Jeanne Cooper Interview: Memoir Details Troubled Marriage, Sexual Abuse and Hollywood's Golden Age
Image attributed to Gino Colombo
Daytime television legend Jeanne Cooper has been portraying the role of grande dame Katherine Chancellor on the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless for about thirty nine years. Thus far, the actress has garnered ten Daytime Emmy nominations and two Primetime Emmy nominations. She won the 2008 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Daytime Emmys in 2004.
A veteran actress, Cooper’s career began in the early 1950s, and she has appeared in films with such stars as Burl Ives, Shelley Winters, Ricardo Montelban, James Caan, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, George Kennedy and Kirk Douglas. Her television appearances include Daniel Boone, Have Gun Will Travel, Perry Mason, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Untouchables, Guiding Light, The Bold and the Beautiful and The Nanny.
"I call a marriage when you can finally hold hands, take a walk and never have to say a word to one another, and you’ve had a great conversation. People can love to their heart’s content, but when you fall in love, it takes a lot of work … a lot of work. That thing about holding hands and having a conversation and yet not saying a word, that is 'in' love."
Cooper’s long awaited memoir, Not Young, Still Restless, will be released July 31, 2012. For the first time, fans will learn about her childhood, marriage and divorce, affairs with co-stars, alcoholism and much more in this humorously honest book.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jeanne, it’s always great to speak to an old friend. How are you?
Jeanne Cooper: I’m fine, just sitting out here by the pool in horrible, hot weather. But, hot weather makes a pool even better, doesn’t it?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely.
Jeanne Cooper: Anyway, everything is well, Melissa. Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Wow, the book was enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable!
Jeanne Cooper: I’m so glad. I’m so happy about that, Melissa. I’m so pleased with it, and I think my co-author, Lindsay Harrison, just did a bang-up job of expressing how I feel and how I think, in the terms of how I feel, think and do, you know? That’s so important in a co-author. Well, I tried to be honest. No, I was simply honest. But, if I told everything that I know honestly, it would be another kind of book (laughs). That’s the second book … what I didn’t say (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You opened up about your ex-husband and his many extramarital affairs.
Jeanne Cooper: Yes, many people get stuck in a marriage and because of whatever former training or beliefs, they make it something that is really isn’t. If it’s not a good situation, it’s just not a good situation. You don’t hang on to see it through for your children because there is no staying. I would rather talk to children from a broken home than to see children live in a broken home. I knew my father and mother were not the coziest two people in the world, and I saw other parents being very cozy. Whatever I am today, I owe to both of them in so many ways. But, you work hard to solve a situation, and then you hang on for many reasons. God only knows.
You start to question yourself and ask, “Is there a God?” or “Why me?” It’s just those hardcore values that you’re taught as a child. You marry just once. You may have a dozen affairs, but you only marry once. Why be married if you want to have the affairs? Be free to do it, and be happy doing it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have only been married once.
Jeanne Cooper: Yeah. That’s right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you met anyone else you could’ve spent your life with?
Jeanne Cooper: Yes, I have. I met two of those people actually, but I certainly wouldn’t marry them or anybody after the first one … to stand up and pledge your life to that person. I love the marriage ceremony, but you both have to work at it so hard. You can love one another, but you still have to work at marriage. It isn’t something that just says, “Oh, we’re together forever and ever.”
You’re still a single human being, and to work as one is poppycock! You’ll always be you. You have to be identified as that, and you have to have someone recognize you as that. That’s what you work on in marriage, and if you don’t work at it, or if one works at it and the other one doesn’t, you haven’t got a marriage.
I call a marriage when you can finally hold hands, take a walk and never have to say a word to one another, and you’ve had a great conversation. People can love to their heart’s content, but when you fall in love, it takes a lot of work … a lot of work. That thing about holding hands and having a conversation and yet not saying a word, that is in love.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did the sexual molestations as a young girl affect you later in relationships?
Jeanne Cooper: Well, it made me understand that any woman who believes that a man has one single thought, and it’s her, she’s out of her mind. Men are born men, and women are born women. That’s why they’re called men and women. They have two different philosophies. A man can’t help himself. If you threw a skirt on a telephone pole, he’d try to screw it. I don’t mean that in a blaspheme way. That is the purpose of the man to procreate, procreate, procreate. The woman is simply the nester.
