Gladys Cooper

 

 

 GLADYS COOPER 

                                           On Postcard

Gladys Cooper


 

 


 

Biography

 

 

Gladys Constance Cooper 1888 - 1971

Gladys Cooper Gladys Cooper Gladys Cooper Gladys Cooper Gladys Cooper Gladys Cooper


Gladys Constance Cooper was born on December 18th, 1888, at 23 Ennersdale Road, Hither Green, Lewisham, London.  Her father Charles William Frederick Cooper was a journalist and he was the founding editor of "The Epicure" food and drink magazine. Twice married he had four children by his first wife Fanny Russell, two sons and two daughters and his second marriage was to Gladys’ mother, Mabel Burnett, daughter of Captain Edward Barnett of the Scots Greys, with whom he fathered three daughters, Gladys, Doris Mabel Cooper and Grace Muriel Cooper.  Mabel was much younger than Charles.

The family moved from Lewisham to Chiswick Mall where Gladys spent her childhood years being brought up with her two younger sisters.  Grace was born deaf and had to attend a special school for deaf children, Gladys and Doris were educated at Chiswick Convent.  By the time Gladys was twelve she was regularly acting in school plays at the convent that were organised to raise money for local charities.

Gladys was a very attractive child, so much so that at the age of six her mother would take her to the W. & D. Downey Studio’s at 61 Ebury Street, London, to be photographed.  Her two sisters often accompanied her.  By 1900 Gladys was regularly in demand as a child photographic model often attending photographic sessions, which would take up half a day.

Photography at this time was still in its infancy but was rapidly becoming more and more popular.  The general public were able to purchase and send affordable photographic picture postcards through the postal system for the cost of a half penny stamp.  Many subjects were photographed for this purpose including favourite stage and theatre star actors and actresses.

At Downey’s Studio Gladys was befriended by Marie Studholme, a beautiful actress of musical comedy who was herself was already appearing on many glossy photographic postcards.  Marie was very fond of Gladys and would frequently invite her to stay at her home on the Thames at Datchet.  In 1895 Marie invited Gladys and her mother to see her perform at Daly’s Theatre, London, in the George Edwardes production  "An Artists Model".  Following this there were many other visits by Gladys to see Marie perform on stage, however, these early theatre experiences were not necessarily what inspired Gladys to later become involved in theatre herself.

A young Gladys Cooper with actress Marie Studholme

Figure 1:  A young Gladys Cooper (left)
with actress Marie Studholme


One of the earliest available images of Gladys on a postcard is as a child alongside Marie Studholme (see Figure 1).  Her sister Doris, also known as "Bobbins", would also appear on a postcard with Marie Studholme in a similar pose.

It was in the summer of 1905 that Gladys had her first opportunity to appear in theatre.  Along with her friend she sent an enquiring postcard off to the Vaudeville Theatre in the hope of attending voice trials.  They were both accepted and in her trial Gladys enacted a number currently being performed on stage by Phyllis Dare from the play "Catch of the Season".

Gladys impressed at this trial and was soon given the opportunity to go on tour.  Her first tour was playing Bluebell in the Seymour Hicks production of "Bluebell in Fairyland".  Actress Ellaline Terriss had previously played the part of Bluebell.  This first tour of Gladys' opened at the Theatre Royal in Colchester on December 18th 1905 - Gladys' seventeenth birthday.  On this tour Gladys earned a princely sum of three pounds a week and she was highly praised for her part.  However, it wasn't particularly her acting skills that caught the imagination of the press critics, indeed, it was her beauty.

In 1906, at the age of seventeen, Gladys was given a part

performing alongside much older showgirls in "The Belle of Mayfair" at the Vauderville, which also starred Edna May.  "The Belle of Mayfair" was the big musical success of 1906 and marked Gladys’ West End debut, but she was not happy, feeling left out of things amongst older, more experienced, performers.

George Edwardes was a theatre manager of the time.  He managed, amongst others, the Gaiety, Daly’s and Adelpi Theatre’s.  He brought a new era to musical theatre at the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  In early 1907 Gladys auditioned successfully for his company at the Gaiety Theatre, George provided training for Gladys, which included singing, dancing and stage movement.  As a result, Gladys appeared regularly in musical comedies at George's theatres and became one of the renowned "Gaiety Girls", a chorus-girl line based at the Gaiety theatre in London.


