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Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kongby Marc Cotta Vaz
Synopses & Reviews
Explorer, war hero, filmmaker, and cinema pioneer Merian C. Cooper — the adventurer who created King Kong — was truly larger than life. "Pictures cannot be made from an executive's desk," "Coop" declared, and he did more than talk the talk — he walked the walk to the far corners of the globe, with a motion picture camera in tow, in an era when those corners were truly unknown, untamed, and unforgiving.
Cooper's place in history is assured, thanks not only to the monstrous gorilla from Skull Island but because the story of Kong's creator is even bigger and bolder than the beast he made into a cultural icon. Spellbound since boyhood by tales of life-threatening adventure and exotic locales, Cooper plunged again and again into harrowing expeditions that took him to places not yet civilized by modern man.
Cooper was one of the first bomber pilots in World War I. After the war, he helped form the famous Kosciuszko Squadron in battle-torn Poland. He then turned his attention to producing documentary films that chronicled his hair-raising encounters with savage warriors, man-eating tigers, nomadic tribes, and elephant stampedes.
In addition to producing King Kong, he was the first to team Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers, arranged Katharine Hepburn's screen test, collaborated with John Ford on Hollywood's greatest Westerns, and then changed the face of film forever with Cinerama, the original "virtual reality." He returned to military service during World War II, serving with General Claire Chennault in China, flying missions into the heart of enemy territory.
This book is a stunning tribute to a two-fisted visionary who packed a multitude of lifetimes into eighty remarkable years. The first comprehensive biography of this unique man and his amazing time, it's the tale of someone whose greatest desire was always to be living dangerously.
"With Peter Jackson's King Kong remake due in December, this boisterous, chest-thumping biography of film pioneer Cooper (1893 — 1973), producer-director of the original 1933 film, is certain to attract attention. Vaz (The Art of the Incredibles; etc.) captures the mythic magic of Cooper's cinematic creations, and Cooper himself emerges as an equally legendary character. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, but left before graduating and joined the 1916 hunt for Pancho Villa. A 1921 newspaper article tallied his WWI experiences: 'All Warsaw is at the feet of the American ace who was twice shot down from the clouds, twice endured the squalor of prison camps, twice was reported dead.' Cooper and his partner Ernest Schoedsack traveled the world shooting documentaries, scoring a box-office hit with the Oscar-nominated Chang (1927) before moving on to dramatic filmmaking. After 'human dynamo' Cooper took over as RKO studio chief, he joined the WWII Flying Tigers and received a U.S.A.F. brigadier general promotion. Launching Cinerama in 1952, he was awarded an honorary 1953 Oscar. The charismatic Cooper, 'a man living his own movie,' is no longer an obscure, remote figure, thanks to Vaz's exhaustive research and skillful writing. 90 photos. Agent, the Joe Spieler Agency." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] readable, frequently gripping biography....The book offers abundant facts, adequate prose, a lavish selection of photographs, and remarks by a panoply of famous interviewees. An altogether appealing addition for film-history collections..." Booklist
"Mark Cotta Vaz has drawn on an impressive amount of research, but his prose is tepid....Fortunately, Merian Cooper crowded his life with so much danger and achievement that his élan comes through in spite of his biographer's humdrum writing." The Washington Post
"Vaz rarely pauses to examine Cooper's personal life and even less often contemplates the inner Cooper. But as biographies go, this is one heck of an action-packed beach read. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Living Dangerously is a wonderful addition to the literature of movies and popular culture but, on a personal level, it allowed me to understand the man who made the movie that had such a powerful effect upon me....Now finally...the legend comes out of the shadows." Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings and King Kong
"A colorful movie life in a monochrome biography....The soul of the man is conspicuously absent — we learn what he made but never what inspired him to it....Best for undiscriminating movie fanatics." Kirkus Reviews
"Vaz ably chronicles Cooper's compelling and exciting life....Despite his best efforts, Cooper remains in the enormous shadow of his dark leading man and his exploits not entirely verifiable, yet readers will enjoy the ride." Library Journal
"Mark Cotta Vaz's account of Cooper's adventures as soldier, prisoner of war, explorer, documentarian, mogul, and director is breathtaking. We all know the ape was big. But the man behind the ape? Even bigger." J. J. Abrams, creator of Lost and Alias
"Merian C. Cooper's life reads like an adventure novel, as Mark Vaz proves perfectly with Living Dangerously." Ray Bradbury
"I found it very difficult to put down. Mark Vaz has done a remarkable job in making Cooper's adventures such great reading." Ray Harryhausen
"When I picked up Living Dangerously I started reading the King Kong chapters. I ended up reading the entire book in one sitting — I could not put it down!" Dennis Muren, Academy Award winning special effects supervisor
Merian C. Cooper conceived and produced that famous 1933 film, and he was in the plane that shot Kong down. A man who sought out ways to live dangerously, he served in the Army Air Corps during World War I, and was shot down in flames; shot documentary films in exotic, remote locales that included Persia and Africa; spent time as a prisoner of the Cossacks; served as chief of staff to the Flying Tigers during World War II, going on missions at the age of fifty; served as studio chief of RKO Pictures; and collaborated with John Ford on his most famous westerns.
About the Author
Mark Cotta Vaz is the author of such New York Times bestsellers as The Art of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Behind the Mask of Spider-Man. Living Dangerously is his nineteenth published book. His other works include the critically acclaimed The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting (co-authored with filmmaker Craig Barron), which won the Theatre Library Association of New York award for outstanding book on film in 2002 and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology?s Golden Pen book award. More recent projects include a first novel and a history of the segregated units of World War II.
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