A colorful movie life in a monochrome biography.
If the name of Merian C. Cooper doesn’t ring a bell, his most famous creation certainly will: he was the driving force behind King Kong. But that was just one of many peaks in a life rich with adventure and drama. Cooper was a WWI pilot; a mercenary for the Polish Air Force; a Russian POW during the brief Soviet-Poland war of 1920 (he bolted in a daring escape across enemy lines); a filmmaker who shot groundbreaking features in Abyssinia, Persia and Siam (today’s Ethiopia, Iran and Thailand); an aide to General Claire Chennault during WWII; and the man who changed the face of movies through his production of 1935’s Technicolor feature Becky Sharp and 1952’s widescreen epic This is Cinerama. Yet for a man who may have had a larger-than-life existence, Cooper comes through in this quotidian biography as a fairly enigmatic and elusive figure. Vaz (The Art of the Incredibles, 2004, etc.), a frequent contributor to Cinefex magazine, brushes over unsavory aspects of his personality, most notably his failure to embrace an illegitimate son he left in Poland, and he doesn’t examine the creative process that went into his groundbreaking work (Becky Sharp gets just two paragraphs). The soul of the man is conspicuously absent—we learn what he made but never what inspired him to it. Cooper’s career, in fact, was rooted in collaborative efforts. Early projects were co-helmed with Ernest C. Schoedsack, and it’s doubtful King Kong would have come to life without the special effects of Willis O’Brien or the driving force of producer David O. Selznick (who later burned the sets to show the incineration of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind). Cooper’s later projects were also strictly collaborative: he co-produced with John Ford (most notably The Searchers), and This is Cinerama was fueled by Fred Waller’s technical innovations and Mike Todd’s showmanship. Perhaps Cooper’s success came from knowing who to team with.
Best for undiscriminating movie fanatics.