Under the direction of George Edwardes, Gladys appeared in several plays including the musical comedy "The Girls of Gottenberg" (1907), "Havana" (1908), "Our Miss Gibbs" 1909 and "The Dollar Princess" (1909).  See Figure 2.  This was a fair success for a young lady just approaching her twenty first birthday.

During these performances Gladys gained many admirers, including one Herbert John Buckmaster.  He was seven years older than Gladys being born in November 1881.  He was known as ‘Buck’ and was the originator of the name of the drink Bucks FizzHe was introduced to Gladys through one of the other girls who performed in "The Girls of Gottenberg" (Julia James).  Buck became Gladys’ chauffer and drove her to and from the theatre.  They were soon inseparable.

Gladys Cooper in 'The Dollar Princess'

Figure 2:  Gladys Cooper in "The Dollar Princess" as Sadie Von Tromp
alongside Joseph Coyne as Harry Q Conder.


By 1909 the postcard boom in England was well underway and, despite her appearances on stage, Gladys was to spend just as much time at the photographers producing picture postcards for her growing number of admirers.  In fact, at this time in her career Gladys was better known for her appearances on picture postcards than for her appearances in theatre.  Her stage appearances were actually fuelling the clamour for her postcards.  "Aristophot Co. Ltd", London, was one of the earliest publishers of her postcards, issuing a series of postcards prior to 1910.  Few picture postcards from any other publisher featuring Gladys can be found prior to that date.

Sadly, Gladys’ parents did not approve of her relationship with Buck.  It was during 1908 when Gladys was performing in "Havana", which ran throughout the whole of that year, that she and Buck were unofficially engaged to be married.  They were secretly married on the 12th December 1908 at St George’s, Hanover Square, London, just before her twentieth birthday.  The marriage was kept secret from her parents, the only family member who knew of the marriage was her sister Doris who was a witness at the ceremony.  Once he became aware of the marriage, Gladys’ father refused to speak to her for the best part of a year.

Following their honeymoon the couple had to decide how they were going to make a living.  Money was tight and Gladys wasn’t entirely happy with the way her theatre career was going.  She approached George Edwardes, with whom she was still under contract, requesting a more serious role in theatre and to get away from the chorus girl young lady work.  She also wanted the opportunity to work for other theatre managements to gain further experience to help advance her career.  Edwardes would not release Gladys from her contract and as a result Gladys did not work anywhere until the end of 1909, by which time she was three months pregnant.  Buck was earning a salary at this time and was quite content with his wife's situation, he being the breadwinner with a pretty wife at home.  Gladys though was not happy and was eager to get her career back on track with a serious role in theatre.

On July 5th 1910 Gladys gave birth to her first child, a daughter whom she and Buck named Joan.  Apart from earning money from the postcard industry which amounted to £200 that year, Gladys remained out of work for the rest of the year.

Still being regarded as a "Gaiety Girl" and postcard beauty Gladys found it difficult to discover more serious parts in theatre.  Her first break came in the Vedrenne-Eadie production of "Half a Crown" at the Royalty Theatre, which only ran for three nights but was enough to win her a three-year contract with Vedrenne-Eadie.  During this contract Gladys was loaned out to producer George Alexander at the St. James’s Theatre where Gladys played the part of Cecily Cardew in "The Importance of Being Earnest", and later she was to appear in "The Ogre" at the same venue, a play by Henry Arthur Jones.  Gladys was now attracting good reviews from the more serious theatre press.

In March 1912, back at the Royalty Theatre Gladys had her first real success as a straight actress playing the part of Muriel Pym in the play "Milestones"The play ran for 607 performances over an 

eighteen-month period.  See figure 3.  She also appeared that year at Drury Lane acting the part of Beauty in the play "Everywoman".

Gladys was now much happier in her work, she could see a career ahead of her that she would enjoy.  In 1913 at a New Years Eve charity ball she met for the first time Gerald du Maurier an actor manager fifteen years older than her who would become her most frequent co-star.  The pair of them went on to be one of the greatest theatrical partnerships of the twenties and thirties.  He suggested to her the possibility of  her playing the leading woman’s part in "Diplomacy", a play that had been successful years earlier.  See figure 4.
Gladys Cooper in 'Milestones'

Figure 3:  Gladys Cooper in "Milestones" as Hon. Muriel Pym with
 Dennis Eadie as Sir John Rhead and Mary Jerrold as Lady Rhead.

