the nag out of commission for a week."1
Frank Cooper (far left), Arthur, and visiting relatives
 at the Cooper Ranch along the Missouri River, ca. 1906
Photo credit: Brown Brothers, NY
MHS Photo Archives Gary Cooper Research Collection, B 1/F 1


In 1909, the Coopers moved their Helena residence from 730 11th Avenue to 123 Breckenridge and Frank and his brother continued attending Helena public schools. However, insisting that the boys needed some British discipline, Alice took her sons to England and enrolled them in The Dunstable School (Bedfordshire) in 1910. Because of their frontier manners, schoolmates at Dunstable teased them, but they soon adapted to life in England.

Alice and the boys returned to Helena from England in 1915 and lived at 115 North Beattie. The opposite of their English school experience occurred when the Cooper boys' British formal dress resulted in ridicule of their "fancy English duds."  It only took one day for Frank to change his attire from a tailored suit to overalls. Despite her attempts, Mrs. Cooper could not impose her form of culture on her boys in Montana. Frank's experience of living in two worlds would bode well for him later when he hit Hollywood.

In Helena, Frank often practiced boxing with close family friend Wellington Rankin - colleague of Charles Cooper and brother of suffragist Jeannette Rankin. Frank also frequently marveled at the art in Montana's new Capitol when visiting his father there. He especially related to the magnificent mural of Lewis & Clark by Charles Russell; it inspired him to be an artist himself one day.

At the family's Craig ranch, though, there was a substantial herd of cattle to tend, so Frank quit school and spent two years working there until the end of World War I. Frank learned about ranching, the outdoors, Western history, hunting, and getting along with characters as diverse as local ranchers, itinerant cowboys and the American Indians who lived nearby.  One of the cowboys who worked on the ranch, Slim Talbot, would later become Cooper's Hollywood stand-in.

Back in Helena, Frank broke his hip in a car accident on his way to school. The doctor's advice was to get exercise, so Frank returned to the ranch and rode horses for therapy. Though painful to ride, Frank learned how to gingerly move with the horse in an effort to minimize the pain. Many years later Cooper attributed this episode as the reason for his expert horsemanship.

Alice thought Frank's "rowdy" crowd was too much of a distraction, so he was sent to Bozeman's Gallatin County High School.  His teacher—Ida Davis, an influential force in his life—put Frank on the debate team and encouraged his participation in school plays. During the summer, Frank worked as a gear jammer, or tour bus driver, in Yellowstone National Park for a few years beginning in 1921.

Frank yearned to go to art school with the goal of becoming an illustrator.  As a compromise with his parents, he headed off to Iowa's Grinnell College for 3 years. He returned to Helena in 1924 though his parents had moved to California after Charles retired.  Frank sought a job as a political cartoonist, and four of his drawings were published in the Helena newspaper, The Independent Record.  When this line of work did not pan out, he headed to California to look for similar work. Frank's lack of success in this field led him to other employment; however, art continued to be a lifelong passion.
Political cartoon by Frank Cooper, Helena Independent Record, Nov. 2, 1924.
A couple of friends from Montana were working as movie extras, riding and doing stunts in Hollywood when they introduced Frank to some casting directors.  Slim Talbot, from the Seven Bar Nine Ranch, was an established stunt man.  Cooper wound up playing bit parts in twelve films during his first two years in California—nearly all Westerns.  Cooper later said, "I quit trying to draw when I started falling off horses for a living."2

Frank changed his first name to Gary during this time as there were already two actors named Frank Cooper. He forever after became known as Gary Cooper. Frank also took advice from his old friend, Wellington Rankin, "…Look at how this fellow [Valentino] puts over an idea.  He thinks it so strongly that it becomes obvious to the audience."3 Years later in a letter to Rankin, Cooper said, "I hold you partially responsible for my good fortune in Hollywood because you were the first to put the bee in my head about becoming an actor."4

Lobby Card, "A Farewell to Arms," 1932;
MHS Museum Collection, L88.12.05

Cooper's health began deteriorating in the 1950s. He contracted cancer in 1959 and never recovered.  Cooper was too ill in April 1961 to attend the Academy Awards, during which his friend Jimmy Stewart accepted Gary Cooper's lifetime achievement Oscar. Gary Cooper died in 1961, prior to the release of his last movie, The Naked Edge, which premiered at the historic Marlow Theater in Helena.  Family friend Wellington Rankin wrote a telegram to Cooper's mother, "All who knew him and of him are glad that he lived and are sorry that he seems to be gone.  His memory will always live."5



From stunt man to leading man—Cooper portrayed the quintessential American hero.  His image as an honest, courageous man survives in his films.  Most of all, Cooper was personally grounded in reality and his own history. Charles M. Russell once remarked, "No man should be condemned for what he can't do nor should get too much credit for what he can do because he can't help it." Gary Cooper could not help it.

