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November 08, 2011

Deconstructing Gary Cooper's Style

Enduring Style by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis, Published by PowerHouse Books

A new photo book explores how the screen legend lives on as a fashion icon.

There’s much more to Gary Cooper than the smoldering cowboy we’re used to seeing on-screen. Celebrated men’s style writer G. Bruce Boyer, who wrote the new book Gary Cooper: Enduring Style (powerHouse) with the actor’s only daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, takes it one step further: “I think you could make a really good case that stylistically Gary Cooper is the first International Man.”

Three years ago, Janis agreed with Boyer’s assessment. “Well, Mr. Boyer,” she said when a friend introduced them. “I can tell you this: My father wore white-tie and tails as easily as he wore jeans and cowboy boots.” Soon the two were sitting on a living room floor in Manhattan sorting through family photographs.

Boyer had long been fascinated with the actor, but it was only after seeing some of Cooper’s nearly lost early films on late-night television that he realized the Academy Award winner was no simple country boy. Cooper was tipping top hats in Noël Coward plays years before slinging six-shooters in dungarees. Not to mention his fondness for hunting lions with Ernest Hemingway when he wasn’t capturing outlaws on-screen. Boyer had started writing about Cooper’s style—until he met Janis. “I had thousands of words already written, and I just threw it all away,” Boyer says. “The photos were just so good and told the story better than I ever could in prose.”

The pictures depict Cooper’s childhood split between his parents’ ranch in Montana and a storied English public school; reveal his love for the great outdoors; and, most importantly, show his passion for the sheer variety of life. When Boyer describes style, he’s talking about more than clothes.

Most of the 150 photos you’ll find in Enduring Style have never been seen before outside of family circles, including a number of Polaroids snapped by Janis herself. Here, Boyer talks to Departures.com about a few special shots.

Gary Cooper: Enduring Style by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis; foreword by Ralph Lauren. $60.