Jeanne Cooper: Star of US daytime TV for four decades

 

Jeanne Cooper, who died on 8 May at the age of 84, was an enduring star of American soap opera. She played grande dame Katherine Chancellor for nearly four decades on The Young and the Restless.

Cooper, born in the California town of Taft in 1928 and attended the College of the Pacific as well as performing in local theatre productions before her professional career began with the 1953 film The Redhead from Wyoming starring Maureen O'Hara. Her other film credits include 1968's The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis and 1967's Tony Rome with Frank Sinatra.

She had a parallel career on television, with shows including The Adventures of Kit Carson in 1953, The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse in 1954 and Bracken's World in 1969 and 1970.

In a recurring role on “L.A. Law,” she played the mother to the character played by her son, Corbin Bernsen, Arnie, and received a Emmy nomination 1987 for best guest actress in a drama. Bernsen later joined his mother on The Young and the Restless, making several appearances as a priest, Father Todd.

It was Cooper's role on The Young and the Restless that made her a TV star intimately familiar to viewers. In 1984, Coooper's real-life facelift was televised on the show as her character underwent the operation at the same time, and had no regrets about it.

“It opened up reconstructive surgery for so many people, youngsters getting things done,” she said. “To this day, people will come up to me and say, 'Thank you so much for doing that. My mom or I had something done, and not just cosmetic surgery.' That was an incredible experience in my life.”

The Young and the Restless has topped the daytime serial ratings for more than 24 years, in part because of the continuity provided by Cooper and its other long-time stars including Eric Braeden. It held its ground as the genre diminished in popularity and the majority of soaps vanished. Cooper joined the serial six months after its March 1973 debut, staking claim to the title of longest-tenured cast member. She earned 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and an award for best actress in a drama series in 2008.

“God knows it's claimed a big part of my life,” she said in March as The Young and the Restless celebrated its 40th anniversary. As the years passed, she had brushed aside thoughts of saying goodbye to the show and its fictional Wisconsin town of Genoa City.

“What would I do? I'm no good at crocheting. My fingers would bleed,” she said last September, with her 84th birthday approaching.

Cooper's 30-year marriage to Harry Bernsen ended in divorce. Corbin Bernsen had tweeted in April that his mother faced an “uphill battle” for an undisclosed illness. In subsequent days he wrote of her gradual improvement. In a Facebook posting on 17 April, Bernsen said his mother had cursed several times, “showing me that she's becoming her old self, not thrilled about the situation, and ready to get out of the hospital and shake up the world.” When her death was announced, Bernsen wrote that she had remained a fighter until the end.

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