Gladys Cooper in Diplomacy

Figure 4:  Gladys Cooper as Dora  in "Diplomacy" at Wyndhams
theatre in London
"Diplomacy" was put on at Wyndham's Theatre opening on March 26th 1913 and Gladys acted alongside Owen Nares, himself an inexperienced actor at that time.  The play ran for a year and for four hundred and fifty five performances, one hundred performances more than the original production.  Gladys earned £40 a week at this time, which was a good earning.

In 1913 Gladys appeared in her first film, a silent film called "The Eleventh Commandment".  She played a small part which involved only one weeks work for her, this while she was still performing in the evenings in theatre.  On cinema posters for the film she was billed as "Britain’s Most Beautiful Actress".  Gladys herself had little memory of the film, her heart and mind being firmly into theatre.  But it would bring her further much needed income so early in her career and marriage.

Still under contract to Vedrenne-Eadie, Gladys returned to the Royalty Theatre to do two plays, "The Pursuit of Pamela" and "Peggy and her Husband", both were reasonably successful.  She also at this time starred alongside Owen Nares in the silent film "Dandy Donovan the Gentleman Cracksman", but she could not take to acting in films still preferring to perform in live theatre.

Soon after, Vedrenne-Eadie gave Gladys the chance to act in an Edward Knoblock play "My Lady's Dress".  The play opened in early 1914 when Gladys was twenty-five years old, she acted alongside Dennis Eadie himself.

See figure 5.  The play had a cast of twenty character parts and Gladys played seven of them, Anne, Annie, Nina, Annette, Antje, Anna and Anita.  She received excellent reviews as a dramatic actress for her performance.

Despite her increased stage work, Gladys still continued to be photographed for the postcard industry, now appearing on many different publisher postcards with "Rotary Photo" being the main publisher.

Gladys’ daughter Joan was also photographed and
appeared alongside her mother in popular mother
Gladys Cooper in 'My Lady's Dress'

Figure 5:  Gladys Cooper as Anne in "My Lady's Dress"




and daughter poses.  See figure 6.  Joan then made appearances on postcards on her own and became very popular, at times being just as popular as her mother to the postcard buying public.

As a result of her performance in "My Lady’s Dress" Gladys could have expected a long run at the Royalty Theatre but on 14th August 1914 war broke out and many theatres would close as a precaution.  Gladys’ career suddenly ceased and her husband Buck was eager to go to war.  He joined the cavalry and went to France with the Royal Horse Guards.

Gladys managed to source some work through an old friend, Seymour Hicks.  He found her a part playing
"She" in "The Bridal Suite" at the Coliseum.

Gladys, Seymour Hicks and his wife Ellaline Terriss, then took a small party to visit and tour France to
help entertain the soldiers.

The tour was called "The National Theatre at the

Gladys Cooper with daughter Joan Buckmaster

Figure 6:  Gladys Cooper with daughter Joan

Front" and it was a great success.  Gladys became the most popular pin-up of the British troops who received picture postcards of her from back home.


Gladys Cooper with son John Buckmaster

Figure 7:  Gladys Cooper with son John


Whilst in France touring, Gladys kept to herself the fact that she was again pregnant.  She returned from the tour in January 1915 and her second child John was born on 18th July that year at Gladys’ cottage at Frinton on the East coast of England.  John, just like his sister Joan would soon feature on picture postcards alongside his mother (Figure 7), and because of the popularity of Gladys he would also feature on postcards on his own, which the public were just as keen to purchase.

Frank Curzon was a theatre manager of the time and in 1915 he took over the Playhouse theatre in London.  At one point in his career he had nine London theatres under his management.  He offered Gladys the lead role opposite Charles Hawtrey in a comedy called "Please Help Emily" which opened in January 1916 and ran through the summer to capacity audiences.  Following this Gladys appeared for Curzon in another successful play at the Playhouse "The Misleading Lady" which ran for two hundred and thirty one performances through the winter of 1916.

In November 1916 Gladys was offered the chance to go into management with Curzon at the Playhouse Theatre.  Seeing this as a great opportunity to have more control on her career, she accepted.

