Morton Cooper

Dime novelist and author of 'The King'

In 1967 Morton Cooper hit the jackpot with his hefty novel
The King, written in nine months. Cannily packaged and promoted in America and Britain, it sold three million copies. Cooper was everywhere, with what, to most people, was a first novel

Morton Cooper Feinberg (Morton Cooper), writer: born Greensburg, Philadelphia 15 May 1925; married 1951 Charlotte Plotkin (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved); died Stamford, Connecticut 18 May 2004.

In 1967 Morton Cooper hit the jackpot with his hefty novel The King, written in nine months. Cannily packaged and promoted in America and Britain, it sold three million copies. Cooper was everywhere, with what, to most people, was a first novel.

None of those that followed had quite the same success. The King has an authentic pace, a way with words, as if it had to be written, by a pen which had earlier turned, for modest reward, to all manner of books, such as a novelisation of The Munsters and a string of acute, sometimes pseudonymous dime novels - 56 of them.

Born Morton Cooper Feinberg in 1925, into a Jewish family in Greensburg, Philadelphia, he had an urge to write and act from the age of six. After leaving high school, he moved to New York, there living by his wits and as a waiter and bookshop assistant, while teaching himself to write, partly on a short-story course at Columbia University.

Life was tough, but was eased by marriage in 1951 to Charlotte Plotkin, a social-work administrator, who encouraged his writing stints from 6.30 in the morning to 10 at night, four days a week. After three years' slog, he sold three books in a week, then got a job scripting a television puppet-show, FunnyBunnies, for which he also dubbed various voices. He was a natural listener, and became a prolific liberal journalist who advocated civil rights, conducting interviews for a black newspaper, the Chicago Defender.

All the while the family lived in a dark apartment in the Washington Heights area of New York. Cooper determined to change this. He had paid his dues. Aim higher, and the big time was his. Which is pretty well the thrust of The King, which tells of the Sinatra-like progress of a singer, Harry Orlando, who at the age of 44 lived in style. Alternating past and present, it goes back to hard times. These bring with them a journalist called Temple who has an in with the US President. Orlando toils for the President's success only to find that, after the President is killed in an aeroplane accident, he is rebuffed by the man's successor - so Orlando switches his allegiance to a rival nominee, a former movie actor (palpably Ronald Reagan). It is not subtle stuff, but it moves.

Sinatra was not best pleased and apparently henchmen felt the urge (unfulfilled) to break some legs. Certainly, Cooper cut short an American promotional tour and, mysteriously, although Hollywood studios had been vying for the rights to The King, his calls went suddenly unreturned.

In fact, Orlando is sympathetically, realistically depicted. It is that rare thing, a novel which gives a convincing account of a singer:

His voice was sex, but without the smirk and the pant. It was youth, it was sensitive and clean-cut, and it solved all of love's riddles in two choruses and a bridge.

Cooper's early output, issued as paperback originals, many for the Gold Medal series, have that pace and rhythm which The King writ large. Some endure better than others, among them The Flesh and Mr Rawlie (1955), which tells of a suicidal playwright on the eve of his attempt at a Broadway comeback with a frothy musical comedy.

Morton Cooper's daughter, Barbara, recalls that, in 1967, the family's life suddenly changed. They moved to a fine house in Connecticut, which was probably a mistake. Cooper needed a city's buzz, café talk. He felt isolated and it took a toll on his marriage, which eventually broke up after 40 years. For a while he lived alone in Philadelphia, no longer writing, but, two years ago, he and his wife reunited, although they never got around to remarrying.

Christopher Hawtree

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