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Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher

There are two photographs in Gary Cooper: Enduring Style, a new and essential book of images, which between them demonstrate what made the actor special. The first, taken on a Hollywood soundstage by Mr Cecil Beaton in 1931, portrays Mr Cooper in a slim double-breasted suit, every inch the matinée idol. The other, taken a decade later in rural Idaho, captures him out shooting with Mr Ernest Hemingway - a gun dog is fetching a dead bird for Mr Cooper.

It was his ability to straddle these two worlds, to be as comfortable drinking cocktails in white tie as he was out hunting, that made Mr Cooper a legend. However, it was his exceptional talent for dressing well that most endears him to MR PORTER. The bad news for those of us wishing to follow his lead - and it would be hard to find a better sartorial role model - is that there's a shot in the book that strongly suggests his style was God-given, rather than learnt.

Taken in 1920, when he was only 19, the photograph shows Mr Cooper in the snow at his university, Grinnell College, Iowa. He's resplendent in a generously proportioned flat cap, a contrast-collar shirt and a tie, a suit and a handsome overcoat. His trousers' cuffs are turned up in a perfectly contemporary way, and he's wearing a pair of substantial leather boots. It's extraordinary to see a teenager display such good taste, and such confident bearing - it would be five years before he'd appear in his first film, a Western called Dick Turpin.

The photographs in the book, which span Mr Cooper's life, were largely unseen until now, and many were taken by his wife, Rocky (real name Veronica), although there are also shots by famous photographers including Mr Robert Capa and Mr Edward Weston. Mr Cooper's daughter, Ms Maria Cooper Janis, has compiled the images from her family's albums, and there's an essay by Mr G Bruce Boyer, one of America's best menswear writers. Of the many stars that appear in the photographs alongside Mr Cooper the most intriguing is Mr Pablo Picasso, who appears in candid shots taken in 1956 at the artist's home in Cannes, France.

The shots taken with Mr Picasso contribute to a depiction of the sort of exciting, glamorous, interesting and stylish life one would hope successful actors might lead, but rarely seem to do. Comparing Mr Cooper's off-duty elegance with the slovenly paparazzi shots we're used to seeing of today's movie stars is instructive; the things that stand out are the quality of the cut and fabric of Mr Cooper's clothes, and the ease with which he wore them.

His ability to combine a variety of patterns, textures and styles, from immaculate suits to well-worn jeans, is truly inspiring, and as relevant now as it was during Hollywood's golden age. As Mr Boyer writes, "Cooper looked good in everything he wore, but he didn't choose to wear just anything."

Gary Cooper: Enduring Style by G Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis is out now (£28.99, powerhousebooks)