Their first play in partnership was "Wanted a Husband" which ran for fifteen weeks.  Ironically Gladys’ husband was away at war at this time just as her career was blossoming.


In 1917 at the Playhouse Gladys appeared in "The Yellow Ticket" which ran for two hundred and thirty four performances and through the spring of 1918.  Also during this time Gladys appeared in two films "Masks and Faces" and "The Sorrows of Satan", the latter also had Owen Nares in the cast and received respectful reviews.

The Frank Curzon and Gladys Cooper management team was now well underway.  They would go on to produce twenty-two plays together at the Playhouse.  "The Naughty Wife" in 1918 was their greatest success with Charles Hawtrey playing alongside Gladys.  The play ran for five hundred and ninety eight performances over an eighteen-month period and this during war time.

Gladys’s husband Buck came back from war to a wife whose circumstances had changed dramatically since they had last lived together three and a half years earlier.  Gladys had a serious career ahead of her, she was currently earning £9000 a year from the Playhouse and other ventures compared to £1000 a year when she and Buck married.  Inevitably their marriage suffered.  Buck had seen little of his children growing up and the friends of his and Gladys’ were poles apart.  The pair parted but remained good friends for the rest of their lives, Buck still able to see Joan and John growing up.  They were eventually divorced on 12th December 1921, the thirteenth anniversary of their wedding.

In 1919 Gladys was offered the first of four Somerset Maugham plays that would be produced at the Playhouse Theatre over the following three years.  In "Home and Beauty" she played alongside Charles Hawtrey.  The play ran for two hundred and forty four performances and into April 1920.

Gladys’ theatre career now became unpredictable.  She returned to the Royalty to perform in a re-run of "My Lady’s Dress" which had been cut short by the war and later that year she returned to the Playhouse to perform in "Wedding Bells".  "Wedding Bells" ran for just twelve weeks and for less than one hundred performances.  In 1921 Gladys returned to the Gaiety where she performed in "The Betrothal", a part that Gladys was herself disappointed with, the play ran for only two months.  After "The Betrothal" Gladys appeared in another play that received poor reviews "Olivia" at the Aldwych theatre.  Then she moved onto the Ambassadors theatre where further mixed reviews were received for the play "If" in which Gladys played opposite Harry Ainley.

The Playhouse beckoned for Gladys as she struggled to gain any momentum under other managements.  In 1921 Gladys returned to the Playhouse where with Frank Curzon she produced the play "The Sign on the Door" which was very successful, running for three hundred performances through 1921 and 1922.


In 1922 Gladys returned to the movies where she was given a part acting alongside twenty-nine years old Ivor Novello, who was five years younger than Gladys.  "The Bohemian Girl" earned Gladys £150 and Novello £200, the film topped the box office polls for two years running before doing well in the USA.  See figure 8.

Back at the Playhouse, Gladys next performed in "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray", directed by Gerald du Maurier this play again received very good reviews.

Gladys left for a holiday crossing the Atlantic to New York where she was met by Ivor Novello who was now regarded as a very handsome British star.  The pair were there also to help promote "The Bohemian Girl" in New York.  Rumours of a secret engagement soon hit the press, which also did no harm in helping promote the film. 
Gladys Cooper with Ivor Novello in 'The Bohemian Girl', 1922

Figure 8.  Gladys Cooper with Ivor Novello in
"The Bohemian Girl", 1922


After two weeks Gladys was back in England at the Playhouse performing in "Magda" by Herman Sunderman, which ran until the end of July 1923.

Ivor Novello was then back in England from America and he and Gladys got together to perform at the Playhouse in a play called "Enter Kiki".  It wasn’t a good performance by the pair, Novello feeling miscast and Gladys in a weak part.  The public were disappointed but still showed up for a number of months to see the pair perform together.

Both Ivor and Gladys could put that performance behind them however, as they were soon to appear on screen in the silent film "Bonnie Prince Charlie" which was very successful at the box office and for which Gladys received very good reviews.