Notes
1. Carpozi, p.13.
2. Hedda Hopper column, “Not ‘Diversified’ Wails Cooper,” Toledo Blade, July 17, 1949, p.4.
3. Salt Lake Tribune, May 22, 1961.
4. Letter, Gary Cooper to Wellington Rankin, October 9, 1946; MHS Research Center, MC 288, Box   1, Folder 12.
5. Telegram, Wellington Rankin to Mrs. Charles Cooper, May 1961; MHS Research Center, MC 288, Box 1, Folder 12.

Resources
  • Hector Arce, Gary Cooper: An Intimate Biography (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1979).
  • George Carpozi, Jr., The Gary Cooper Story (New York: Arlington House, 1970).
  • Gary Cooper Filmography
  • Maria Cooper Janis, Gary Cooper Off Camera, A Daughter Remembers (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999).

May 6, 2015

Montana Wild Flower Booklet for the Chicago World's Fair


By Brian Shovers, Montana Historical Society Library Manager, retired


During the month of May, hikers in Trout Creek Canyon east of Helena frequently see a beautiful pink flower sprouting from the limestone cliffs. 

Kelseya uniflora - Trout Creek, near York, in the Big Belt Mountains
Photo credit: Barbara Pepper-Rotness
The Latin name for this elegant member of the Rose family is Kelseya uniflora, named for Rev. Francis D. Kelsey, a prominent botanist and Congregational minister who resided in Helena from 1885-1893. 

While pastor of the Helena Congregational Church, Reverend Kelsey also taught botany at the College of Montana in Deer Lodge from 1887 to 1890 and was granted a Doctorate of Science by that institution. During his short stay in Helena, he amassed one of Montana's most important early botanical collections and identified several new species. Dr. Kelsey left Montana in 1893 to accept the position of Professor of Botany at Oberlin College (Ohio).

 The entire booklet (Pamphlet 4157) is available for viewing on the Montana Memory Project
The Montana Historical Society Library recently acquired a beautiful handmade booklet containing eleven botanical pressed specimens. This booklet, produced under the direction of Dr. Kelsey, was intended to accompany the exhibit of Montana wild flora for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Epilobium spicatum (Fireweed) - one of eleven pressed botanical specimens in PAM 4157.
The book, prepared by L.A. Fitch of Sheridan, Montana in the autumn of 1892, also includes pen and ink drawings of Rainbow Falls on the Missouri and Ruby Lake in southwestern Montana. 

"Ruby Lake near Sheridan, Mont."
Through a recent, generous donation by Matt Lavin at the Montana State University Herbarium (MONT), a major portion of Montana's wild plant exhibit for the 1893 World's Fair now resides at the Montana Historical Society Museum. The remainder of Dr. Kelsey's extensive personal collection can be found at the Miami University Herbarium in Oxford, Ohio. 

And, his legacy lives on in the naming of the Helena Chapter of the Native Plant Society: Kelsey

(Brian contributed this post shortly before his retirement at the end of last year; we saved it to kick-off the Spring wildflower season.)

April 16, 2015

Montana's Ties to the Titanic

Zoe Ann Stoltz, Reference Historian

My first response to the recent question, "Were there any people from Montana on the Titanic?" was not historical.  Rather, the only thing that came to mind was the very contemporary link with Montana resident Al Giddings.  Mr. Giddings participated in the 1991 joint Russian-Canadian-American expedition to the wreck and later played an integral role in the production and underwater filming for the blockbuster 1997 movie, Titanic.

Within moments of hitting the microfilm machine, however, I became obsessed with the stories of the men and women who both perished as well as survived the sinking.  Not only were there 17 or more (depending on the source) passengers of the RMS Titanic who planned to make Montana their final destination, there were also numerous personal and professional Montana connections.  The aspirations and make-up of these individuals—miners, emigrants, carpenters, homesteaders, and millionaires—represent the story of 1912 Montana.


