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Dame Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper in 1913
Born Gladys Constance Cooper
18 December 1888(1888-12-18)
Chiswick, England, UK
Died 17 November 1971 (aged 82)
Henley-on-Thames, England, UK
Occupation Actress
Years active 1905–1971
Spouse(s) Capt. Herbert Buckmaster (1908- ?)
Sir Neville Pearson (1928-1936)
Philip Merivale (1937-1946)

Dame Gladys Constance Cooper, DBE (18 December 1888 – 17 November 1971) was an English actress.


Early life and career

Gladys Cooper (left) and Marie Studholme (c1894)

Cooper was born at 23 Ennersdale Road, Hither Green, Lewisham, London, England, one of the three daughters of Charles William Frederick Cooper by his marriage to Mabel Barnett. She spent most of her childhood in Chiswick, where her family moved when she was an infant.

She made her stage début in 1905 touring with Seymour Hicks in his musical Bluebell in Fairyland. The young beauty was also a popular photography model. In 1906, she appeared in London in The Belle of Mayfair, and the following year she became a chorus girl at the Gaiety Theatre, London, appearing in the successful 1908 musical Havana. In 1911, she appeared in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and in 1913 she appeared in her first film, The Eleventh Commandment. In addition, in 1917, Cooper became co-manager, with Frank Curzon, of the Playhouse Theatre, taking over sole control from 1927 until she left in 1933.

Cooper appeared in W. Somerset Maugham's Home and Beauty in London in 1919. However, it was not until 1922 that she found major critical success, in Arthur Wing Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tanqueray. Early in her stage career, she was criticized for being stiff. Aldous Huxley dismissed her performance in Home and Beauty: "she is too impassive, too statuesque, playing all the time as if she were Galatea, newly unpetrified and still unused to the ways of the living world." [1] Yet Maugham praised her for "turning herself from an indifferent actress to an extremely competent one" through her common sense and industriousness.[2] She also appeared in Maugham's The Letter in 1927.

Later career

Cooper found success in Hollywood in a variety of character roles and was most frequently cast as a disapproving, aristocratic society woman. She appeared in Rebecca (1940), The Green Years (1946), The Secret Garden (1949) and Separate Tables (1958). She was nominated three times for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performances as Bette Davis's domineering mother in Now, Voyager (1942), a skeptical nun in The Song of Bernadette (1943), and Rex Harrison's mother, Mrs. Higgins, in My Fair Lady (1964). She also appeared in The Happiest Millionaire (1967) singing "There Are Those".

Her 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 London and on Broadway. In 1967, she appeared in London in Maugham's The Sacred Flame with Wendy Hiller and Leo Genn. In that year, at nearly 80 years of age, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She continued to act past her 80th birthday, including a memorable performance in 1971 in a revival of The Chalk Garden at the Haymarket Theatre.

Private life

She was thrice married:

  • 1) Captain Herbert Buckmaster 1908; (two children, including a daughter, Joan Buckmaster (1910–2005) who married the actor Robert Morley).
  • 2) English baronet Sir Neville Pearson (1927–1936); (one daughter, Sally Pearson (aka Sally Cooper) who was married from 1961 to 1986 to the actor Robert Hardy.
  • 3) English actor Philip Merivale (30 April 1937–12 March 1946). She lived for many years in Santa Monica, California, as a permanent resident alien with her third husband, until his death at age 59 from a heart ailment. Her stepson from this marriage was John Merivale.

She herself eventually returned to the United Kingdom for her final years. She died from pneumonia at the age of 82 in Henley-on-Thames, England.

An old theatre anecdote recalls that in 1928, she appeared in the play Excelsior in which her sister Doris, a small-part actress who often travelled with Gladys and appeared in some of the same plays, was given a speaking part. On opening night, Doris was reduced to tears backstage after her first appearance, which was greeted by a low hiss from the audience. "Oh no, dear," a friend reassured her. "They're just all whispering to each other, 'She's Doris Cooper. She's Gladys Cooper's sister. Gladys Cooper's sister'."



Among many other appearances, she starred in the 1960s in The Rogues with David Niven, Charles Boyer, Gig Young, Robert Coote, John Williams and Larry Hagman. For this, she won a Golden Globe Award in 1965.

She also appeared in three episodes of The Twilight Zone. In the first, entitled "Nothing in the Dark" (1962), she plays an old lady who refuses to leave her apartment for fear of meeting Death. A young policeman (Robert Redford) is shot at her doorstep and persuades her to let him in. Her second appearance was in the episode "Passage on the Lady Anne", which aired on 9 May 1963. Her final episode was in 1964, in "Night Call", portraying a difficult, lonely old lady who is besieged by late-night phone calls, which she learns too late are from the ghost of her long-dead fiancé.


  1. ^ Alduous Huxley. "A Good Farce." Athenaeum September 26, 1919: 956.
  2. ^ W. Somerset Maugham. "Gladys Cooper." Plays and Players 1, 3 (December 1953): 4

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