Gladys Cooper with Owen Nares

Figure 9:  Gladys Cooper with Owen Nares

Gladys was now to have nearly four years away from performing at the Playhouse.  In 1923 she went to the Adelphi Theatre where she performed one of her favourite roles, that of "Peter Pan", a part she played in her own way, but her performance didn’t please everybody.  She also did a revival of "Diplomacy" again with Owen Nares alongside her (see Figure 9) at the Adelphi theatre.  The original performances in 1913 were very successful but this revival was not as good.  Then followed a part in the play "Iris" at the Adelphi, which struggled to achieve only one hundred and thirty performances.

A much better part for Gladys came in 1925 in "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" at the St James’s Theatre, a play by Frederick Lonsdale and directed by Gerald du Maurier, who also performed in the play.  Gladys’

performance of Mrs. Cheyney brought her to the height of her London fame.  The play opened on 26th September running for five hundred and fourteen performances over an eighteen-month period.  Gladys was again popular with the public, so much so that she launched her name onto a brand of beauty products she would refer to as "My Own Beauty Preparation" which she advertised in her theatre programmes and promoted in the major chemist stores when she was on tour.

At this time Frank Curzon took ill and was no longer able to carry on managing at the Playhouse.  Gladys was offered full control of the theatre, which she accepted.  Her first play in sole charge was to be another Somerset Maugham play called "The Letter" which, including a tour of the play, ran for sixty weeks and made a profit of forty thousand pounds from an initial investment of four hundred pounds.  But this was a success Gladys would be unable to repeat as tougher times were ahead.  During the production of "The Letter" Frank Curzon died. 

Gladys was now approaching forty years old and was well established within the theatre world with a twenty-year career behind her.  She had everything going for her but she was still single and still yearned for another child. 

Gladys was seeing Sir Neville Pearson who was the son of a British newspaper magnate, and stories appeared in the press about their close friendship.  He was ten years younger than Gladys and had previously been married.  On June 15th 1928 the "Dorking Echo" printed a headline announcing their marriage, following their marriage Gladys was also known as Lady Pearson.

In September 1928 Gladys performed in "Excelsior" at the Playhouse.  The play did reasonably well creating a profit of five thousand pounds following thirteen weeks at the Playhouse, which was then followed by a short tour.  Gladys’ sister Doris also performed in the play as a maid.  This performance was then followed by play "The Sacred Flame", another written by Somerset Maugham. 


"The Sacred Flame" had been running for over two hundred performances and was showing a good profit, when Gladys announced that she would be leaving the stage for a while due to her being pregnant with her third child.  Sally Pearson was born in 1930 at Gladys’ Highgate home.

In her absence the Playhouse went into deep decline during the early months of 1930, and to avoid bankruptcy Gladys needed to get it up and running again.  Along with Gerald du Maurier, Gladys performed in the play "Cynara", choosing to act a minor part in the play which lasted two hundred and fifty performances over thirty two weeks, making a small but respectable profit.  It would be Gladys’ last real success at the Playhouse.

Gladys remained in management at the Playhouse for a
Gladys Cooper with Joan Buckmaster, John Buckmaster & Sally Pearson

Figure 10:  Gladys Cooper with her children John Buckmaster, Sally Pearson & Joan  Buckmaster

further three years, but during this time of depression audiences were losing interest in theatre, and the cinema was becoming more popular with the general public. 

Gladys’ marriage to Neville Pearson was also suffering.  She and her husband found they had little in common and money was tight for them adding further pressure on their marriage.  Joan was happy with Sir. Neville but happier with Buck with whom she kept in close contact.  Their son John, now fifteen, had never been happy with this second marriage.

Further performances at the Playhouse included "The Pelican" which ran for seventy two performances, "The Painted Veil" another Somerset Maugham play which struggled for a hundred and twenty performances and following these plays were "King, Queen, Knave" which lasted for twenty performances, "Doctor Pygmalion" which in 1932 lasted a mere three months and less than one hundred performances, and "Firebird" which lasted a respectable one hundred and twenty performances plus further tour performances, but this was an expensive production to put on.  Next was the play "Flies in the Sun" which opened on 18th January 1933 and ran for ten weeks receiving some of the worst reviews that Gladys had suffered for her time at the Playhouse.  Gladys had higher hopes for "The Rats of Norway" a Keith Winter play, which opened on 6th April 1933 with a young 26 year old Laurence Olivier in the cast.  But after one hundred and twenty three performances the play was showing a loss of nearly five hundred pounds.

