Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Great Friendship of Dave Cook & Courtney Riley Cooper, Part I

Courtney Ryley Cooper (1886-1940) was a true American original. The author of over two dozen books, a publicist of great renown, and a circus performer (he was chief publicist for the Ringling Bros. / Barnum & Bailey Circus), he was also a dedicated fly angler and a great friend of Dave Cook, proprietor of the Denver discount tackle house that bore his name.

Cook and Cooper were such good friends that the company named its premier fly rod line, manufactured by Wes Jordan at the South Bend Bait Company, the Courtney Ryley Cooper rods.

These were South Bend Cross Double Built rods that would have sold in the South Bend catalog for $35.00 retail; Dave Cook sold them for $14.95, an absurdly low sum. The two other rods in the series, the Courtney Ryley Cooper Majestic ($22.95) and the Courtney Ryley Cooper Imperial ($33.50) were by far the most expensive rods in the Cook catalog.

By the late 1930s, Cooper was one of the best known crime writers in America, having the personal ear of J. Edgar Hoover at the F.B.I., who once called him "the best informed man on crime in the U.S." He was working on a story about illicit Nazi activities in Mexico when, to the great shock of everyone (including his wife), he was found dead on September 29, 1940, dead from an apparent suicide.

The word here is "apparent." He was found hanged in a closet of his hotel room in Park Central Hotel in New York City, with a note saying the cash in his clothes should be used to pay his hotel bill. The circumstances of his death were mysterious indeed, especially when one considers his F.B.I. file has two letters from associates who claim he was murdered.

Regardless, his friend Dave Cook dedicated an entire page to his departed friend. Cook gave a eulogy to Cooper that is quite moving:

In these troubled days, when half the world is blazing in a senseless man-made conflict, the personal remembrance of a man like Courtney Ryley Cooper does much to renew our faith in the goodness that is inherent in everyone, yet only seldom is expressed in the personality and everyday deeds of a man, as they were with Ryley.

To his mighty host of friends he was the very soul of sportsmanship, squareness and thoughtfulness. His was a friendship that asked nothing, yet gave everything, and though his work and travels were of a nature to occupy his every hour, he always found time to do any favor asked of him.

It is my hope, in dedicating our new fishing contest, on the opposite page, that all the participants will remember this man and his spirit of sportsman- ship, and in doing so will keep alive all that is fine and good and fair in the annals of American outdoor life.

But Dave Cook did not stop there. As we'll see tomorrow in Part II, Cook took some extraordinary steps to memorialize Cooper.
-- Dr. Todd

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