Several third and second class passengers were headed for Butte and other Montana opportunities.  These included at least four railroad workers who had worked in Butte the previous fall, but returned to their homes in Bulgaria for the winter.  Menko Angeloff, Hristo Danchoff, Stanio Georfieff, and Ivan Staneff, all steerage tickets, were well known by Butte's Bulgarian community.  According to the Anaconda Standard, Staneff was "considered a leader among his countrymen."  Frederick Pengelly, a 19-year-old miner, boarded the Titanic with 23-year-old blacksmith William Ware, both from Cornwall, England.  The young men listed Butte as their final destination with hopes of earning employment in the booming mining town.  Carpenter William Gilbert, on the other hand, had lived in the Butte area for 20 years.  The Butte Miner reported he was returning from a trip to Cornwall to visit his mother.  Sadly, just ten days before the Titanic disaster, his siblings had received a letter explaining that he missed boarding the California, his initial ticket, so he was reassigned to the Titanic.  These men's dreams died with them the night the Titanic sank.

Four other men, all steerage passengers from Croatia, also listed Montana as their destination.  Three married brothers, or perhaps cousins, Bartol, Ivan, and Liudevit Cor, ages 35, 27, and 19, respectively, hoped to end their travels in Great Falls.  Jovan Dimic, age 42, was traveling to Red Lodge.  Their stories wait to be discovered.  None of these men were among the survivors.  Another passenger, Edward Larsson-Rondberg, was heading home to Missoula after a visit to Sweden.  He had saved enough money from cooking at the Atlantic Hotel and Restaurant on North Higgins to bring his childhood sweetheart, Berta Nilsson, to Montana.  The Butte Miner described how Berta survived after boarding Lifeboat D, the final boat to be lowered from the steamer, just 15 minutes before it sank to the ocean floor.  Edward was never seen again.
Lifeboat D, with Berta Nilsson aboard, just prior to rescue by the Carpathia
(source: National Archives–Northeast Region, New York City, RG 21, Records of District Courts of the United States).
Deer Lodge resident, Imanita Parrish Shelley, and her mother, Lutie Parrish, were seasoned travelers returning to the States from England.  Following the collision with the iceberg, the mother and daughter boarded Lifeboat 12, one of the few lifeboats to later take on additional survivors.  These included  approximately 16 men found clinging to the sinking collapsible Lifeboat B just before dawn.  The ladies arrived in Deer Lodge ten days after the sinking.  Mrs. Shelley would later send an affidavit to the U.S. Senate inquiry describing her experiences in detail.

Gilliam and Anna De Messemaeker, recently married in Belgium, were on their way to Gilliam's log home and homestead outside Tampico, Montana.  Anna was lifted into Lifeboat 13, filled with over 65 second- and third-class women and children.  Gilliam, not allowed to join his wife, began assisting with the next boat, number 15.  Believing Gilliam to be a crew member, an officer ordered him to take up oars.  The couple was reunited aboard rescue boat Carpathia.  According to the Glasgow Valley County News, they arrived in Valley County on April 27th.  The newspaper printed a detailed interview of the couple's frightening experience less than a week after their return home.

In addition to the 17 souls described above, the Titanic carried many others with ties to Montana.   These included first-class passengers Mr. and Mrs. Walter Clark, both born in Montana and with solid ties to Butte.  Clark, the nephew of Copper King and Montana Senator William Clark, assisted his wife into Lifeboat 4, which also carried several first-class passengers and their staff, including the young Mrs. Astor, her maid, and nurse.  Young Mr. Clark was last seen with Mr. Astor helping others onto the remaining lifeboats.  By April 25, Virginia Clark had returned to their Los Angeles home to grieve.

Investigating Montana's ties to the Titanic taught me that Mr. Giddings was not the first Montanan to look upon the notorious ship.  Cooks, homesteaders, and laborers, all boarded the Titanic with hopes of creating a new life upon their arrival in the booming young State of Montana.  The sinking ended those hopes and dreams.  However, their stories reflect those of thousands of people heading to Montana in 1912.

Helpful Sources:

April 3, 2015

What are you having for Easter dinner?

by Barbara Pepper Rotness, MHS Research Center Library Technician

According to the Secretary of State's Business Entity webpage, the first incorporation papers filed with the newly-established State of Montana, in November 1889, were for the Helena Hotel Company. Officially becoming an incorporated business on November 8, 1889 - the same date that Montana became a state - the hotel didn't open for business until the following year and held its grand opening on February 3, 1890.

According to the Helena Independent newspaper, dated November 12, 1911,
"The Helena Hotel on Grand Street, which for many years, under the management of L.A. Walker, was the finest hotel in the state. It was about the Helena Hotel that the great political fights of early statehood days centered, and in the lobby of this hotel during state conventions and legislative sessions could be found practically every man of prominence in the state."          
1894 Helena Polk City Directory,
"Presented by Cornelius Hedges"

Built of brick and standing five stories tall, the Helena Hotel provided high-quality amenities, such as passenger and freight elevators, steam heat, and electric light.

