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Actor and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper a...

Actor and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper a son of Mississippi

By: NK Wessman - September 26, 2023

Though Cooper moved to New Orleans as a young child and later graduated from UCLA, he held firm to deep southern roots and instilled much about Mississippi in his young sons.

Anderson Cooper, CNN news anchor, scores among the most widely known, popular, and gifted broadcast journalists, but his most-treasured personal gift might be that he is the son of a son of Mississippi.

His father, Wyatt Cooper, died when Anderson was only ten years old. Now father, mother, and brother Carter, who died by suicide, are all deceased. In numerous interviews, writings and podcasts, Anderson Cooper recalls his early life of happiness and reflects on the sorrow in acknowledging he is the only surviving member of his immediate family.

Wyatt Emory Cooper, born September 1, 1927 in Mississippi, grew up near Quitman, the son of Rixie Jane Annie Anderson Cooper and Emmet Debro Cooper. Though he moved to New Orleans as a young child and graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), he held firm to deep southern roots and instilled much about Mississippi in his young sons.

Cooper would recall in his memoir in 1975 that New Orleans is “a mysterious foreign city with which I’d begun a lifelong love affair, and where I first discovered such exotic delights as the opera and the ballet. I was seventeen and just out of high school when my father lay down on the sofa in the living room and died. Suddenly I was in charge, the head of the family …” Did that prompt his move to the West Coast and studying at UCLA?

At UCLA, Cooper majored in theater arts, began acting, and moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. At twenty-six, he appeared on Broadway in the cast of The Strong Are Lonely, a drama with a one-week run. While acting, he wrote stories and plays, and in his thirties, he returned to Los Angeles, where he studied at both UCLA and UC Berkely and worked as a screenwriter.

Living in West Hollywood, he lived near, and established friendship with, the American poet, writer, critic, and satirist Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell. A year after her death in 1967, Cooper wrote the incisive and widely read “Whatever You Think Dorothy Parker Was Like, She Wasn’t” for Esquire magazine and later was one of three script writers for the John Dorr-directed film Dorothy and Alan at Norma Place.

Cooper’s best-known work came after his move to Manhattan in the early sixties, where he also worked as a magazine editor. Big-screen writing centers on two films: The Chapman Report, 1962, and The Glass House, 1972.

The Chapman Report presented Irving Wallace’s best-selling novel inspired by the Kinsey Report on the sexual mores of suburban women. The film starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Shelly Winters, and Jane Fonda.

With fellow southerner and friend Truman Capote, Cooper co-wrote the story of The Glass House. Kino Lorber described the film as “one of the most brutal prison stories ever filmed … a relentless, devastating and above all, a damning portrayal of life and death as it exists in one of America’s toughest prisons.” The Tom Gries-directed made-for-television film starred Alan Alda, Vic Morrow, and Clu Gulager. CBS first aired the show in February 1972.

Memorable roles as an actor include Appointment with Adventure, Sanctuary, and The Rebel.

But the book he wrote indicates that all those accomplishments pale in comparison to his personal life.

Wyatt Cooper published Families: A Memoir and a Celebration in 1975, twelve years into his marriage with the heiress and artist Gloria Vanderbilt. She would recall in her own memoir that their meeting at a dinner party in New York—he “whose eyes were the bluest I’d ever seen”—created a “shock of recognition between us and we fell in love … later when I met his large, loving family, I was overwhelmed to see what it must have been like to experience a supportive family behind you. I knew then that I wanted him to be the father of my children. Yes, we both wanted the same thing—to start our own family. And what an extraordinary father he was. He was the most honest person I’ve ever met, and his sense of values taught me what the loving parenting I never had could be like.”

In his book, Cooper recalled vivid details of the people of his growing up years in Quitman, and he wrote honestly and poignantly of his father: “He had more than a little madness in his makeup; he was possessed by a wild vision of life and a seething discontent plagued him into prolonged and terrifying fits of rage, yet certainly we, his children, knew and took for granted that the major drive of his life was for his family and that all that was left of his hopes and expectations was tied up in us.”

A piece on describes that Cooper “recounted situations with his extended family and compared his experiences with how family dynamics appeared to be changing at the time. A review of the book from Kirkus Review states, ‘Married to artist Gloria Vanderbilt and the very caring and conscientious father of two young sons, Cooper rues ‘today’s claustrophobic units of two, three, or four persons who seem to have no outside kin and no antecedents,’ recalling how even the drunken uncles, bullying cousins and not-quite-right-in-the-head aunts among his relatives instilled in him a feeling for community, a sure knowledge that ‘roots are a precious thing.’”

The Vanderbilt-Cooper wedding took place on Christmas Eve in 1963, and the couple’s photographs appeared often from many fashionable settings in numerous periodical publications. Getty Images features more than 200 photos of the couple—he in his first and she in her fourth and final marriage. They had two sons and are survived by Anderson, whose firstborn son he named for his father and his maternal grandmother, Wyatt Morgan Cooper.

By all accounts, the Coopers enjoyed fifteen years of happiness together. Having experienced heart-related health issues, he died in Manhattan during open heart surgery on January 5, 1978, at age fifty.

But to the writer Cooper, death was a known concept: “In a large family one grows familiar with death. One loses grandparents, uncles, aunts, and parents, but it usually happens in the ripeness of age and can be seen as the closing off of a rich, full life … Life itself is brief, and yet each life encloses all eternity. We are, all of us, separately and together, engaged on the same tough journey … We must wish for each other love and laughter, smiles and sunshine, good thoughts and happy days. We must go rejoicing in the blessings of this world, chief of which is the mystery, the magic, the majesty, and the miracle that is life.”

About the Author(s)
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NK Wessman

NK Wessman authored Katrina, Mississippi: Voices from Ground Zero, the compelling story of first responders who stayed behind when the worst natural disaster in our history slammed the Gulf Coast. She co-wrote You Can Fix The Fat From Childhood—And Other Heart Risks, Too in collaboration with Dr. Gerald Berenson, founder and senior researcher of the Bogalusa Heart Study. Wessman also has worked as a journalist, public relations practitioner/consultant, and now as a book coach and editor.
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