Best know for her roles 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)
The Eleventh Commandment
Danny Donovan, the Gentleman Cracksman
The Real Thing at Last
The Sorrows of Satan
Masks and Faces
My Lady’s Dress
The Bohemian Girl
Bonnie Prince Charlie
The Iron Duke
The Black Cat
A Yank in the R.A.F.
The Gay Falcon
This Above All
Forever and a Day
The White Cliffs of Dover
The Valley of Decision
The Green Years
Beware of Pity
The Cockeyed Miracle
Thunder on the Hill
At Sword’s Point
The Man Who Loved Redheads
The List of Adrian Messenger
The Happiest Millionaire
A Nice Girl Like Me
[on looking into a mirror, on her deathbed]: If this is what virus pneumonia does to one, I really don’t think I shall bother to have it again. ~ Gladys Cooper
Gladys Cooper was born Gladys Constance Cooper on December 18, 1888 in Hither Green, Lewisham, London, the eldest of the three daughters of Charles William Frederick Cooper (1844–1939) by his marriage to Mabel Barnett (1861–1944). Her two younger sisters were Doris Mabel (1891–1987) and Grace Muriel (1893–1982). Gladys Cooper spent most of her childhood in Chiswick, where her family moved when she was an infant.
She made her stage debut in 1905 touring with Seymour Hicks in his musical Bluebell in Fairyland.
In 1913 Cooper appeared in her first film, The Eleventh Commandment, going on to make several more silent films during the First World War and shortly afterwards. She continued full-time stage work as well. 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 turned to film full-time in 1940, finding success in Hollywood in a variety of character roles and was frequently cast as a disapproving, aristocratic society woman, although she sometimes played lively, approachable types, as she did in Rebecca (1940). 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). In 1945, after playing the role of Clarissa Scott in the film The Valley of Decision, for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer she was given a contract with the studio. Her credits there included both dramatic and comedy films, including The Green Years (1946), The Cockeyed Miracle (1946) and The Secret Garden (1949). Other notable film roles were The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955), Separate Tables (1958) and The Happiest Millionaire (1967) as Aunt Mary Drexel, singing “There Are Those”.
She returned to theatre between films in the 1950s and 1960s. She also had various television roles in the 1950s and ’60s. Cooper starred in the 1964–65 series The Rogues with David Niven, Charles Boyer, Gig Young, Robert Coote, John Williams and Larry Hagman. The series lasted a single season of thirty episodes, most of which featured Cooper as the matriarch of a crime family.
In 1967, at the age of 79, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). Her last major success on the stage was at age 82, in 1970–71 in the role of Mrs. St. Maugham in Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden, a role she had created on Broadway and in the West End in 1955–56.
Cooper was married three times.
- Captain Herbert Buckmaster (1908–1921). The couple had two children: Joan (1910–2005), who was married to the actor Robert Morley, and John Rodney (1915–83).
- Sir Neville Pearson (1927–36). Sir Neville and Lady Pearson had one daughter, Sally Pearson, aka Sally Cooper, who was married (1961–86) to actor Robert Hardy.
- Philip Merivale (1937–1946), a fellow actor. The couple lived for many years in Santa Monica, California as permanent resident aliens. He died at age 59 from a heart ailment. Her stepson from this marriage was John Merivale.
She lived mostly in England in her final years and died from pneumonia at the age of 82 in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire.