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10 October 2013

Gladys Cooper

British stage and film actress Dame Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) started as a chorus girl and a photographic model. During WWI she became a pin-up fad for the British military. After some 'stiff' performances in her early career, she became a respected stage and film actress in later life. In her 66-year career, she was nominated three times for an Oscar and she won a Golden Globe.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Philco, Series no. 1046/4. Photo: Dover St. Studios.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Philco, Series no. 1134/1. Photo: Wrather & Buys.

Gaiety Girl


Gladys Constance Cooper was born in London, England, in 1888. She was one of the three daughters of journalist Charles William Frederick Cooper by his marriage to Mabel Barnett.

In 1905 she had her stage debut touring with Seymour Hicks in his musical Bluebell in Fairyland.

In 1907 she took a departure from the legitimate stage to become a member of Frank Curzon's famous Gaiety Girls chorus entertainments at The Gaiety theatre in London, appearing in the successful 1908 musical Havana.

In 1911 she had her breakthrough in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Soon the young beauty became a popular photographic model. During World War I her popularity grew into something of pin-up fad for the British military.

From the craze for post cards with photos of actors - that ensued between about 1890 and 1914 - Cooper became a popular subject of maidenly beauty with scenes as Juliet and many others.

In 1917 she became co-manager, with Frank Curzon, of the London Playhouse Theatre, and ran it on her own between 1927 and 1933.

At the start of her career she was criticized for her too 'wooden' performance, and she only found major critical success in 1922 with The Second Mrs. Thacqueray.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. B 136-3 (handpainted real photograph). Sent by mail in Great-Britain in 1918.

Hollywood


In 1913 Gladys Cooper started in film. Her debut was in The Eleventh Commandment (1913).

Several silent British films followed such as Danny Donovan, the Gentleman Cracksman (Walter Waller, 1914) with Thomas Meighan, The Sorrows of Satan (Alexander Butler, 1917) and The Bohemian Girl (Harley Knoles, 1922) with Ivor Novello.

In 1934 Cooper made her first sound picture in the UK, The Iron Duke (Victor Saville, 1934) starring George Arliss.

She came to Broadway with The Shining Hour which she had been doing in London. According to William McPeak at IMDb, "she and it were a success, and she followed it with several plays through 1938, including MacBeth. About this time Hollywood scouts caught wind of her, and she began her 30 odd years in American film."

In particular in the 1940s she played memorably in a variety of character roles and was most frequently cast as a disapproving, aristocratic society woman.

Among her best film roles were as Laurence Olivier's gregarious sister in Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940), as Bette Davis's domineering mother in Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942), and a skeptical nun in The Song of Bernadette (Henry King, 1943).

Her last major film was My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) as Henry Higgins' (Rex Harrison) mother.

For Now, Voyager, The Song of Bernadette and My Fair Lady, Cooper got Academy Award Nominations.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard, Series W878/2. Sent by mail in 1919. Photo: Claude Harris Ltd.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard by E.A. Schwerdtfeger & Co. (EAS), London/Berlin, no. 0715/1. Sent by mail in 1914.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard by F. W. Woolworth & Co.. Photo: Claude Harris Ltd.

Golden Globe


Gladys Cooper's last major success on the stage was in the role of Mrs. St. Maugham in Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden, a role she had created in 1955 in London and in 1956 on Broadway.

Through the 1950s and into the 1960s she did only a few films but she was an especially familiar face on American TV.

Her role as Margaret St. Clair in The Rogues with David Niven and Charles Boyer, got her a Golden Globe in 1962.

She also appeared in three episodes of The Twilight Zone.

In 1967, at nearly 80 years of age, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).

Cooper continued to act both in film and on the stage until her death.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Rotary Photo, no. 5.63-2.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. A.556-6. Sent by mail in 1915. Photo: Horace W. Nicholls.

Gladys Cooper
British postcard by Rotary Photo, no. 5.27-3. Photo: Lallie Charles.

Permanent Resident Alien


Gladys Cooper was married three times; to capt. Herbert Buckmaster (two children, incl. actress Joan Buckmaster, who married actor Robert Morley); to Sir Neville Pearson (one daughter, costume designer Sally Pearson, married to actor Robert Hardy), 1961-1986; and to actor Philip Merivale.

Her stepson from her last marriage was actor John Merivale.

She lived for many years in Santa Monica, California, as a permanent resident alien with her third husband, until his death in 1946 from a heart ailment.

She herself eventually returned to the United Kingdom for her final years.

At the age of 82, Gladys Cooper died of a stroke, in Henley-on-Thames, in 1971.

Gladys Cooper and Children
Gladys Cooper with her two eldest children. British hand-painted postcard by Rotary, no. S 25-3. Photo: Rita Martin.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. S. 27-4. Photo: Lallie Charles.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. S. 50.3. Sent by mail in 1919.

Gladys Cooper
British hand-painted postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. A.556-6. Sent by mail in 1915. Photo: Horace W. Nicholls.

Sources: William McPeak (IMDb), Wikipedia, and IMDb.