Monday, April 1, 2013

Dame Gladys Cooper

Dame Gladys Cooper (1888-1971)

Some known facts:
·         Full Name Gladys Constance Cooper.
·         Born 18th December 1888 - Lewisham, London (England).
·         Died 17th November 1971 - Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire (England).
·         Married 1) H.J. Buckmaster; 2) Sir Neville Arthur Pearson, Bart.; 3) Philip Merivale (actor).
·         1967 Made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
·         As a child became a photographic model.
·         Played Professor Higgins' mother (to Rex Harrison) in the Film Musical 'My Fair Lady'.

Gladys Constance Cooper was born in Lewisham, London on 18th December, 1888. She was the daughter of William Frederick Cooper, a journalist, and his wife Mabel (Barnett). The beauty that would set her apart in later years was obviously apparent even as a child and she became a photographic model at the tender age of six. By the outbreak of World War I she had grown into a stunningly attractive young woman and was a favourite pin-up for the British forces.

Her acting career had begun in 1905 when she was taken on by Seymour Hicks to tour with his company in 'Bluebell in Fairyland', making her stage bow in Colchester at the age of 17. In 1906 she appeared in London in 'The Belle of Mayfair' and the following year became a chorus girl at The Gaiety (one of Frank Curzon's famous Gaiety Girls).

Later, she turned to more serious acting and her first 'straight' role came in 1911 in a production of Oscar Wilde's witty comedy 'The Importance of Being Ernest'. A number of other roles followed and in 1913 she appeared in her first movie, 'The Eleventh Commandment'.

In 1917 she teamed up with Frank Curzon to co-manage the Playhouse Theatre, taking over sole control from 1927 until she left in 1933. She was one of only two women at the time involved in such a role. During that period she continued to appear in a number of the plays she helped to produce as well as finding time for a few more film appearances.

In 1934 she crossed the Atlantic to make her debut on New York's famous Broadway in 'The Shining Hour'. An extended stay in America brought subsequent New York appearances in Shakespearean roles, and led to her discovery by the Hollywood moguls when her movie career really took off. Her first Hollywood role was in "Rebecca", with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine (Gladys played Maxim's [Olivier's] sister). In 1942 she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 'Now, Voyager' (as Mrs. Henry Windle Vale, mother of co-star Bette Davis' character), and again the following year for her part (Sister Marie Therese Vauzous) in 'The Song of Bernadette'. During her time in Hollywood she appeared in over 30 movies, often reprising the role of the dignified aristocratic lady. Other notable movie credits include 'Madame Bovary' in 1949, and 'My Fair Lady' in 1964 (as Mrs. Higgins - her third oscar nomination).

Gladys returned to the London stage for several years from 1947 before returning to Broadway to appear in 'The Chalk Garden' in 1955, and 'A passage to India' in 1962. Even past the age of sixty, between London, Broadway and Hollywood Gladys remined busy. Even the then relatively new medium of TV was no stranger to her, as she made numerous guest appearances on the small screen during the fifties and sixties.

In 1967, now almost eighty years old, she was rewarded for her considerable contributions to the acting profession when she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of British Empire (DBE). Even then, she was not yet ready to make her final bow and her last stage, film and TV appearances all came after she had passed her 80th birthday.

Gladys Cooper passed away in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, on 17th November 1971. In life she had been a celebrated beauty, a talented and versatile actress, and a shrewd businesswoman. She was married three times, on the last occasion to the actor Philip Merivale (his second marriage). Her daughters by her previous marriages, Joan Buckmaster and Sally Pearce, married the actors Robert Morley and Robert Hardy respectively. Three biographies of her life have been published, 'Gladys Cooper' penned by herself in 1931, 'Without Veils' in 1953, and 'Gladys Cooper: A biography' by her grandson Sheridan Morley in 1979.

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