By Movieguide® Staff
Filmmaker and award-winning screenwriter Paul W. Cooper, known for his work on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRE, died on Sept. 27. He was 74.
According to Tulsa World, Cooper died after complications with COVID-19.
Before Cooper ever sat down to write his first script, he served in the United States Air Force after graduating from the University of Tulsa, near where he grew up in Tulsa Oklahoma.
After serving in Vietnam, Cooper returned to the states. THE WALTONS creator, Earl Hammer, said that Cooper should turn his hobby of writing into a career.
Over the course of a 40-year career, Cooper went on to win three Emmy Awards, a Writers Guild Award, the Humanitas Prize, and the Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays for MINGO ROAD.
He is also known for his work on MURDER SHE WROTE, THE MALDONADO MIRACLE, ONCE UPON A TIME… WHEN WE WERE COLORED, and most recently, 5,000 YEARS OF HEROES.
During a 2019 interview with the Tulsa World, Cooper said that his decision to give screenwriting a shot was abrupt after he asked himself the question: how hard can it be?
“So I went to my room and got a spiral notebook out and started writing,” Cooper said at the time. “My first screenplay was terrible, but it didn’t matter. What it did was it opened up a whole world to me.”
Cooper added that an episode of CBS’ MEDICAL CENTER inspired him to pen a script.
“And I could not stop,” Cooper said. “I just winged it and I found myself, with each script that I wrote, I was getting better. My dialogue was getting better. And after a year or longer, I decided, I think I really want to do this.”
However, even with the names of agents who were known to read and accept unsolicited material, Cooper struggled to get someone to read his scripts.
“They wouldn’t even bother to read it,” Cooper said. “All they had to do was look at it and just see that it was Amateurville.”
However, Cooper soon found a connection with Earl Hammer who gave him a shot.
Tulsa World reported:
Cooper’s “break” came because the next-door neighbor of his first wife was Marion Hawkes, the inspiration for the TV character Mary Ellen Walton and the sister of the man who created “The Waltons.”
Hawkes agreed to read a script Cooper wrote about the TV version of her family. She liked it and gave Cooper her brother’s home phone number.
Cooper submitted two scripts to Hamner in hopes that they would be considered for use. Hamner, after reading them, called Cooper and said, “Paul, what are you doing in the Air Force?” Hamner suggested Cooper should be writing.
“What I tell writers is there are 10,000 members of the Writer’s Guild West and 98 percent of them do not make their living as writers. (People may say) we don’t need you, we don’t want you. But your attitude has to be, ‘Yes, but they haven’t read me yet.’ Actors have that feeling because look at the competition they’ve got. And, writers, it’s the same thing,” Cooper said in 2019.