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Merian C. Cooper papers

Identifier: MSS 2008

Scope and Contents

Collection contains personal papers, business records, audiovisual materials, and photographs which document most aspects of Merian C. Cooper's life and his varied careers. It includes research and information on documentary and feature motion picture production in the United States from the mid-1920s through the early 1950s, as well as information on world exploration, the United States Air Force (particularly during World War II), and early television. The collection also documents several film and writing projects by Cooper that never came to fruition, including his unproduced film biography of Lieutenant General Claire C. Chennault of Flying Tiger fame. These projects, commenced in the 1950s, represent Cooper's efforts to stay active in the entertainment business. Also contains personal material and corresondence from the Cooper family and by Cooper's wife, Dorothy Jordan, including some materials that post-date Cooper's death. Materials are dated 1888 to 1990.


  • 1888-1990


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to use material from this collection must be obtained from Reference Services at

Biographical History

Merian Caldwell Cooper was an American aviator, United States Air Force and Polish Air Force officer, adventurer, screenwriter, film director, and producer. He was a notable movie producer, starting with documentaries filmed with Ernest B. Schoedsack while traveling the world, most famously Grass and Chang. Cooper was a member of the board of directors of Pan American Airways. During his film career, he worked for several Hollywood studios. He is considered co-inventor of the Cinerama film projection process. Cooper's most famous film was the 1933 movie King Kong. He was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1952 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Cooper married film actress Dorothy Jordan in 1933. They were married until his death on April 21, 1973.

Biographical / Historical

Dorothy Jordan was born August 9, 1906, in Clarksville, Tennessee, to Theresa Harrison and Edward Peter Jordan. After starting in Broadway, Dorothy became a film actress in Hollywood, beginning with “Taming of the Shrew” in 1929. In 1933, Dorothy married film director and producer Merian C. Cooper, and they were married until his death in 1973. Dorothy retired from acting in 1956. She died in Los Angeles on December 7, 1988.


47 boxes (23.6 linear ft.)

24 oversize boxes (30.5 linear ft.)

36 film boxes (45 linear ft.)

1 folder (0.05 linear ft.)

1 oversize folder (0.1 linear ft.)

7 items (0.7 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Arranged in seventeen series: 1. Merian C. Cooper personal papers, 1921-1980. 2. Merian C. Cooper education papers, 1908-1972. 3. Merian C. Cooper military papers, 1911-1977. 4. Merian C. Cooper exploration papers, 1922-1965. 5. Merian C. Cooper papers on produced motion pictures, 1915-1984, 1888. 6. Merian C. Cooper papers on unproduced motion pictures, 1916-1975. 7. Merian C. Cooper papers on motion picture industry, 1932-1966. 8. Merian C. Cooper papers on motion pictures, 1920-1972. 9. Merian C. Cooper Enterprises records, 1919-1990. 10. Merian C. Cooper writings, 1921-1965. 11. Merian C. Cooper papers on aviation and aerospace, 1921-1969. 12. Advanced Projects Corporation records, 1966-1972. 13. Merian C. Cooper correspondence, 1915-1973. 14. Merian C. Cooper photographs of correspondents, 1940-1972. 15. Merian C. Cooper scrapbooks, 1917-1933. 16. Merian C. Cooper collection of art, undated. 17. Merian C. Cooper plaques, awards, and other material, 1918-1961.

Custodial History

Collection was acquired by Brigham Young University in 1987 from Cooper's widow, actress Dorothy Jordan Cooper. The collection was reviewed by Mrs. Cooper prior to its donation. There was little discernible order to the papers when they donated. The organizational scheme resulting in this register was determined primarily by chronology and by function.

An addition was donated by Zoe Porter in 1987 and processed into the collection in 2022.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Dorothy Jordan Cooper; 1987.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Zoe Porter; 1987.


Producers/Directors/Production Companies Collections (Arts & Communications).

Related Materials

See also Argosy Pictures Corporation records (MSS 1849), Rudy Behlmer collection (MSS 2024), Kevin Brownlow interviews with Merian C. Cooper (MSS OH 1894), Donald A. Dewar interview (MSS OH 1895), Zoe Porter interview (MSS OH 1286), and Zoe Porter papers (MSS 2025).

Processing Information

Processed; James V. D'Arc and Norm Gillespie; 2000.

Processing Information

Processed; Deven Hunsaker and Karen Glenn; November 2022. All versions of inventories migrated, finding aid standardized, audiovisual metadata added and 1987 addition to series 9.

  • Two publications- "China the Beautiful" edited by Ting Sing Wu and "Way of a Fighter" by Claire Lee Chennault.
  • Original duplicates, whether carbon copy, photocopy or other, made by Cooper of his own material, including correspondence, articles, notes, photographs, and other formats found in the original collection.
  • Duplicated audiovisual materials of Merian C. Cooper home movies, The four feathers film, and One man's journey film. Includes 24 VHS tapes, 1 betacam tape, 7 video reels, 1 film reel.
Register of the Merian C. Cooper papers
James V. D'Arc and John N. Gillespie
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States