How my mom met Gary Cooper


Emma and Rose, 1940's (© Huffygirl)

Emma and Rose ran to the corner to catch the State Street bus. Gary Cooper was coming to town and they didn’t want to miss it. They slipped onto the crowded bus, nearly falling in their best high-heels as the bus turned the corner. Once downtown, they pushed through the crowds lining State Street until they got near the curb. They craned their necks to see as Gary Cooper’s car  drove by. Emma had her camera but couldn’t snap the picture in time.

As the parade continued, Emma and Rose threaded their way through the crowd, following Cooper’s car. Eventually, the parade ended and the crowd cleared. Emma and Rose followed until Cooper’s entourage stopped. Rose, always the bolder one, seized the opportunity. “Mr. Cooper, ” she called out, “may we get a picture please?” Gary Cooper paused obligingly, Emma snapped the picture and the girls went away giggling, as Chicago police shood them along. 

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Gary Cooper, Chicago, 1940 (© Huffygirl)

I found this picture among a stack of my mom’s old photos. Mixed in among photos of  Mom (Emma) and her friends, this one stood out as clearly not one of her crowd. But who was it? Astute readers Todd Pack, Mark, Linda King, and Samyak correctly identified the man as Gary Cooper. But the mystery remained as to how Mom took the picture. 

A little Google digging turned up that Gary Cooper came to Chicago for the movie premier of North West Mounted Police on October 23, 1940. Mom and her friend Rose would have been about fifteen. I knew from Mom’s stories that as a teen she frequently took the bus or streetcar from her home in Summit, Illinois to downtown Chicago for trips to Navy Pier, movie theaters and the like. I also knew that she was an avid movie fan and followed all the latest stars. By putting all this together, this is my best guess of how fifteen-year-old Emma managed to take a photo of the actor Gary Cooper.

A similar building; Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, © 2006 Michael Clese

The mystery remains as to the identity of the building in the background of the photo. It appears to be a residential building, and Gary Cooper seems to be standing in a driveway. The architecture bears a resemblance to that of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, although a search of photos of FLW Chicago buildings did not turn up anything that resembled this one. Chicago Now reports that Gary Cooper met Mayor Kelly at City Hall and attended a dinner at the Palmer House Hotel, but who knows where else he went while there? Maybe the mayor’s residence? A local celebrity’s home? Maybe there’s a reader out there who can identify this building in Chicago, 1940.  

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 © Huffygirl

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14 thoughts on “How my mom met Gary Cooper

  1. What an exciting post! I loved your “story” part; it seems very plausible. Maybe someone will know where that building is/was. It really threw me off, since it didn’t look like it belonged in Chicago. Maybe a suburb?

    • Well, I hope I’m not way off base. I do really want to know where the picture was taken, but we may never know. I wish we could have asked her about this picture.

  2. This was a fun post, huffygirl! How cool that your mother met Gary Cooper, and how cool that he posed for her! With a little creative licensing, you could say she directed him.

    • I’ll keep that in mind in case I ever need to embelish the story further. I think you were the first to identify him as Gary Cooper. For some reason I had always thought that Gary Cooper was short so I didn’t even think of him. Maybe I’m mixing him up with Jackie Cooper.

  3. I remember doing the twenty mile MDA “walkathon” when I was twelve just because Andy Gibb was going to be at the end, so I totally identify with Emma and Rose. Now it’s Nick Jonas and Justin Beiber (sp?). Glad to see some things don’t change. The picture is a classic!

    • Andy Gibb? Now I’m feeling old – I’m not sure I know who that is. Oddly enough, I do know Nick Jonas and the Beibster though. Thanks for stopping by Suzanne.

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