A man has a different drive. He’s not responsible for it. He was born that way. However, what separates men from mad dogs and Englishmen is having a brain to not give in to every temptation that comes his way. If you try and understand it, you’ll come up with something that prohibits you from having a full life. That is man. He was given a brain to know the difference of temptation and actually fulfilling what his libido tells him to do. It sounds as if it doesn’t separate him much from basic animals, but women are nesters and the softer side of life. It’s one of those things, and you have to understand men.
I don’t care how faithful any man is, if a lovely eighteen year old walks by, and he’s fifty, he’s going to turn and look at her. That’s the most normal thing in the world. It doesn’t mean he’s going to persuade her to be his trophy. But, when a man gives in to whatever is beckoning his libido, that doesn’t sit well. You hope you marry somebody that has a little more intelligence than that.
Well, think about the Southern ladies and the Yankee ladies in the beginning. The Southern ladies put up with so much junk. Think about that. Why? That’s the Southern way. Mama taught her to be a lady. They wound up being the toughest ladies today you have ever seen (laughs). They said, “I don’t have to put up with that anymore, mama. You did, but I don’t.” The Yankee women try to get a little softer.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Women were not supposed to enjoy sex either.
Jeanne Cooper: No, of course not, that was your duty. That wasn’t pleasurable. That was your duty! That’s how all of these differences began. You get myths and superstitions from all walks of life and all cultures. If you listen to all of them, you may as well go out and shoot yourself to get it over with (laughs). You’re better off if you spend your life wondering what you’re doing wrong!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also discuss your alcohol addiction.
Jeanne Cooper: A very unhappy marriage and other things gave me stomach spasms. I was at a luncheon with a friend of mine and had a stomach spasm, which I never had before. My stomach bloated out like I was ten months pregnant. My friend said, “Take a shot of brandy.” I took a sip, and said, “I can’t breathe.” He said, “Take another.” It hit the muscles, and I relaxed. I could breathe. I said, “Thank you, God.” This happened a few times. So, I got a bottle of brandy, and pretty soon the brandy took care of the stomach spasms. That is how you get hooked. I never was at the point of falling down and face in mashed potatoes kind of thing. But, thank God for Bill Bell and my son, Collin, who worked together on that.
I wanted to say, “Help me,” but didn’t know how. Yet, I was so brave as a kid going through two molestations. The first thing I did then when I get to my parents was to blab about what happened. The minute I got in front of my mother, I said, “Do you realize Uncle John did that?” I was so brave about that, but to this day, I don’t know why I didn’t divorce sooner. I know he was in Europe a lot. I guess had I seen more of him, I would have divorced him earlier. He was in Europe part of the time and on the road part of the time. Being an agent, he was fulfilling whatever in the heck he needed to fulfill. So, there was that, and I was working.
I had three kids I idolized, thinking they deserved the best there was. In Beverly Hills, kids go to school on Monday morning and say, “My daddy is so and so now,” because there is so much changing partners going on in a town where it’s very prevalent, and nobody cares except the children. They pretend they don’t care, but they do. Some have been scarred dreadfully. But, it’s one of those things. I thought it would be a nice thing if my kids could say they have the same father and mother rather than having two stepfathers and four stepmothers and all of that nonsense. As I said, I probably would have ended it sooner.
When I finally got the divorce, he said, “Why didn’t you do it fifteen years earlier?” I wanted to take him and smash him against the wall (laughs). My question was, “Was I staying together for their sake?” What possessed me to think that I could not do it on my own? Many people are victims of those questions.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, they are. Let’s talk some about your Native American heritage and how your parents faced discrimination because they were part Cherokee.
Jeanne Cooper: That was in the early stages when they were in Oklahoma, which was Indian territory at that time. But, they weren’t full blooded. Nobody was full blooded, but Indian on both sides and full blooded as it steps up to their mothers and fathers. But, the treatment of being called “red niggers” was the same treatment as any black person had in the South.
My grandmother, proud as she was, said, “You can have your Indian land grants. This group is going west.” They went to Taft, and that was oil country. At that time, that was where the oil was being discovered. My God, we had direct and indirect relatives in Taft, California, I imagine about two hundred people, which was about the whole population (laughs). If I can recall, Taft is like a mirage that you’d see in the dessert somewhere, yet it’s an hour and a half from Los Angeles. To me, I don’t know, I think we would’ve been better off if a hurricane had hit part of it (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Had just wiped it off the face of the map?
