American actor Gary Cooper was born on the Montana ranch of his wealthy father, and educated in a prestigious school in England -- a dichotomy that may explain how the adult Cooper was able to combine the ruggedness of the frontiersman with the poise of a cultured gentleman. Injured in an auto accident while attending Wesleyan College, he convalesced on his dad's ranch, perfecting the riding skills that would see him through many a future Western film.
After trying to make a living at his chosen avocation of political cartooning, Cooper was encouraged by two friends to seek employment as a cowboy extra in movies. Agent Nan Collins felt she could get more prestigious work for the handsome, gangling Cooper, and, in 1926, she was instrumental in obtaining for the actor an important role in The Winning of Barbara Worth. Movie star Clara Bow also took an interest in Cooper, seeing to it that he was cast in a couple of her films. Cooper really couldn't act at this point, but he applied himself to his work in a brief series of silent Westerns for his home studio, Paramount Pictures, and, by 1929, both his acting expertise and his popularity had soared. Cooper's first talking-picture success was The Virginian (1929), in which he developed the taciturn, laconic speech patterns that became fodder for every impressionist on radio, nightclubs, and television.