Beauties Of The Past & Classic Hollywood #61 – Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper, The Beautiful Actress With Amazing Hair – circa 1910

If there was a Hall-of Fame for best hair, Gladys Cooper would be a member.

British theatre and screen star Gladys Cooper (1888 – 1971) made her stage debut in 1905. As you can see she photographed exquisitely and was constantly in demand as a model. From about 1905 through the 1920s postcard manufacturers churned out hundreds of different images of the popular actress.

Gladys Cooper, Robert Redford – Twilight Zone

Gladys had a 70 year career as an actress, though most people would not recognize her name or face today. If they did know her, it would probably be because of a memorable 1962 Twilight Zone television episode in which she plays an old woman who fears death, co-starring a very young Robert Redford.

Modern movie and television audiences would never have realized Gladys was once absolutely gorgeous .

In 1914, when asked by a newspaper columnist who was the most beautiful star on the London stage, fellow actress Ethel Levey replied, “It depends upon the type. As to the blond type I should say Gladys Cooper. She is as beautiful a woman I have ever seen.”

Sari Petrass, a famous Austrian actress appearing at the time in The Marriage Market agreed with Levey about Gladys’s looks and said, “She is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And you have some very beautiful women in London.’

When told of her fellow actresses compliments, Gladys replied, “I am surprised and pleased to hear what some of the artists have said.” Gladys then reflected and said, “I prefer to have a big personality to being known as a beauty.  With a big personality one can do anything. I have seen very pretty actresses on the stage and wondered why they were not real successes. Then I realized they had no personality to lift them over the footlights.”

Living and working exclusively in Great Britain, Gladys appeared sporadically in silent films throughout the teens and twenties. During that time she had built up a hugely successful stage career as a leading lady and was lauded by public and press not only for her beauty, but for her fine acting ability.

Gladys pretty much halted her film career from 1924-1939 appearing in only one film The Iron Duke (1934). It was big news that same year when Gladys made her Broadway debut in The Shining Hour at the Booth Theater.

After opening night New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson wrote, “As Mariella, Gladys Cooper plays with enkindling earnestness of statement – firmly and accurately and with a reserve of emotion that deepens character and heightens the problem of the play (a love triangle).” Gladys received, “an embarrassingly long ovation,” at the conclusion of the play, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

In 1939 Gladys headed out to Hollywood to renew her film career.  Because she was now older, Gladys never reprised any of her great stage roles on film.

After 1940 and now in her early fifties, Gladys’ movie career took off.  Gladys ended up in several major motion pictures over the next 25 years and was properly cast, usually as a regal, yet still attractive older woman.

Among the many famous films Gladys starred in are; Rebecca (1940) Kitty Foyle (1940) Now Voyager (1942) The Bishop’s Wife (1947) Madame Bovary (1949) and Separate Tables (1958). These films  were all nominated for various Academy Award honors. Gladys herself was nominated three times for Best Actress in a Supporting Role; Now Voyager, The Song of Bernadette (1943) and My Fair Lady (1964), but never won an award.

Gladys Cooper passed away in her sleep November 17, 1971, due to complications of pneumonia at the age of 82 at Henley-on-Thames. At her funeral in London a huge bouquet of flowers arrived from Bette Davis who had played Gladys’s daughter in Now Voyager. A note accompanied the flowers which simply said, “She was a great Lady.”

1 thought on “Beauties Of The Past & Classic Hollywood #61 – Gladys Cooper

  1. Greg Wright

    Gladys was fantastic as the mean nasty non-believing nun in Song of Bernadette.
    Her transformation into a believer of Bernadette at the end of the movie always makes me cry.
    I had no idea she was once a great beauty- thank you for posting!


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