Gladys’ sole management of the Playhouse was now at an end.  She had been in charge of the theatre for seven years for what was a roller coaster ride.  She left the theatre in July 1933 and was in a position of considerable debt and had to resort to selling some of her personal belongings just to make ends meet.

Gladys’ relationship with Sir Neville was now practically at an end and in February 1934 she and daughter Sally went to Canada where, with Raymond Massey, Gladys performed in a Keith Winter play called "The Shining Hour" at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto before moving the play on to the Booth Theatre in Broadway.  The play received good reviews and could have gone on longer in Broadway but it had also been promised at St James’s Theatre in London that autumn before going on tour in Britain.  The play was very successful and helped get Gladys back on her feet financially.

Philip Merivale was an English actor but the majority of his work took place in American theatres.  He was a big fan of Gladys’ and he asked Derek Williams, a mutual friend, if he would introduce him to her.  The pair met and Philip was overwhelmed by her, the pair having much in common.  He was a father of four teenagers and a husband of a wife who was dying.  Gladys’ divorce with Sir. Neville was a long drawn out affair and not until 30th April 1937 could she and Merivale marry into what would be the strongest of Gladys’ three marriages (Figure 11).  Their marriage took place in Chicago.  The four step children that Gladys inherited were called Rosamund, Valentine, Jack and David.  After "The Shining Hour" performances in Britain had ended in 1935 the pair and Gladys' daughter Sally decided to move to Broadway where they could both hope to find work.  Gladys' other daughter Joan was twenty-five and now fending for herself and her son John was aged twenty and starting a stage career of his own.

Gladys made her first talking film in 1935 appearing in "The Iron Duke" with George Arliss, Gladys acting the part of the Duchesse d’Angouleme.  This would be her only film of the 1930’s.

Gladys Cooper with Philip Merivale

Figure 11:  Gladys Cooper with her
third husband
Philip Merivale


Merivale was keen for Gladys and he to work together infront of the American public and so he arranged for the pair to appear in both "Othello" and "Macbeth", both of which were disasters for them losing virtually all of Merivale’s savings.  The pair were to perform together again at the Morosco theatre in the Tyrone Guthrie production "Call it a Day".  The play, written by Dodie Smith, was brought to Broadway after being successful in London.  Gladys’ son John also appeared in the play acting the part of Martin Hilton, her stage son. The play was a hit.

Gladys & Philip returned to England intent on acting together.  They did seven shows together during twelve months but generally the pair were failing to impress the public.  The shows included the James Parish play "Goodbye to Yesterday" at the Phoenix Theatre, which closed after only four days.  They also performed together in "Dodsworth" at Cochrane’s Palace Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue, which lasted only six weeks, before again attempting to turn Gladys into a Classical actress at the Open Air theatre in Regents Park by performing in "Lysistrata" and in Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Nights Dream", "Twelfth Night" and "As You Like It".  But again Gladys was not comfortable doing Shakespeare and the public weren’t impressed.

Gladys next performed on tour but without Merivale in John Perry’s "Spring Meeting", a play that had already been successfully performed in the West End.  John Gielgud directed the play and Gladys performed alongside A. E. Matthews.  The tour was successful for Gladys but the feeling was that she and Merivale had a bigger opportunity of making a better living by returning to America.  The chance to take "Spring Meeting" to Broadway was the incentive they needed to go.  The play however struggled on Broadway and closed in early 1939.

Gladys & Philip struggled to find work during the remainder of 1939 and with rumours of war back home the couple wondered whether they should head back to England to be with their families.  But at the time there was little chance of work for the pair in London.  They decided in the short term to take "Spring Meeting" on tour with Philip cast in the A.E. Matthews role alongside Gladys.  The tour only helped pay the bills.

Gladys then had a change of luck as Daphne de Maurier, the daughter of Gerald du Maurier, made contact with her.  She had written a best seller called "Rebecca" which was to be filmed in Hollywood by the English Director Alfred Hitchcock. 


Gladys was offered a small part in the film but was guaranteed to earn $3500 for three weeks work.  Also appearing in the film were Laurence Olivier, Nigel Bruce and Joan Fontain.  See figure 12.  Gladys did not think too much of the part but the film was a huge success collecting the 1940 Academy Award for best picture.  The film was recorded in California, a part of the world that Gladys loved and she then chose to set up home there where she spent the best part of the following thirty years.

