Merian C. Cooper - Writer

Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Jacksonville, Florida, 24 October 1893 (some sources give 1894). Education: Attended Lawrenceville School; United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 1911–15; Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, graduated 1917. Military Service: Served in the United States infantry, 1916, then in Aviation Corps: captain; 1918–20—served with the Kosciusko Flying Squadron: Lt. Colonel; then news correspondent; served as colonel with Army Air Corps during World War II: chief of staff to General Claire Chennault in China: retired as brigadier general. Career: Merchant seaman and newspaperman; 1920s—collaborated with Ernest B. Schoedsack on documentaries and other films; joined RKO, and succeeded David O. Selznick as Vice President in Charge of Production, 1933; 1936—Vice President, Selznick International Pictures; 1947—formed Argosy Pictures with John Ford; 1952—coproducer of first Cinerama film. Award: Special Academy Award, 1952. Died: 21 April 1973.

Films as Producer:


Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life ( Grass: The Epic of a Lost Tribe ) (+ co-d + co-ph + ro)


Chang (+ co-d)


Gow, the Head Hunter (doc)


The Lost Empire (doc—produced 1924); The Four Feathers (+ co-d + co-ph)

Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper


The Most Dangerous Game ( The Hounds of Zaroff ) (Schoedsack and Pichel); The Phantom of Crestwood (Ruben)


King Kong (+ co-d + co-sc); Lucky Devils (R. Ince); Professional Sweetheart (Seiter); Bed of Roses (La Cava); The Right to Romance (Santell)


La Cucaracha (Corrigan—short)


Becky Sharp (Mamoulian); She (Pichel and Holden); The Last Days of Pompeii (Schoedsack)


Dancing Pirate (Corrigan)


The Toy Wife ( Frou Frou ) (Thorpe)


Stagecoach (Ford) (uncredited)


The Long Voyage Home (Ford)


Jungle Book ( Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book ) (Z. Korda) (uncredited); Eagle Squadron (Lubin) (uncredited)


The Fugitive (Ford)


Fort Apache (Ford); Three Godfathers (Ford)


Mighty Joe Young (Schoedsack); She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford)


Rio Grande (Ford); Wagonmaster (Ford)


The Quiet Man (Ford); This Is Cinerama (Rose) (+ uncredited co-d)


The Sun Shines Bright (Ford)


The Searchers (Ford); The Best of Cinerama (compilation)

Films as Executive Producer:


The Silver Cord (Cromwell); Melody Cruise (Sandrich); Double Harness (Cromwell); Morning Glory (L. Sherman); Ann Vickers (Cromwell); Ace of Aces (Ruben); Chance at Heaven (Seiter); Little Women (Cukor); After Tonight ( Sealed Lips ) (Archainbaud); Flying Down to Rio (Freeland)


The Lost Patrol (Ford); Spitfire (Cromwell); Sing and Like It (Seiter); Success at Any Price (Ruben); Finishing School (Tuchcok and Nicholls); Stingaree (Wellman)


By COOPER: books—

With Edward A. Salisbury, The Sea Gypsy , New York, 1924.

Grass , New York, 1925.

By COOPER: article—

Midi-Minuit Fantastique (Paris), June 1963.

On COOPER articles—

"King Kong Was a Dirty Old Man," in Esquire (New York), April 1951.

Films in Review (New York), January 1966.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), December-January 1977.

Avant-Scène (Paris), 15 November 1982.

Cinématographe (Paris), May 1984.

"The big picture," in Boxoffice (Chicago), no. 128, October 1992.

Clayton, J., " King Kong : the ultimate fantasy," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), no. 205, July 1992.

Boxoffice (Chicago), October 1992.

Mcgurl, M., "Making it Big: Picturing the Radio Age in King Kong ," in Critical Inquiry , no. 3, 1996.

* * *

Merian C. Cooper, first a journalist, then an explorer, then a scriptwriter/producer, then an executive producer, was given a special Academy Award in 1952 "for his many innovations and contributions to the art of the motion pictures." He and Ernest B. Schoedsack were executive producers for the original King Kong , which made so many innovations in the horror-fantasy genre. In 1932 and 1933, RKO/Radio was suffering from the Depression, which was only then seriously affecting the film industry. In a desperate attempt to avoid the bankruptcy of RKO, Cooper and Schoedsack made a $500,000 gamble—a gigantic budget then—and won the bet with a tremendous financial success with King Kong . He was also the main writer of the script. Two decades later he opened a new frontier in film when he became a pioneer in the wide-screen process by producing This Is Cinerama in 1952.

Cooper's real contribution to cinema, however, was that he joined forces with John Ford to create Argosy Film Pictures in 1941. In the early days, the two men had a distribution deal with Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox where the latter approved the story and cost of each production. Cooper, however, managed also to arrange the international distribution for The Fugitive with Alexander Korda. Cooper continued to make other deals that had the effect of freeing Ford from the importunity of producers, whom he generally despised. It is no accident that, with Cooper as his producer or coproducer, Ford made the film that critics now claim to be the finest he or any other American made.

Ford has a great amount of power in Argosy; for example, in a letter dated 19 May 1959 (now a part of the Lilly Library collection) a colleague of Cooper and Ford writes that Ford "makes all vital decisions" in financial matters. In an earlier letter (2 April 1947) Cooper writes about a proposed script to Ford: "In my opinion, in its present form and with its dialogue, it is not a money picture." At Cooper's advice, the script was set aside. Letters in the same collection suggest how important Cooper was in negotiating a good deal for The Searchers —a deal that allowed Ford the creative freedom his particular talent needed. Cooper's contributions to Ford's career are demonstrated by the names of a mere few of the films he had a hand in: the entire Calvary Trilogy, Three Godfathers , The Quiet Man ; it is also demonstrated by the general mediocrity of the films Ford made at the same time without Cooper.

—Rodney Farnsworth

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