The Real Sergeant York Wanted Cooper

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Gary Cooper won his first Academy Award for his performance as the title character in Sergeant York.

Interestingly, Cooper was at first nervous about the role and felt he couldn’t do it. He said, “York himself came to tell me, I was his own choice for the role, but I still felt I couldn’t handle it. Here was a pious, sincere man… who, when called, became a heroic fighter for his country.”

1. Cooper and York were similar.

Gary Cooper met the real-life Alvin Sergeant in Tennessee and found that the two shared many interests. Cooper said, “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common… We were both raised in the mountains… and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up.” Later, Cooper would look back on this part as his favorite. Interestingly, the studio also considered James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Ronald Reagan for the role. In order to borrow Cooper from MGM, Warner Brothers loaned Bette Davis out to make Little Foxes.

2. Howards wanted a different leading lady.

Originally, director Howard Hawks wanted Jane Russell for the part. Russell had yet to make her film debut in The Outlaw, though she was under contract to Howard Hughes. However, Hal Wallis nixed the idea, reminding the director that the real Sergeant York would disapprove. Instead, Joan Leslie got the part.

3. Cooper and bonded with his on-screen brother.

Dickie Moore played Gary Cooper’s film brother, and the two got along well. Cooper passed on his love of the outdoors which included teaching him how to throw a knife, what to look for when purchasing a rifle, and identifying wild animals. Moore said, “Basically, he oriented me to the things I’m not interested in today, and probably will be for the rest of my life.”