Merian C. Cooper

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Merian C. Cooper
Merian Cooper.jpg
Merian C. Cooper in Polish Air Force uniform.
Born Merian Caldwell Cooper
(1893-10-24)October 24, 1893
Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Died April 21, 1973(1973-04-21) (aged 79)
San Diego, California, USA
Cause of death Cancer
Nationality American
Alma mater United States Naval Academy
Georgia Institute of Technology
Occupation Director
Movie producer
Military officer
Military career
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Navy
 United States Army
 Polish Air Force
Years of service 1912–1915
Rank Brigadier General (USA)
Battles/wars Border War
World War I
Polish-Soviet War
World War II
Awards Mexican Border Service Medal
World War I Victory Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Order of Virtuti Militari
Cross of Valour

Merian Caldwell Cooper (October 24, 1893 – April 21, 1973) was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, film director and producer. His most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong.


Early life

Merian Caldwell Cooper was born to John C. Cooper, an American of English descent, and the former Mary Caldwell, in Jacksonville, Florida. He was educated at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912 but resigned in 1915 (his senior year) in a dispute over his belief in air power which the Navy did not share. In 1916, he joined the Georgia National Guard to help chase Pancho Villa in Mexico.

World War I

Cooper served as a DH-4 bomber pilot with the United States Army Air Service during World War I. He was shot down and captured by the Germans, serving out the remainder of the war in a POW camp.[1] Captain Cooper remained in the Air Service after the war, despite serious burns to his arms incurred in the crash of his DH-4. In January 1919, while on special duty with the American Red Cross in France, he located the grave of Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., America's second-highest-scoring ace of World War I, near the village of Murvaux.


American volunteers, Merian C. Cooper (left) and Cedric Fauntleroy, in the Polish Air Force's Kosciuszko Squadron

From late 1919 until the 1921 Treaty of Riga, Cooper was a member of a volunteer American flight squadron, the Kościuszko Squadron, which supported the Polish Army in the Polish-Soviet War. On July 26, 1920, his plane was shot down, and he spent nearly 9 months in a Soviet prisoner of war camp, where he was interviewed by the writer Isaac Babel.[2] He escaped just before the war was over and made it to Latvia. For valor he was decorated by Polish commander-in-chief Józef Piłsudski with the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

During his time as a POW, Cooper wrote an autobiography: Things Men Die For by "C". He turned the manuscript over to Dagmar Matson to type for publisher submission. It was submitted to G. P. Putnam's Sons in New York (the Knickerbocker Press) in 1927 and published that same year. Just after the book's release, he changed his mind about releasing the personal details about "Nina" (Małgorzata Słomczyńska, his out of wedlock relation in Poland) and asked Dagmar to buy up every copy that she could find. She managed to acquire most of the 5,000 copies that had been released. Cooper and Dagmar each kept a copy, while the rest were eventually destroyed. Dagmar sent Nina money every month, on behalf of Cooper, until his death.

Pan American Airways

Cooper was a founding member of the board of directors of Pan American Airways, serving on the board for decades. He was a pioneer in the use of aircraft, military and civilian. During his tenure at Pan Am, the company established the first regularly scheduled transatlantic service.

World War II

He re-enlisted and was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He served with Col. Robert L. Scott in India as a logistics liaison for the Doolittle Raid. They then went to Dinjan Airfield, Assam, and with Col. Caleb V. Haynes, a bomber pilot, set up the Assam-Burma-China Ferrying Command, which was the origin of The Hump Airlift. He later served in China as chief of staff for General Claire Chennault of the China Air Task Force – precursor of the Fourteenth Air Force – then from 1943 to 1945 in the Southwest Pacific as chief of staff for the Fifth Air Force's Bomber Command.

Leading many missions and carefully planning them to minimize loss of life, he was known for his hard work and relentless planning. At the end of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general. For his contributions, he was also aboard the USS Missouri to witness Japan's surrender.

Later life

In the 1950s he supported Joseph McCarthy in his crusade to root out Communists in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.[3] Cooper died of cancer in San Diego.[4]

Personal life

Cooper was the father of Polish translator and writer Maciej Słomczyński. He later married film actress Dorothy Jordan.

Film career

Cooper was head of production for RKO Radio Pictures from 1933 to 1935. He frequently collaborated with Ernest B. Schoedsack. Cooper was vice president in charge of production for Pioneer Pictures from 1934 to 1936, and vice president of Selznick International Pictures in 1936–1937, before moving to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Cooper started his film career with documentaries for Paramount Pictures such as Grass (1925) and Chang (1927), which combined real footage with staged sequences. In Chang, he used this technique to create a memorable finale featuring an elephant stampede. His movie The Four Feathers was filmed among the fighting tribes of the Sudan.[1]

Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6525 Hollywood Blvd., with first name misspelled

Throughout his career, Cooper was a proponent of technical innovation. The film King Kong, which he co-wrote, co-directed, and appeared in, was a breakthrough in this regard. Another outstanding film that he produced in trying to follow up on his success with King Kong was the 1935 film She. Additionally, Cooper helped pave the way for such ground-breaking technologies as Technicolor and the widescreen process Cinerama.

Cooper and his friend and frequent collaborator, noted director John Ford, formed Argosy Productions in 1947 and produced such notable films as Wagon Master (1950), Ford's "cavalry trilogy" (Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950)), and The Quiet Man (1952).

