Constance Cooper 1888 - 1971
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
food and drink magazine. Twice
married he had four children by his first wife Fanny Russell, two sons
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
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
Street, London, to be photographed. Her two sisters often
accompanied her. By 1900 Gladys was regularly in demand as a
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
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
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
1: A young Gladys Cooper (left)
with actress Marie Studholme
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.
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".
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
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.
1906, at the age of seventeen, Gladys was given a part
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,
George Edwardes was a theatre manager of the time. He managed,
amongst others, the Gaiety, Daly’s and Adelpi Theatre’s. He
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,
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.
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"
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 Fizz. He
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"
as Sadie Von Tromp
alongside Joseph Coyne as Harry Q Conder.
March 1912, back at the Royalty Theatre Gladys had her first real
as a straight actress playing the part of Muriel Pym in the play "Milestones". The
play ran for 607 performances over an
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
for her postcards. "Aristophot Co. Ltd", London, was one of the
her postcards, issuing a series of postcards prior to 1910. Few
from any other publisher featuring Gladys can be found prior to that
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
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
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.
figure 3. She also appeared that year at Drury Lane acting the
part of Beauty in the play "Everywoman".
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
partnerships of the twenties and thirties. He
suggested to her the
her playing the
leading woman’s part in "Diplomacy",
play that had been successful years earlier. See figure 4.
3: Gladys Cooper in "Milestones"
as Hon. Muriel Pym with
Eadie as Sir John Rhead and Mary Jerrold as Lady Rhead.
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
1913 Gladys appeared in her first film, a silent film called "The
Eleventh Commandment". She played a small part which
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
Husband", both were reasonably successful. She also at
starred alongside Owen Nares in the silent film "Dandy Donovan the
Gentleman Cracksman", but she could not take to acting in films
preferring to perform in live theatre.
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
figure 5. The
play had a cast of twenty character parts and Gladys
played seven of them, Anne, Annie, Nina, Annette, Antje, Anna and
received excellent reviews as a dramatic actress for her
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.
daughter Joan was also photographed and
her mother in popular mother
Gladys Cooper as Anne in "My Lady's
and daughter poses. See
figure 6. Joan
then made appearances on postcards on her own and
very popular, at times being just as popular
as her mother
to the postcard buying public.
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
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.
Seymour Hicks and his wife
Ellaline Terriss, then took a small party to visit and tour France to
entertain the soldiers.
tour was called "The National
Theatre at the
Figure 6: Gladys Cooper with
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.
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
Figure 7: Gladys Cooper with
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
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
Their first play in partnership was "Wanted
which ran for fifteen weeks. Ironically Gladys’ husband was away
at war at this time just as her career was blossoming.
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
success with Charles Hawtrey playing alongside Gladys. The play
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
In 1919 Gladys was offered the first of four Somerset Maugham plays
that would be produced at the Playhouse Theatre over the following
years. In "Home and Beauty"
she played alongside Charles Hawtrey.
The play ran for two hundred and forty four performances and into April
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" 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
1921 and 1922.
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
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
hit the press, which also did no harm in helping promote the
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
together to perform at the Playhouse in a play called "Enter
Kiki". It wasn’t a good performance by the pair, Novello
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
Both Ivor and Gladys could put that performance behind them however, as
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.
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’
Gladys Cooper with Owen Nares
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
achieve only one hundred and thirty performances.
of Mrs. Cheyney brought her to the height of her London
fame. The play opened on 26th September running for five hundred
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
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
"The Sacred Flame" had been running
for over two
hundred performances and was showing a good profit, when Gladys
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.
her absence the Playhouse went into deep decline during the early
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
respectable profit. It would be Gladys’ last real success at the
remained in management at the Playhouse for a
Figure 10: Gladys Cooper with
her children John
Buckmaster, Sally Pearson & Joan Buckmaster
but during this time of depression audiences
were losing interest
in theatre, and the cinema was becoming more popular with the general
Gladys’ marriage to Neville Pearson was also suffering. She and
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
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
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
three performances the play was showing a loss of nearly five hundred
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
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
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 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
the play acting the part of Martin Hilton, her stage son. The play was
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
by performing in "Lysistrata"
and in Shakespeare’s "A
Midsummer Nights Dream", "Twelfth
Night" and "As You Like It".
again Gladys was not comfortable doing Shakespeare and the public
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
Gladys & Philip struggled to find work during the remainder of 1939
with rumours of war back home the couple wondered
whether they should head back to England to be with their
at the time there was little chance of work for the pair in
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
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
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
John had been in New York where he had acted
Gladys Cooper with Nigel Bruce and Joan Fontaine
in a scene from the film "Rebecca"
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
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", 1942
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
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
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
much as Gladys, but it contributed to an income which would enable
Gladys, Philip and Sally, now thirteen, to settle into a more
quality of film Gladys would perform in was often poor. In
1945 she appeared in "The Valley of
Decision", "Love Letters"
Green Years", none of which were particularly successful, and
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
England as various work opportunities arose in films, theatre and
in guest appearances on television.
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
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 & 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
and seventy seven performances over a year and a half and was,
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
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
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
which opened at the
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
Robert Hardy was a very close friend of Gladys’ daughter Sally.
married and Gladys met him for the first time in London in 1957.
Gladys was not too happy with their friendship but, nevertheless, Sally
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
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.
Rex Harrison and Gladys Cooper in "My Fair Lady"
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
Constance Cooper 1888 - 1971
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