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Gary Cooper’s Relationships: The Affairs and Scandals That Defined His Life

Samantha Franco
(Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Born in 1901, Gary Cooper rose to fame during the silent film era and eventually developed a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most notorious philanderers. During his lifetime, Cooper was involved in a number of romantic scandals, often pursuing affairs with his film co-stars.

“Mexican spitfire”

During the filming of The Wolf Song in 1929, Cooper became romantically involved with co-star Lupe Velez. Their relationship lasted two years and is regarded as one of the more important female relationships of his early life. Unfortunately, Cooper’s faithfulness to her was not strong enough to last through the filming of Morocco, when he began a romantic affair with co-star Marlene Dietrich.

Photo of Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez
Lupe Velez and Gary Cooper circa 1929. (Photo Credit: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images)

The feud between Velez and Dietrich would be highly publicized, and Velez eventually attempted to shoot Cooper while he was boarding a train. She was unsuccessful and fled the scene, and Cooper carried on to star in many more hit films.

Italian countess

Following a long stint of blockbuster movies, Cooper decided to take a break from acting. Between 1931 and 1932, Cooper moved to Italy, where he became romantically involved with a countess. American-born Countess Dorothy di Frasso was at the time married to an influential and important Italian figure, but this did not stop the two from indulging in romance. Cooper and di Frasso spent most of their time together at her villa in Rome, and even went on a safari together in Africa.

Photo of Gary Cooper standing on the prow of a sailboat.
Gary Cooper standing on the prow of a sailboat. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Devil and The Deep romance

It was rumored that Cooper also had a romantic relationship with his male Devil and The Deep co-star Anderson Lawler. Lawler was said to be a “swisher,” a term used at the time to mean a flamboyant homosexual. Cooper and Lawler shared a home while working together, and it was believed that Cooper participated in this affair with Lawler at the same time he was romantically involved with Lupe Velez and Clara Bow.

Black and White portrait of Gary Cooper in cowboy attire, circa 1929.
Studio headshot of actor Gary Cooper, circa 1925. (Photo Credit: Archive Photos / Getty Images)

Driven to insanity

At age 47, Cooper co-starred with 21-year-old Patricia Neal in The Fountainhead. They had a romatic affair, during which Neal had become pregnant. Cooper, married to Veronica Balfe at the time, asked Neal to get an abortion. An out-of-wedlock baby was catastrophic for an acting career, and so Neal went through with the procedure.

Photo of Patricia Neal and Gar Cooper co-starring in The Fountainhead
Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper looking at blueprints in publicity portrait for the film ‘The Fountainhead’, 1949. (Photo Credit: Warner Brothers / Getty Images)

Cooper soon moved on and became involved with co-star Grace Kelly. Unfortunately, Neal was still madly in love with Cooper. When Cooper told her he was choosing his family over his love for her, Neal suffered a mental breakdown and left Hollywood and her career in acting for good.

Cooper vs. Gable

In 1931, Cooper was rumored to have had an affair with I Take This Woman co-star Carole Lombard.

Photo of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard photographed shortly after their marriage, 1939. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

When Lombard married fellow Hollywood star Clark Gable, she outwardly expressed that not only was Gable “the worst lay in town,” but that she had had much more fun intimately when she was with Cooper. This drove Gable crazy, and he bought a car one foot longer than Cooper’s in an attempt to regain his pride.

Marriage saved by the Pope

Cooper had married Balfe in 1937, and after years of philandering, the two became separated in 1951. They did not divorce but instead met in Rome, bringing the daughter they shared with them, to meet with Pope Pius XII in 1953. It is believed that during this visit, the Pope saved their marriage.

Photo of Gary Cooper and wife Veronica Balfe in cowboy attire
Gary Cooper and his wife, Veronica Balfe, circa 1933. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Baptized Episcopalian as a child, Cooper converted to Catholicism in 1959. He often reflected on his past wrongdoings and found solace and guidance from the Catholic church.

A final, tragic affair

Although Cooper and Veronica Balfe remained married until his death in 1961, he had one final affair. This one was with the noted costume designer Irene Lentz, who was known professionally by her first name only. Despite being married to someone else, Irene allegedly told her friend Doris Day that Cooper was the only man she really loved.

More from us: The Political Intrigue which Sadly Derailed Grace Kelly’s Big Screen Comeback

The year after his death, Irene checked into a room at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles and leaped to her death from the 11th-story bathroom window.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!