Ralph Cooper (January 16, 1908 – August 4, 1992), was an American actor, screenwriter, dancer and choreographer. Cooper is best known as the original master of ceremonies and founder of amateur night at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City in 1935. He wrote, produced, directed and acted in ten motion pictures. Titles include, “The Duke Is Tops,” “Dark Manhattan”, “Gangsters on the Loose” and “Gang War”. Because of his debonair good looks, he was known as “dark Gable” in the 1930s.
Cooper was born on January 16, 1908 in Harlem, New York City. He worked as a dancer in small downtown clubs near New York University, which he attended with plans of becoming a medical doctor. In July 1935, Cooper started the Apollo’s Amateur Night which ran every Wednesday night. In 1937, Cooper formed Cooper-Randol Productions with black actor George Randol and soon afterwards Million Dollar Productions with white producers Harry Popkin and his brother Leo Popkin to produce race films that he often starred in, wrote, produced and directed. Tino Balio has written that: “Million Dollar, more than any other company, moved black filmmaking away from a marginalized form towards the mainstream, advancing considerably its reputation and ability to attract audiences.”
Later life and death
The Apollo closed in the mid–1970s, but the contest was restarted in 1985 after the renovations were completed. Cooper was again the master of ceremonies. His son, Ralph Cooper II, took over the show after his father was hospitalized with cancer in late–1986. He died on August 4, 1992 due to cancer. Cooper is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.