Friday, May 27, 2011

Merian C. Cooper, his excellent life and his very large monkey

The golden age of travel and adventure, when the going was good and it was still acceptable for white men to shoot their way out of trouble, was the 1920’s and ‘30’s, and from that happy time Turner Classic Movies presented a film biography of Merian C. Cooper, who led a most excellent life. Just to hit the high points: Cooper is kicked out of Annapolis; joins Pershing’s expedition in pursuit of Pancho Villa; flies in WWI and is shot down in flames; ends the war as a German prisoner; stays in Europe after the war and organizes a squadron of American fliers fighting the Red Army who are invading Poland; shot down, captured, pretends to be a peasant and survives in a Russian prison labor gang; escapes; a hero to the Poles, he is offered land and money, which he refuses; returns, penniless, to the US; he goes with an expedition to the East Indies looking for a tribe of short-tailed monkeys thought to be the missing link; he takes up film-making and in the 1920’s travels through Turkey and Persia to make a spectacular film about a tribe of nomads on an arduous migration;  on the basis of that film he is brought to Hollywood where he draws on his experience with the East Indies expedition to make “King Kong”; he introduces Technicolor; when war breaks out he goes to China with the Flying Tigers and so distinguishes himself that he is invited to be on the Missouri when the Japanese surrender; back in Hollywood, he makes classic John Wayne movies with director John Ford; he introduces Cinerama; he wins an Oscar; somewhere in here he becomes an Air Force general, all the while having a long and happy marriage and family.  The Turner Classic Movies  film about him is called “I’m King Kong.”  Cooper, like his monkey, was bigger than life.

One of the troublesome problems for biography is that a person may do the act that justifies his fame early on, and then live uneventfully for another half-century.  One does not have that problem with Merian C. Cooper.

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