Cooper was also the executive producer for The Searchers (1956), again directed by Ford.

Partial filmography

Year Title Director Producer Writer Cinematographer Executive producer Actor (Role)
1925 Grass Yes Yes Yes Yes Himself
1927 Chang Yes Yes Yes Yes
1928 Gow the Head Hunter Yes
1929 The Four Feathers Yes Yes Yes
1931 Gow the Killer Yes
1932 Roar of the Dragon Yes
1933 Headline Shooter Yes Yes
1933 King Kong Yes Yes Yes Pilot of Plane That Kills Kong (uncredited)
1933 Flying Devils Yes
1933 The Son of Kong Yes
1935 She Yes


For his military service to Poland, Cooper was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari (presented by Piłsudski), and Poland's Cross of Valour.

In 1927 Cooper was one of 19 prominent Americans made "Honorary Scouts" by the Boy Scouts of America for "... achievements in outdoor activity, exploration and worthwhile adventure ... of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys". The other honorees were Roy Chapman Andrews, Robert Bartlett, Frederick Russell Burnham, Richard E. Byrd, George Kruck Cherrie, James L. Clark, Lincoln Ellsworth, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, George Bird Grinnell, Charles Lindbergh, Donald Baxter MacMillan, Clifford H. Pope, George Palmer Putnam, Kermit Roosevelt, Carl Rungius, Stewart Edward White, and Orville Wright.[5]

In 1949 Mighty Joe Young won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, which was presented to Cooper as producer (the Academy's custom at the time); but Cooper gave the Oscar to Willis O'Brien, the man actually responsible for the film's special effects.

Cooper was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952. His film The Quiet Man was nominated for Best Picture that year, but lost to Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth.

Cooper has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though his first name is misspelled "Meriam".


  • In the 1933 version of King Kong, Cooper and co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack appear at the end, piloting the plane that finally finishes off Kong. Cooper had reportedly said, "We should kill the sonofabitch ourselves."
  • Cooper personally cut a scene in King Kong in which four sailors are shaken off a rope bridge by Kong, fall into a ravine, and are eaten alive by giant spiders. According to Hollywood folklore, the decision was made after previews in January 1933, during which audience members either fled the theater in terror or talked about the ghastly scene throughout the remainder of the movie. However, more objective sources maintain that the scene merely slowed the film's pace. Legend has it that Cooper kept a print of the cut footage as a memento, although it has never been found.[6][7]
  • In the 2005 remake of King Kong, upon learning that Fay Wray was not available because she was making a film for Cooper at RKO, Carl Denham (Jack Black) replies, "Cooper, huh? I might have known."
  • Cooper claimed that he got the idea for King Kong after he had a dream that a giant gorilla was terrorizing New York City. When he woke, he recorded the idea and used it for the film.
  • On April 4 and 11, 2007, Turner Classic Movies aired six films that had been produced by Cooper at RKO but had been out of distribution for over 50 years. According to TCM host Robert Osborne, Cooper had agreed to a legal settlement with RKO in 1946, after accusing RKO of not having given him all the money due him from his RKO producer's contract in the 1930s. The settlement gave Cooper complete ownership of six RKO titles—Rafter Romance (1933) with Ginger Rogers, Double Harness (1933) with Ann Harding and William Powell, The Right to Romance (1933), One Man's Journey (1933) with Lionel Barrymore, Living on Love (1937), and A Man to Remember (1938). According to an interview with a retired RKO executive that was used as a TCM promo for the premiere, Cooper allowed the films to be shown in 1955–56 in a limited re-release, and only in New York City.

Starry Squadron

An Interbellum Polish film directed by Leonard Buczkowski, Gwiaździsta eskadra (The Starry Squadron), was inspired by Cooper's experiences as a Polish Air Force officer during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–21. The film was made with the cooperation of the Polish army and was the most expensive Polish film prior to World War II. After World War II, all copies of the film in Poland were destroyed by the Soviets.


  1. 1.0 1.1 West, James E. (1931). The Boy Scouts Book of True Adventure. New York: Putnam. OCLC 8484128.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Liukkonen, Petri. "Isaac Babel". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help); Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Vaz, M. Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong. Villard (2005), pp. 386-91.
  4. D'Arc, James V.; Gillespie, John N. (2013). "Merian C. Cooper obituary, funeral, and memorial service papers". Brigham Young University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> This biography of Cooper serves as an introduction to his papers, which are held by Brigham Young University.
  5. "Around the World". Time. August 29, 1927. Retrieved October 24, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Merian C. Cooper. Retrieved 2010-07-19.
  7. Morton, Ray (2005). King Kong: the history of a movie icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson. New York, NY: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. ISBN 1-55783-669-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Cooper, Merian C. (February 1928). "The Warfare of the Jungle Folk: Campaigning Against Tigers, Elephants, and Other Wild Animals in Northern Siam". National Geographic: 233–68.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cisek, Janusz (2002). Kosciuszko, We Are Here!. McFarland. ISBN 9780786412402. OCLC 49871871.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • I'm King Kong!—The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper (2005), TCM documentary on Cooper, directed by Kevin Brownlow.
  • Cotta Vaz, Mark (2005). Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong. Peter Jackson (introduction). Villard. ISBN 9781400062768. OCLC 56895256.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> This Cotta Vaz' biography was reviewed in The New York Times; see Smith, Dinitia (August 13, 2005). "Getting That Monkey Off His Creator's Back". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links