Remembering Jeanne Cooper

The Archive is sad to learn of the passing of actress Jeanne Cooper, who died this morning at the age of 84. Cooper was best known for playing “Katherine Chancellor” on the hit soap opera The Young and the Restless. She also had guest roles on The Twilight Zone, M Squad, and Perry Mason, and appeared opposite her son, Corbin Bernsen, on L.A. Law.

Below are some excerpts from her 2009 Archive interview:

On the set of her character’s house on The Young and the Restless:

My set, “Katherine Chancellor’s,” was the most expensive set ever built for daytime at that time. Which, in 1973, at $175,000 plus, was a lot of money because that was the budget for some shows. What it did was change all of the other shows and bring them out of the dark into a more updated presentation and it elevated daytime. That’s when they took on serious scripts and what have you. But we had sets. We had places, we had towns. People could identify. It was no longer, “My Girl Sunday,” Marion Lord, and old mining towns in West Virginia.

On whether she feels there’s a stigma associated with daytime television:

You’re not really looked down upon by, let’s say, prime time or motion pictures, because they’ve all been watching daytime. But you’re just not considered in their league.  And that is the sadness, for anyone who thinks like that. Because we have people that could get out there and probably outdo so many of them, more talented. Again, do you want to be an actress or do you want to be a movie star?  You have a chance to be an actress on daytime. I’ve proved that as the only media that allows you to get older. My character started 36 years ago. So there’s a big difference between me 36 years ago and today. I sort of helped say, “it’s okay to be over 50.” I helped, saying, “it’s okay to have a nip and a tuck here and there, if you need, what have you.” I’ve made it okay and strange enough, there’s a commercial that says, “I want to grow up to be an old woman.” I think back, then maybe the creators of women [characters] will be able to be older, allow the girls, after the cosmetic surgery and what have you, after the admission of age, come out and say, “hey, I’m not dead at 50. I’m just starting to live at 50.”

On having the first facelift on television in 1984 as “Katherine Chancellor:”

Well, I personally was going to have a facelift and I knew if I looked any better, “Katherine” was bound to have a few changes in her life.  So I talked to Bill Bell about, “can I have some time off, if I needed it?” – my vacation was coming up.  But if I needed another week, so he said, “well yeah, I’m sure.”  But he came down to the dressing room one day and he said, “Jeanne, how would you feel about if we sort of put ‘Katherine’ through this?” I said, well, “it’s a very good idea, since I’m going through it and I am ‘Katherine.’” … They filmed the surgery.  Most amazing thing. The next day I was to go to Dr. Glassman’s office to remove the bandages. He said, “if it’s too messy, if she bleeds a little bit too much, I want to be able to clean her up and we will rewrap it. I said, “I promise you, I won’t bleed.” So it was filmed.  And Jack Wellman, who was my doctor, was doing the voice, but you would see Harry Glassman’s hands doing all the work. We had 52% of the viewing audience of television that day; one of the highest ratings that CBS has ever had. Fifty-two percent of the people watching television were watching The Young and the Restless and this operation. It was so successful that it broke cosmetic surgery wide open.

On playing the mother of real-life son, Corbin Bernsen, on L.A. Law:

On winning a Daytime Emmy:

On how she’d like to be remembered:

Oh gosh, how would one like to be remembered?  I think possibly to be remembered, that… I made things possible. I made things happen. So that’s an impact on life. That I’ve impacted life somehow. Whether it’s better or worse is not for me or anyone else to say, I don’t think. But I think I’d like to be remembered as someone who loved doing what she did.

Watch Jeanne Cooper’s full Archive interview.

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