The What a Character! blogathon is in progress now, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club. Click here for more information and links to participating blogs. My entry for the event follows...
Gladys Cooper and Alfred Hitchcock launched their careers in Hollywood at the same time on the same film - Rebecca (1940). Cooper's was the small role of a tweedy aristocrat, the sister of Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), who offered warmth and kindness to the beleaguered second Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine). Rebecca, Selznick Pictures' follow up to Gone with the Wind, took the year's Best Picture Oscar and put Cooper (not to mention Hitchcock, Fontaine and Olivier) on the Hollywood map. Her obvious talent and commanding presence brought two less sympathetic roles next: Dennis Morgan's disapproving socialite mother in Kitty Foyle (1940) and the spurned wife of Laurence Olivier in That Hamilton
|Gladys Cooper and Frank Morgan in Green Dolphin Street|
Typecast? Yes and no. Cooper was fortunate (and versatile) enough to be cast in sympathetic roles - in Mr. Lucky (1943), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), The Valley of Decision (1945), Green Dolphin Street (1947) and other popular films - but she was as often cast as uppercrust autocrats. In 1947, she brought one of her most memorable wealthy dowagers to the screen as Mrs. Hamilton in the holiday fantasy The Bishop's Wife. This time, though, there was a twist; the imperious widow's hardened heart was melted by no less an angel than Cary Grant - giving Cooper the rare chance to render both harsh and tender facets of her character.
|Gladys Cooper and Cary Grant, The Bishop's Wife|
Gladys Cooper's credits during TV's early, golden days are impressive. She appeared on two legendary drama anthologies, The Alcoa Hour and Playhouse 90; she was featured on both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour; she guested on The Ann Sothern Show, Naked City, The Outer Limits, Burkes Law, Ben Casey, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (!) and was nominated for a
Now in her mid-70s, Gladys Cooper still had a last good film or two ahead of her. She was a member of John Huston's illustrious cast in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) and earned her third and final Academy Award nomination for her performance as Mrs. Higgins, mother of Henry (Rex Harrison), in the Oscar-winning musical, My Fair Lady (1964).
And that's not all. Before she embarked on her Hollywood career, Cooper had starred on Broadway several times. She returned to the New York stage in her late career and earned Tony nominations in her final two roles. She was nominated for Best Actress in a Play in 1956 for her performance in The Chalk Garden and again in 1962 for her performance in A Passage to India (in a role that would bring an Oscar to Peggy Ashcroft 20+ years later).
|Gladys Cooper (center) in a 1971 revival of The Chalk Garden|
At last, in 1967, as she approached 80, Gladys Cooper was named a Dame of the British Empire. Her life in the public eye had begun because of the great beauty with which she was naturally endowed; she was long considered the most beautiful woman in England. But Cooper was blessed with more than looks, she had striking talent and presence and profound devotion to her craft. The blush of youthful beauty would, as it always does, fade, but her power as an actress only matured and deepened through the years. Dame Gladys Cooper had been about to embark on a Canadian tour with a revival of The Chalk Garden in 1971 when she was stricken with pneumonia and died.
Bette Davis was set to tape a guest appearance on The Dick Cavett Show when she learned of Gladys Cooper's death; she shared her thoughts during the interview: