Remembering Y&R's Duchess, the iconic Jeanne Cooper

Posted Friday, May 10, 2013 12:05:14 PM
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Remembering Y&R's Duchess, the iconic Jeanne Cooper

Soap opera columnist Lynda Hirsch shares her memories and interviews with the late Jeanne Cooper. The Young and the Restless star passed away on May 8, 2013, at the age of 84.

Over the years I had the pleasure of interviewing the late Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor) myriad times. It seems so odd to say late. Copper died on May 8, 2013, after a valiant three-week battle with an undisclosed illness.

Knowing Cooper, I cannot imagine she wants any tears. In one of our interviews, she said, "If you think negative thoughts about a situation, you are beating yourself." It was sentiment that her son, actor Corbin Bernsen, echoed when he spent the last few weeks asking fans and friends to pray. It also was the reason he was upset when a former castmate of his mother's tweeted that she had died several days before it happened

"Listen my dear," she said in that gravely tinged voice. "It takes more than prayer. You have to work at things too."

Work she did. For 60 years, Cooper was on one show business set or the other.

The first time we talked she said, "I suppose you want to talk about that facelift." She was right. That facelift was a plotline on The Young and the Restless. Katherine and Jeanne underwent a facelift at the same time. "I told Bill Bell, for once we were going to do it my way." she said with her trademark throaty laugh. "For once, he let me."

Cooper's actual surgery was filmed like a documentary and was slipped into the show. "It had to be real. I insisted that the day I had my bandages removed, the same was happening for Kay. I was bruised and swollen, but pretty happy with the results. It was not that easy for Kay. Nothing ever is."

The facelift was not the only thing the duo shared. "For years, Kay went on and off the wagon. In real life, I never drank." Kay finally was able to beat her addiction. "Just to be ornery, I began to drink in real life. I had an awful marriage. When I was married and raising my kids, I would never allow myself to drink." "Everyone was out of the house. My about-to-be-ex-husband and my three children. I started liking liquor," she admitted.

Bill Bell was aware of it. "I was told by my sons that if I did not go to rehab, my job was at stake," she said.

"He was right. I was so taken in by my drink, and I didn't think anyone at work realized it. I was wrong." Cooper remained sober even when Kay took an alcoholic slip.

She confessed, "It felt as good to be sober as I thought it had been to be drunk."

Cooper was always one of those amazing interviews -- funny, smart, and unfiltered. Unfiltered and never asked that anything be off the record. "I said it; you can print it," she said more than once.

There was a time when she did not say anything negative about her ex-husband, agent/producer Harry Bernsen. "I thought it was wrong to let the kids think he was less than perfect. He lived with them. They knew."

Why the divorce after many years of marriage? "He was using me for a meal ticket to send money on his mistresses."

During one of our chats, she discussed her battles with Bill Bell. "I was arguing with him yesterday. He had Kay say, 'I wouldn't give a tinkers damn about what she thinks.' I went to his office and insisted she would never use that phrase. He responded that she would and did because he gave her that line -- another argument I lost."

Cooper thought she might be able to get rid of the line she if dropped it during taping. "Bill looked on that show as one of his children. He always knew what was going on on the set. I could hear him booming 'we are taping it until she says it. I have all day and night.'"

Cooper admitted she really did not understand some of the storylines thrust upon Kay. Especially the one in which she and Jill were revealed to be mother and daughter. "Jess Walton and I kept walking around the set, shaking our heads. It made it worse that within a week of learning this, Jill kept calling Kay 'mother.'"

Thankfully someone else realized how ludicrous it was, and Jill and Kay were found not to be mother and daughter.

One time Cooper was talking from a telephone in Las Vegas. "There is this long line of kids in front of me. They better make way. Kay is coming through." One of the kids was pushing her away. Another said, "Let her go ahead. My grandmother will kill me is she knew I was disrespectful to Mrs. C."

"Grandmother, my ass. I am sure you watch right along with her," I heard her bellow.

She was right. For 40 years, everyone watched Kay go from naughty, to nice, to manipulative, to moody -- from regal to raunchy.

In her last storyline, it appeared that Kay was suffering from early stage dementia. "I would have none of that," she said. "It is a real and terrible illness. It is not happening to Kay. It didn't."

Kay had a benign brain tumor. Her last act was to turn the reign of the company over to Cane and overlook Jill. Cooper would be thrilled to know that last action will cause lots of havoc in Genoa City for years to come.

For more on the death of Jeanne Cooper, please read our extended coverage, including reaction from the world of daytime.

The Young and the Restless is planning a special episode to pay tribute to Jeanne Cooper. For more information, click here.

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