(1905 – 1995)
Mario Cooper excelled in many roles. His years in illustration showed his deep commitment to the magic that is design and his appreciation of research. (He once built an entire cardboard staircase, complete with banister and balusters, so that he could be sure of how the light and shadows would play on it.) Born in Mexico City in 1905, his American father brought the family to the United States to avoid threats of the escalating Mexican revolution. He got his first taste of art while in Mexico. Later, his insatiable appetite for research set the stage for new “points of view” in his work, such as looking down from a balcony or stair landing, or leaning out a window. In the 1930s, when he was teaching illustration at Columbia University in New York City, sculpture classes caught his eye.
However, illustration was still his love and he became known for interpretations of stories by such authors as Agatha Christie, Clarence Buddington Kelland, Erich Maria Remarque, and many others. He even did illustrations for a story titled “The Cardinal’s Mistress.” The author was little known in the United States, though he was known in Rome. His name was Benito Mussolini. Unfortunately, it wasn’t too long until Americans did get to know that name – but not as an author.
Mario taught illustration at Pratt Institute when the world was recovering from World War II. The United States Air Force had now come of age and in 1950 instituted the U.S. Air Force Art Program to document the ongoing history of military aviation and aeronautics. In 1953, the Air Force made a pact with the Society: In exchange for transportation and a per diem, the illustrators would donate their artwork to the Air Force. In 1954 Mario Cooper was assigned a plane with crew of seven, as well as a courtesy rank of Brigadier General. He made visits to Asia, Europe, Africa, and Alaska, accompanied by members of the Society. NASA also enlisted aid from the Society for art about America’s space program, including the moon landing, exploration, etc. One of the paintings Mario donated is of a missile launch, done from sketches and photos taken at Cape Canaveral. A majority of his work is in the Pentagon and at the Smithsonian Institute.
Putting together these memories of Mario, whom I married in 1964, I thought to add a memory of my own – I recall a winter day in Chicago in 1932. My sister Gretchen, who was seventeen, and I, a rambunctious ten, were lounging on the bed. She had turned on the overhead and I didn’t like its stark light. But she needed it to look at her magazines. She was “ooh-ing and ah-ing” over the stories and the illustrations that accompanied them. Gretchen tried to get me interested but I was not. Being Tarzan was my thing, running around with a rubber knife in my belt. That was more like it. She insisted on showing me an illustration that had a monkey on a woman’s shoulder. (After all, there are monkeys in the jungle, but usually not on a gal’s shoulder. Any Tarzan knows that!)
That is about all I remember of the incident. I do not recall looking at magazines ever again with my sister, but I do know that I was ten, which made this memory all the more intriguing. You see, Mario illustrated a story for Collier’s entitled “The Old Rake.” It has a woman going up a stairway with a monkey on her shoulder. A man is below looking up at them. I have the original illustration in my collection and guess what? It was first published in 1932, when I was ten. So, I may have “met” Mario thirty-two years before I married him.
Dale Meyers Cooper