War broke out in September 1939 and Gladys kept in close touch with her family in England, frequently writing home and sending food and clothes parcels to Joan and to her two sisters.  Gladys heard from Joan that she was to marry the actor Robert Morley. Joan met Robert Morley through her brother John, in 1938.  John had been in New York where he had acted
Gladys Cooper with Nigel Bruce and Joan Fontaine in Rebecca

Figure 12:  Gladys Cooper with Nigel Bruce and Joan Fontaine
  in a scene from the film "Rebecca"

alongside Morley in Norman Marshall’s production of the play "Oscar Wilde", John playing the part of Lord Alfred Douglas.  John introduced Robert Morley to Joan and the pair married on 23rd February 1940. 

The success of "Rebecca" was the start of a long Hollywood film career for Gladys as she would go on to make thirty films there.  Later in 1939 she was given a part in the film "Kitty Foyle" at the RKO studios and in 1940 a part in the film "That Hamilton Woman" which was released in 1941 and which was a big box office success.  This was a film that Winston Churchill stated was his favourite.  Gladys was involved in two further films recorded in 1941 "The Black Cat" and "The Gay Falcon".


Gladys Cooper in Now Voyager

Figure 13: Gladys Cooper in
"Now Voyager", 1942


In 1942 Gladys made two films "Eagle Squadron" and "Now Voyager" (see Figure 13) and performed in one play "Morning Star" which also had a young Gregory Peck in the cast of whom few people had heard. He played the part of Gladys’ son in the play.  "Now Voyager" was one of Gladys’ major film successes.  The film made at Warner's also starred Bette Davis and gained Gladys the first of three Academy Award nominations that she would receive during her film career.  The second nomination arrived the following year for "The Song of Bernadette" in which Gladys performed the part of Sister Therese.  Gladys gained little satisfaction from her film career still preferring to perform infront of live audiences, but she needed to make a living if she wanted to remain in her beloved California.  She was soon given a forty-week contract to work with MGM, which was then extended to a five-year contract.  Philip also had some work from MGM, though not as much as Gladys, but it contributed to an income which would enable Gladys, Philip and Sally, now thirteen, to settle into a more comfortable lifestyle.

The quality of film Gladys would perform in was often poor.  In 1945 she appeared in "The Valley of Decision", "Love Letters" and "The Green Years", none of which were particularly successful, and there were plenty of others.  Gladys generally received good reviews for what were generally small parts in poor films.

In 1945 Sally was encouraged to start an acting career.  Later that year she took part in the Oscar Wilde play "Lady Windermere’s Fan" in California, a play in which John Buckmaster, her half brother, and her stepbrother Jack Merivale, also had parts.  The play was then taken to Broadway where they played the 1946-47 season.  Soon after this John was troubled with a mental illness, which would at times lead to violence.  His condition worsened over the coming years. 

Philip soon became ill with heart trouble and on 12th March 1946 he died aged 59 in the Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles.  Gladys’ marriage to Philip was the strongest of her three marriages, but it was also the shortest of the three.  They were married for nine years, but a lot of that time they were apart as they both had to move around for work. She chose to keep the name Gladys Cooper Merivale for the rest of her years.

Gladys spent the next few years moving back and forth from California to England as various work opportunities arose in films, theatre and in guest appearances on television.


In 1947 Gladys recorded the film "The Pirate" a film which also starred Judy Garland and Gene Kelly (see Figure 14) before she was given the chance to return to London to appear in a Peter Ustinov play called "The Indifferent Shepherd".  This was to be Gladys’ first play since the end of the war and an ideal opportunity to return to London where her fans very warmly greeted her.  The play opened on 5th February 1948 at the Criterion theatre and ran for one hundred performances.

Gladys’ five years with MGM ended with her appearing in the film "Madam Bovary", a film which included Jennifer Jones in the cast.  Gladys then spent a lot of her time back in England, as there was less work for her in California.  She bought a second home at Henley-on-Thames for her England visits.
Gladys Cooper with Judy Garland in The Pirate 1948

Figure 14:  Gladys Cooper & Judy Garland in
"The Pirate", 1948



Further minor parts became available for Gladys in both the theatre based in England and in films back in Hollywood but it was not until 1951 that the next good opportunity arose for Gladys in a Noel Coward play called "Relative Values".  Coward both directed and acted in the play, which opened on 28th November 1951.  It ran for four hundred and seventy seven performances over a year and a half and was, therefore, a huge success.

