As my final selection in this sixty-one day biography marathon (or bio binge as I have aptly named it), I turned to a quirky memoir of an on-screen character who is synonymous with daytime television; Jeanne Cooper. While the reader may not immediately recognise the name, many who have taken the time to sit down and discover the exciting stories that come from the fictional Genoa City, Wisconsin will know Katherine Chancellor and the longevity she brought to The Young and the Restless (Y&R). Cooper became not only the matriarch of Y&R, but also made a name for herself in the 1950s and 60s on-screen with many major television and movie actors, relationships she brings to light throughout this poignant memoir. More a tell-all than I would have expected, but still highly interesting and full of interesting tidbits. Cooper pulls no punches, but also lauds praise upon many of those who have shaped her life in acting and the personal relationships she was able to garner from these interactions. A highly entertaining and somewhat educational piece that many readers will enjoy, even if they have to admit their guilty pleasure.
Born in Taft, California just before the Depression, Cooper opens her piece by explaining that she was considered “the night the diaphragm didn’t’ work” by her mother. A wonderful place to begin a life that had seen much, even at an early age. With a father who brought his family wherever the work might be, Cooper was left without a strong paternal relationship, which left her lacking something. Her closeness was fostered with a loving mother through numerous stories in the opening chapter, none so chilling as two molestation revelations during her childhood. By the time Cooper finished public school, she was struck with the agonising death of her mother from cancer and sought to console herself by moving to Los Angeles to become an actress. Studying as hard as she could, Cooper was approached by some executives to get into the new and uncertain world of television, something she felt would only be a fad. After much coaxing, Cooper agreed to try it and soon found herself enamoured with the medium. It was there that she met some of her long-time acting friends, including Raymond Burr, a man with whom she would be close on multiple levels until his death. During her early years on television, Cooper met Harry Bernsen, an agent who sought to sweep her off her feet. While he did do that, their fun always had a degree of intrigue, stirring up both amorous and angering sentiments inside Cooper. When she found herself pregnant, Cooper did not bat an eyelash and soon sought to make Bernsen settle down with her. While he remained at her side, his work took him all over, leaving Cooper to wonder about how dedicated he was to her. Cooper gave birth to Corbin in 1954, hoping this might light a fire under Bernsen, but Harry remained somewhat distant, even with a new baby to show off to the world. Cooper recounts that Bernsen treated his son as somewhat of a pariah, calling a simple hematoma a deformity and wishing no one to come by to visit baby Corbin. Cooper took definite offence to this, though she remained as calm as possible. When Bernsen asked to marry her, she agreed, but was left struggling to understand his commitment when he rushed her to Tiajuana for a long weekend than have a full-fledged ceremony. Two other children followed and Cooper’s career continued to soar, while her husband was always off with numerous lovely women, only exacerbating the wonder of his fidelity. Cooper mentions some interesting vignettes about how Bernsen tried to shuffle her off, though she was too wise to fall for the bait. Still, she needed a distraction, or at least a sign that some new path would help her find her way.
While vacationing with her family in 1973, a call came from a producer who wanted to cast her in the role of Katherine Chancellor for a new soap opera, The Young and the Restless. Cooper was shocked and dubious, having never worked on the five-day a week filming routine. Still was intrigued and agreed, even though the three years they wanted as commitment seemed to be quite a blood promise. From the time she began as Katherine, Cooper found her niche and fell in love with the character and the writing. Never one to shy away from conflict when it was well-deserved, Cooper tells of many screaming matches with writers, directors, producers, and her fellow co-stars, all in an attempt to make the show better and more believable. Cooper bursts the bubble that many viewers likely have, commenting that even the actors roll their eyes at some of the dialogue or storylines that are presented to them, though there always seemed to be a flavour of reality with many of the stories that found their way to air on CBS. Cooper explores some of the interesting storylines that she encountered during her years on Y&R, noting some of the special actors and actresses with whom she worked. In true tell-all fashion, she even revealed a year-long romance she had with one of her co-stars, which might surprise many fans who have a long viewing history with the show. Shocking to most readers (and Y&R fans alike) will be the revelation that Cooper did not win her first Daytime Emmy for Katherine Chancellor until 2008. This is a shock to many who will remember her memorable double portrayal in 1990, an episode that is discussed at length in the book, particularly when the eventual winner was sure Cooper had the award. In the latter portion of the memoir, Cooper spends time regaling some of her favourite co-stars and telling some of the behind the scenes stories about them while also tipping her hand at some of the secrets she has been keeping from the world. In the waning chapters, Cooper turns to address the role her children and grandchildren play in her life, recounting touching stories about their growth and her admiration for each one. Remaining high on her own personal soap box, the memoir ends with some public services that Cooper holds dear and will forever cherish. A refreshing and powerful memoir that exemplifies that longevity does not equate to stale acting, but a dedication to the larger family unit. Cooper’s words captivate and intrigue while they entertain and encourage.
Those who have read my review of Eric Braeden’s memoir, Cooper’s long-time friend and Y&R co-star, will realise that I struggled with admitting my guilty pleasure at being a long-time fan of the soap opera. However, as I discovered, being an off-again, on-again, fan of Y&R, I was all the more interested to see some of the intriguing aspects of the memoir, particularly those that surrounded the program. That being said, I did learn so much more about Cooper and her life before taking on the role of alcoholic and powerful Katherine Chancellor, particularly her fame in early television. Cooper exemplifies throughout this piece that she never looked back to those days or on those with whom she acted and left them in the dust. Her journey is praised at every turn and her stepping stones are equally important to her larger journey. Cooper keeps things real and takes no prisoners, as her ex-husband can attest to, when she pushed him out for blatant infidelity. Cooper uses her smooth narrative to push the reader through a wonderful story with ample stops along the way. A tell-all, as I explained earlier, though also filled with classy depictions, so as not to vilify anyone whose name graces the pages of this book. Cooper was a family woman, be it blood or work, and never forgot those who loved her, with exponential amounts of affection to send back. The world lost a wonderful actress and daytime television lost a stellar personality when Jeanne Cooper died alongside the Katherine Chancellor character. Hollywood, Genoa City, and the world will miss her and many are thankful she is never to be replaced and always remembered.
Kudos, Madam Cooper for your straight talk and wonderful storytelling. While I have not watched Y&R for numerous years, you will be missed and are loved by many. Thank you for sharing your most intimate moments and remaining classy the entire time.