RIP Ben Cooper (1933-2020)

Cooper 2

Cooper was one of the new crop of boyish leading men to come into films during the 1950s. His youthful, adorable screen persona translated well to a variety of movies, but he would become best-known for his work in westerns and for appearing in TV episodes. He even won a Golden Boot Award which is earned for someone’s contributions to the western genre. Outside of films and TV, Cooper also made significant contributions to theater and radio. In fact, he got his acting start in Broadway’s mega successful Life with Father where he first played Harlan at the age of 9 and then graduated into the role of Whitney.

Johnny Guitar

After working a long time in radio serials and on TV teleplays, he made his way into the world of films. His credited debut was in the war movie Thunderbirds (1952) among a large male cast. Next he played the role of Jesse James in Woman They Almost Lynched (1953). He continued appearing in Republic Pictures movies of the B variety until he played an important role in one of the studio’s best-remembered westerns, Johnny Guitar (1954). He played the role of the young gunslinger Turkey Ralston who is a member of a gang of outlaws and holds a friendship with Joan Crawford’s main character, Vienna. While his role is not one of the main characters, everyone who sees the movie remembers him and the role he plays in the plot along with the way he dies: getting lynched by an angry mob.

Last Command

Unfortunately, Johnny Guitar was ahead of its time in many ways and remains a cult movie. Cult movies are an important part of cinema, but they don’t necessarily get you bigger roles as they are not money-makers. Therefore, Cooper continued playing second-string roles in Republic Pictures movies although he did have a quasi-leading man type of role in The Last Command (1955). In the film, he plays a young soldier who is very obviously in love with Anna Maria Alberghetti to the point where he trips over furniture whenever he sees her. While his part was small compared to his co-stars and his role is somewhat typical for actors in his age group, he comes off incredibly likable in the part. He isn’t whiny or smug in any way making him a good surrogate for male teenagers watching the movie.

Rose Tattoo

One of his most famous parts came next in The Rose Tattoo (1955) in the role Jack Hunter which was originated on Broadway by Don Murray. Cooper is ideally cast as an American sailor who falls in love with Marisa Pavan despite her poor upbringing. Bianca and I often joke that Pavan is oddly overlooked a lot by the male leads in her films which is something completely confusing to us given that she looks like Marisa Pavan. Cooper, however, isn’t stupid in this movie. The side-plot involving Cooper and Pavan is one of the main interest factors of the film and both actors are very convincing in their roles.

Arizona Raiders 2

Cooper continued playing a mixture of leads and supporting roles in westerns including in Duel at Apache Wells (1957), Outlaw’s Son (1957), and Chartroose Caboose (1960). He also worked opposite western star Audie Murphy in Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963) and Arizona Raiders (1965). One of his last film roles was in the western comedy Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971).

Bonanza

It would be on TV where Cooper would make up a majority of his post-1950s career. He appeared in episodes of Wagon TrainZane Grey TheaterStagecoach WestThe WesternerThe RiflemanThe Twilight ZoneBonanzaLaramieRawhideGunsmokeCombat!Perry MasonThe Time TunnelIt Takes a ThiefAdam-12The VirginianMannixRoom 222Kung FuWho’s the Boss?DallasKnots Landing, and L.A. Law. He mostly would appear in one episode but in some of these shows he would act in multiple episodes. For instance, he’s in five episodes of Perry Mason each in a variety of roles.

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Cooper was married only once to actress Pamela Raymond from 1960 until she died in 2008. He was diagnosed with dementia and lived in a memory care facility since 2017. Cooper was 86 years old when he died on February 24th, 2020.

~Virginia

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