Melville Cooper: Character Cretin

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Today is the birthday of George Melville Cooper (1896-1973).  With his languorous manner, heavy-lidded eyes, thin, pursing lips, and slightly droll countenance Cooper was ideally cast as mocking aristocrats, snuff-sniffing Englishmen, and French dandies in historical costume epics.

A native of Birmingham England, his career launch at age 18 at Stratford-on-Avon was interrupted by service (and capture) in World War One. After the war he jumped back onto the stage with both feet, in plays like The Farmers Wife (1921–later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock), Shaw’s Back to Methuselah (1924) and Journey’s End (1929). When talkies hit, he made a number of films in England (notably The Private Life of Don Juan and The Scarlet Pimpernel, both 1934). In 1935 he moved to Hollywood, where he began to enjoy quite an excellent run of roles in top-flight pictures: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Dawn Patrol (1938), Rebecca (1940), Pride and Prejudice (1940); and The Lady Eve (1941). A decade later he was still working but the pictures less prestigious: e.g. the Marx Brothers’ Love Happy (1950) and Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind (1957). As movie parts became scarcer he segued into television and back into stage work. 

He is perhaps at his most memorable as the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Adventures of Robin Hood. He has some funny bits in the archery contest scene (he’s seated to the right of Basil Rathbone):

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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