Merian Caldwell Cooper

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Merian Caldwell Cooper

Birthdate: (79)
Birthplace: Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Death: Died in San Diego, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John C. Cooper and Mary C. Cooper
Husband of Dorothy Cooper
Father of <private> Słomczyński; <private> Cooper; <private> Henderson (Cooper) and <private> (Cooper)
Brother of John Cobb Cooper ("Father of Air Space Law")

Occupation: filmowiec, pilot
Managed by: Leszek Mila
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Merian Caldwell Cooper

Merian Caldwell Cooper (1893–1973) 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. Wikipedia EN

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 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. 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.


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. 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 she could find. She managed to acquire most of the 5,000 copies that had been released. Cooper kept a copy and Dagmar 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 perceived communists in Hollywood and Washington, D.C. In April 1973 Merian C. Cooper died of cancer in San Diego, California.

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.

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), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), and The Searchers (1956).



For his military services to Poland, Cooper was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari, which he received from Pilsudski and the Cross of Valour.

In 1927, the Boy Scouts of America made Cooper an Honorary Scout, a new category of Scout created that same year. This distinction was awarded to "American citizens whose achievements in outdoor activity, exploration and worthwhile adventure are of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys...". The other eighteen men who were awarded this distinction 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 A. Lindbergh; Donald Baxter MacMillan; Clifford H. Pope; George Palmer Putnam; Kermit Roosevelt; Carl Rungius; Stewart Edward White; Orville Wright.

He was nominated for an Academy Award for producing The Quiet Man in 1952, but lost to Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth. Cooper did however receive an Honorary Oscar that same year.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (though his name is misspelled "Meriam C. Cooper"). Him and the special effects supervisor got an award for a movie called Mighty Joe Young.


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.
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 gibbon was terrorizing New York City. When he woke, he recorded the idea and used it for the film.
On 4 April and 11 April 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.

About Merian Caldwell Cooper (Polski)

Merian Caldwell Cooper (1893-1973) - amerykański filmowiec, reżyser i scenarzysta, a także podpułkownik pilot Wojska Polskiego, służący w lotnictwie polskim podczas wojny polsko-bolszewickiej 1919-1920, organizator Eskadry Kościuszkowskiej. Wikipedia PL

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Merian Caldwell Cooper's Timeline

October 24, 1893
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
April 21, 1973
Age 79
San Diego, California, United States