Martin M. Cooper
Company: Cooper Communications
Born: Philadelphia, 1941
Education: Bachelor’s at UCLA; additional courses at Oxford and Cambridge, U.K.
Career Turning Point: Working for Walt Disney
Most Influential People: Winston Churchill
Favorite Movie: “Casablanca”
Personal: Lives in Encino; married, no children
Hobbies: Reading; writing (four books published); collecting antique typewriters (1880-1930 only); Winston Churchill (member of International Churchill Society, writes for its publication and has a collection of more than200 books by and/or about Churchill.
Martin Cooper, president of the Encino PR firm Cooper Communications, has worked for Universal Pictures, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and, most memorably as Disneyland’s advertising and promotions manager at Walt Disney Co. during the final years of the company founder’s career. Recalled Cooper: “When I worked for Walt Disney, he said to me in response an off-the-wall idea I had: ‘A good idea doesn’t care where it comes from.’ I’ve never forgotten those words Walt spoke to me (decades) ago.” Cooper also worked as senior vice president of marketing and communications for Playboy Enterprises and chief marketing officer at Sustainable Technology Solutions. Cooper once wrote essays for the Business Journal and later collected them for a book, titled “North of Mulholland.” Also, among his four published works is “Read All About It! The San Fernando Valley: 1946-1970,” which won the CSUN Oviatt Library Award for the best nonfiction book about the Valley in 2016. The Encino resident loves the San Fernando Valley so much that he received the Fernando Award for civic volunteerism in 2014. When the Business Journal spoke with Cooper, he was working on his next book, an overview of movies filmed in the San Fernando Valley based on a column he began writing last year for the Valley News Group newspapers, including the Warner Center News. The upcoming book, which does not yet have a title, is tentatively set for a late 2022 release.
Question: Tell us about this new book you’re working on.
Answer: The San Fernando Valley is the real Hollywood. (Filmmaker) D.W. Griffith made a movie here in 1910. Burbank studios, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Warner – they all had ranches here. Mostly to film westerns. Some of them later said, “Why don’t we put our headquarters out here where we own the land?” That’s sort of the catalyst of it.
Why write it now?
I looked to see if there was a book about the history of the Valley and believe it or not, there is no such book. When D.W. Griffith was filming, his cameraman said he was just over the hill in the Valley in a quaint little village called Lankershim. Plenty of great stories like that.
How contemporary will this book be?
I’m going to do a whole section about movies such as “The Lone Ranger” (2013), which opens in the Chatsworth area; and “Clueless” (1995), which includes a scene at Circus Liquor (in North Hollywood). The problem is not finding stuff to include; the problem is what do I have to leave out. I did make the decision to leave out television.
What about someone movie-adjacent such as author Edgar Rice Burroughs, who lived in Tarzana, named after his most famous creation?
It shocked me to know that nobody made this book. There will be filmmakers, studio executives, film writers. I’m going to do a whole thing on the Blacklist in the Valley. I’m going to talk to cinematographers and set designers and some movie stars as well. D.W. Griffin made more than 500 films and probably more than a third were shot in the Valley between 1910 and 1930. Mack Sennett filmed the Keystone Comedies in what is today CBS Studio Center on Radford (Avenue in Studio City). Charlie Chaplin also shot movies there. It’s been there for over 100 years. People tend not to think about it. Obviously, I’ll write about Carl Laemmle and Universal. I used to work at Universal. But my first job out of college was working for Disney. I worked with Walt Disney himself.
What was it like to work for Uncle Walt?
The first time I met him, I was in the office of my boss, who was the director of marketing. I had just graduated from UCLA a week before. There was a little knock at the door and in walks the most famous man in the world: Walt Disney. I stuck out my hand and said, “How do you do? Nice to meet you, Mr. Disney.” Walt didn’t move his hand, it stuck to the side. He said, “Marty, it’s Walt, not Mr. Disney. The only ‘Mr.’ around here is Mr. Toad at Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”
I presume you were working for Walt Disney when he died?
Yes. He died in the hospital right across the street from the studio. There was a lot of talk radio back in those days, not just music. I got calls from all over the world … from Austria, Tokyo, Australia. I got dozens of calls in which they said, “We heard that Walt Disney has died. Please tell us it’s not true.” It’s not how did he die, it was, tell us it ain’t so! I thought that was very interesting.
How did your love affair with cinema begin?
There was nothing I enjoyed more than going to the movies. My mother loved movies, she instilled in me my love of movies. I was born in Philadelphia but grew up in Los Angeles.
How long have you lived in Encino?
For 48 years.
How has Encino changed across those five decades?
There is south of the boulevard and north of the boulevard. South of the boulevard has always been nice homes. In the last 10 years, you’ve seen all these McMansions come up. My house is a nice ranch-style house but now it’s all glass windows and bright paint and contemporary looking.
How would you define the San Fernando Valley?
Woodland Hills to the west, Burbank to the east, Mulholland to the south and the Verdugo mountains to the north.
Do you believe that the Valley has an aesthetic?
No, I do not. That’s one of the lesser positive points. A friend of mine wrote a book called “San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb.”
How did the San Fernando Valley flourish postwar?
The Valley was looked down on as a bedroom community, there was no culture. We didn’t have those kinds of institutions; we were just a bedroom community for L.A. What happened is that all these people moved out to the Valley after World War II and the G.I. Bill allowed them to build all these tacky homes for $8,000 and the doctors and the lawyers moved there and there was no freeway until 1961 so all these buildings were being built and all these services sprang up that catered to them. It was a bedroom community for decades. Somewhere around the 1980s and 1990s, it became its own community. Before that, it was live in the Valley, work in the city. But by the 1980s, (the mentality shifted) and then Valley people said, “I don’t need to drive over the hill, I can work right here.” That’s what happened. In this case, business followed the residential movement.
The Valley used to be the butt of jokes on late-night talk shows; has that changed?
The Valley is so diverse, you can go to one end of the Valley, all you hear is Spanish. You can go to another end of the Valley, all you hear is Farsi. You can go to yet another end of the Valley, all you here is Armenian. There are parts of Encino that is like a Little Israel. There are political people who wouldn’t agree with me but that’s what makes a place interesting – different foods, different cultures, different religions. The architecture has changed. … If L.A. is a melting pot, the Valley is a super melting pot.
Any stories about that?
Once for a column, I drove from Sepulveda (Boulevard) to White Oak (Avenue), counting the signs of different languages I saw. I counted 20 – Hebrew, Armenian, Farsi, Arabic. That’s what I think is great about the Valley. There is more diversity in terms of ethnicities, religion and restaurant choices. Almost all restaurants represent the nationality of the people who started them. Casa Vega for example – the owner comes from the country that is represented by the foods they serve.
It’s the other end of the continuum from “The Stepford Wives.”
What do you love about the Valley?
I’ve been very active in Valley with civic affairs: as chairman of the Encino Chamber, as chair of the Encino Boys and Girls Club, on task commissions for several L.A. mayors. Here we are a community of 2 million people and there are 300 people who are leaders of this community, and that’s it. It’s a small but very diverse group. The civic leaders, they’re all very active. If you want something done, the first thing they say is “I’m too busy” and then they say, “OK, how can I help?” The people of the San Fernando Valley are more active than anyone in this city.