Gable's personality was closer to what he played than Cooper's was, but they both read, were interested in what was going on and didn't hover around Hollywood. Neither of these men were sitting in their dressing rooms worrying about their next picture or who was up for what part. They got out of town. Coop would go to Sun Valley with Hemingway, while Clark liked his duck blinds and skeet shooting.
Beneath their likes and dislikes, they were alike in their tremendous craft. They had a way of taking the material that was written for them, much of which was very slight, and making something out of it because of the depth of their behavior. They took the material and filtered it through their own personalities. Because they were their own men, and they weren't trying to be someone else, the strength of their own characters was bestowed on the characters they played. They didn't have neuroses, or, if they did, they didn't inflict their neuroses on the audience.
That craft didn't come easily, and the self-confidence they projected was not something they were born with. I watched Coop work in a Western he did for Fox called "Garden of Evil." He put himself under tremendous stress when he worked; during a take his knuckles were white. But he concealed that stress magnificently; a lot of the time it looked like he wasn't really doing any acting at all. Now, here was an actor acting, and you couldn't see him acting. That is hard to do, the highest achievement in the business, and Coop never got enough credit for his ability.
Every actor's goal is to make it look like it's the first time he's ever done that scene - to make it look fresh. These men were masters of that. You were never aware of Gary Cooper acting, but he could move you to tears. As an actor, and as a man, I admired him without reservations.
Making friends with so many older actors gave me an invaluable tutorial in how to handle the paraphanalia of the business. Take, for instance, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, the two women who invented and defined the trade of gossip columnists. They were both tricky, and you had to know how to play them. Moroever, although they had been around for years – Louella had started in the silent days! -- they were still important because they were so widely syndicated: Louella through the Hearst syndicate, and Hedda through the Los Angeles Times syndicate.
You had to pay court to Hedda and Louella; if I had an interview with Hedda, for instance, I went to her house. I would go to the racetrack with Louella all the time, but you quickly learned that either of them could turn on you. One time, Hedda got upset at me over something, and it was thought necessary that I come back from Catalina and go directly to her house to get things straightened out.
Years later, when I went to Europe for four or five years and then came back, Louella was very pissed off and called me an expatriate, which was a dirty word in her vocabulary. It was as if by going to Europe I had been disloyal to Hollywood and, more importantly, her.