In February 1952 Gladys’ son John was arrested by police in Manhattan after violent conduct emanating from his mental illness.  Gladys found it difficult to accept that it was a long-term illness that John had, expecting him to make some kind of recovery.  But John was put into the Bellevue Hospital for the Criminally Insane in New York only to be later released following his agreement to leave the United States for good, which he did in 1952.  John was then kept in a clinic in England where he spent his latter years, but he refused to see either Gladys or his father Buck, blaming them for his breakdowns.

In 1953 Gladys was given another play, Wynyard Browne’s "A Question of Fact", directed by Frith Banbury, which ran for eight months through most of 1954.  Also in 1954 she went onto radio for the BBC to do a radio version of "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray" before going on tour in another play "The Night of the Ball" directed by Joseph Losey which ran from January to March 1955.

Gladys was then moved back on Broadway where she had one of her greatest theatre successes in "The Chalk Garden" which opened at the Ethel Barrymore theatre in New York on 26th October 1955.  The play was the biggest hit of that Broadway season running through until April 1956 and Gladys was nominated for a "Tony" award as Best Actress (Dramatic) for her part.  Gladys was then called to do the same play in London directed by John Gielgud for six weeks at the Haymarket before she returned again to America for a tour with the same play. 

Gladys then appeared back in England in a series of weaker plays during which time she also returned to California to act in the film "Separate Tables" a film which did well at the box office with a cast which included Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr and David Niven. 

Robert Hardy was a very close friend of Gladys’ daughter Sally.  He was married and Gladys met him for the first time in London in 1957.  Gladys was not too happy with their friendship but, nevertheless, Sally and Robert Hardy eventually married.

Gladys’ final Broadway appearance came in 1962 when she won her second nomination for a Tony Award for her performance in "A Passage to India".


Also in 1962 Gladys appeared in Rod Serling's popular tv series "The Twilight Zone" in an episode called "Nothing in the Dark", which also included Robert Redford in the cast.  She would later appear in two further episodes, "Passage on the Lady Anne" and "Night Call".


Gladys Cooper and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady

Figure 15:  Rex Harrison and Gladys Cooper in "My Fair Lady"

In 1963 Gladys won her third and last Academy Award nomination for her part in the smash hit film "My Fair Lady" directed by George Cukor.  This film involved many of Gladys’ friends from the past including Cecil Beaton and Rex Harrison (who played Professor Higgins), Gladys playing the part of his mother in the film.  See Figure 15.

Later that year Gladys was offered a three year contract by David Niven for what would be her first television series, a popular television series called "The Rogues" which was shown on both American and British television through 1964-66.

Gladys sold her California home in the Autumn of 1966, she was now 77 years old and ready to settle back in England closer to her family.  Most of her remaining work was in the London theatre though she did have one more musical film to perform, "The Happiest Millionaire", which was made by Walt Disney.


On the 10th June 1967 Gladys was made a Dame in the Queens Birthday Honours list for her contributions to the acting profession which brought her hundreds of letters from around the world from well wishers.

In the autumn of 1967 Gladys went on tour with the play "Let’s All Go Down the Strand", the tour ending in the Spring of 1968. Later that year she performed in the comedy play "Out of the Question", a successful play that ran well into 1969 during which on 18th December Gladys reached her eightieth birthday.  The theatre audience that night was packed with family and friends.

In 1969 Gladys appeared in her last film "A Nice Girl Like Me" and later that year she appeared on tour in the play "His, Hers and Theirs".

It was in 1970 that Gladys performed in her last ever play, a revival of "The Chalk Garden" at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre opening in November before going on tour with it.  Gladys’ health was now deteriorating as she was suffering from lung cancer, though it didn’t show in her performances.  It was after the Billingham Forum performance of "The Chalk Garden" that her health suddenly took a turn for the worse and she was taken to Guy’s Hospital in London for treatment.  She died on 16th November 1971 aged eighty-two.
Gladys Cooper
Gladys Constance Cooper 1888 - 1971




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