This ad (right) from the 1894 Helena Polk City Directory boasts that the Helena Hotel is "The Only First Class Hotel in the City." At that time, the charges for a stay at the Helena Hotel started at $3.00 per day. Baths and private parlors were extra.

Unfortunately, the Helena Hotel was gutted by a fire on February 4, 1912 and the decision was made to not restore that business.

The Montana Historical Society has this remnant of the Helena Hotel from its heyday -  an 1894 Easter holiday dinner invitation and menu (below).



This multi-course meal certainly sounds first-class; however, the types of foods (such as, Sea Turtle) were commonly listed on other menus of the time.

Look for more menus in the Ephemera files at the Montana Historical Society Research Center.

 




March 27, 2015

A Life Through Newspapers: Andrew Jackson ("AJ") King

By Natasha Hollenbach, Montana Digital Newspaper Project Assistant

Historical newspapers can reveal people who were important in their time and place, but whom history has deemed unnecessary to remember. During the 1902 election, the Kalispell Bee ran several political cartoons directed at Andrew Jackson (AJ) King.

However, concerted searching through the Montana Historical Society catalog, Google, and Ancestry.com revealed very little about this man. So an experiment was proposed. How much of AJ King’s life could be revealed using just Montana digitized newspapers available on Chronicling America? Using the advanced search, limiting to Montana and using “a j king” as the search term under "with the phrase," 163 pages were returned. These results ranged from 1892 to 1921 including papers from Libby, Great Falls, Anaconda, Cut Bank, Butte, Missoula, Helena, Havre, Glasgow and Fort Benton. While there was a surprising amount of information available, not all articles that mentioned 'AJ King' actually pertained to this AJ King. For example, during this period there was also an A (Alfred) J King in Missoula who worked for the Daily Missoulian. However, there is enough to provide a reasonable account of AJ’s professional life.

When Flathead County was created in 1893, AJ King was appointed county treasurer. He was elected to this position twice--first in 1894 and again in 1898. During the 1896 campaign, he was chosen as one of the delegates to represent the county at the Democratic State Convention. It appears to be his first attempt to expand his political career. In 1902, he ran for State Senate, but lost in an election that was a blowout for the Republican Party.

From the end of the campaign until he was appointed collector of customs in 1913, he appears only twice, both concerning land transactions. In 1910, AJ was one of the individuals who offered land for sale to the federal government that wanted federal buildings in Kalispell, Miles City and Bozeman. In 1912, the Libby Herald reported a land transfer from AJ to his son, Carlisle. In 1913, AJ was appointed collector of customs for Montana and Idaho with his headquarters in Great Falls, a position paying $3,500 per year for a 4-year term. He would serve two terms in this position (1913-1921). Over the next several years, most references to AJ are about smuggling activity. Because this was the time of prohibition, whiskey smuggling from Canada was a regular occurrence, with articles often describing how it was smuggled and the amount of liquor poured into the city’s sewer.

In addition to whiskey, a number of other items were smuggled from Canada during AJ’s tenure: horses (1915), grain through Scobey (1915), and a diamond worth $200 (1920). Nineteen-nineteen was a busy year for AJ. He spoke to the Woman’s Club in favor of the League of Nations; aided in a collection campaign for the Salvation Army; attended the state fair; heard President Wilson speak in Helena; attended a conference in New York; and visited family and friends in Kentucky and Nebraska. In 1920, AJ King's activities with the Democratic Party received significant coverage, as did his business affairs. The creation of two oil companies, Missouri River Oil & Gas Company and Cat Creek Devil’s Basin Oil Company, both had AJ as one of the primary owners. One story highlights a different aspect of his job. On May 14, 1921, he was in Boise, judging whether art imported from Europe for the new Catholic Church could enter the country duty free or if money was owed.

In late 1921, his term was up and a Republican president was in power. The last mention of him is November 21, 1921 in the Great Falls Daily Tribune, stating that he was moving back to Kalispell after buying the Ford Hotel.
Not only do these articles track AJ’s working history, they also provide insight into his family life. AJ’s wife was active in the social scene, as  found in articles about the Great Falls Woman’s Club, musical club, bridge club, and Ladies’ Auxiliary to the American Legion. She and AJ had two sons, Carlisle and Dean. When Carlisle returned from WWI, the event was recorded in the newspaper.

Several years later, when Carlisle stopped in Great Falls to visit his parents on his way back home to Seattle and, then, when AJ and his wife visited Dean and his family for Christmas, the newspaper reported it. In the last article about AJ, it mentions that part of the reason he chose to return to Kalispell was that his son, Dean, was County Attorney.

And, so ends a life through digital newspapers!