Jeanne Cooper: Wiped it off. But, Taft led the field in education because education was supported by oil companies. You had three or four major oil companies, and it was fantastic. They were developing and educating potential employees to work in oil companies. But, there was a school for every grade. Amazing. Kindergarten was a school; first grade was a school, etc. It was great.
Taft had a four-year college, and I think it still does. It used to have a football team. Anyway, long story short. It was a tremendous beginning for any child. I don’t care who they were. We moved around a lot, but I think we planted ourselves wherever we were, just being content and making friends. But, I digress, like we always do (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sometimes that’s the fun part (laughs).
Jeanne Cooper: Yes, and that’s for the “other” book (laughs). I’m going to call up all of you and say, “Okay, now, tell me about the other part you like best, and then I’ll write another book based on all of your opinions.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think that’s a great idea.
Jeanne Cooper: Isn’t it innovative?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It is indeed. Your first film was The Redhead from Wyoming.
Jeanne Cooper: Yeah, that was the first one. The Man from the Alamo was the second with Glenn Ford.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You talk in the book about learning so much from Maureen O’Hara. Is there an actor who you found to be particularly difficult?
Jeanne Cooper: Shelley Winters, and she ended up being a good friend.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I chuckled because, in my interview with Ernie Borgnine, he called Shelley “a first class bitch.” I was just speaking with him in March, couldn’t believe that he passed away recently.
Jeanne Cooper: What a guy! I was so sad when I heard. Ernie and I always had the same driver. But, yeah, Shelley and I were under contract at Universal. Strangely enough, she was under contract at one time, if you can believe that. When we did Let No Man Write My Epitaph, I was blonde at the time. During the first day of shooting, the producer brought me aside and said, “Jeanne, could we just sort of darken your hair a little bit because Shelley is really blonde.” She was going through a divorce with Vittorio Gassman at the time. I said, “Okay.”
I went into hair and makeup at Paramount, and she colored it a little ashen. I went back out three hours later. The producer said, “Jeanne, it’s a little too light. It needs to be darker.” I said, “Brunette? Do you want a brunette? That’s what I am naturally. I’m black as the ace of spades. My hair is that dark. I will take it back to the original!” I was getting pissed off by this time. I knew where this was coming from. It was Shelley. Of course, she had hit the vodka bottle pretty heavy. I came back out, and my hair was brunette.
Shelley came into my dressing room, and said, “Jesus Christ, is there nothing I can do to make you look ugly?” I said, “Not as ugly as you.” A few years before this incident, Shelley was doing A Streetcar Named Desire and had called our Head of Talent at Universal to tell them she wanted me to come and see a performance and to come backstage afterward. I went back, and Shelley said, “Well, what did you think?” I said, “Shelley, it was interesting. It’s your concept. Hamlet has been played by so many actors. There are different levels of performances.” Shelley asked, “Are you saying I should never have done this?” I said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying. You shouldn’t have done it and invited the press!” So, that was her payback to me five years later while filming Let No Man Write My Epitaph. I thought, “Ha!”
Burl Ives starred in Let No Man Write My Epitaph, and my ex-husband knew him quite well, so I got to know him before I worked with him. Shelley would take her time coming out on stage. She would be a little bitch about everything. Burl Ives would finally ask, “Where in the fuck is she?” They’d say, “Well, she needed three to five minutes more of Mozart.” Burl would say, “I’ll give her Mozart up her ass if she doesn’t get hers out here!” She’d get out on stage then!
Ella Fitzgerald who played Flora, a drug addicted blues singer, was so innocent and shy. She came to me and said, “This is all new to me. How would you play this drug addict?” I said, “Listen, if my name was Ella Fitzgerald, I’d play it just like Ella Fitzgerald would play a drug addict.” She told that so many times when she was doing performances all over the country. Once, I was in the audience at one of her shows, and she told the story. She said, “If my name was Ella Fitzgerald, I’d play it like Ella Fitzgerald.” I got to know her quite well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you first started on The Young and the Restless, you were already friends with William Gray Espy (William “Snapper” Foster, 1973-1975). He’s from Dothan, Alabama.
Jeanne Cooper: I know he is! I love him to pieces! He still has part of that accent, and I love it! Gosh, I love it!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you kept in contact with him?
Jeanne Cooper: No, I haven’t. When I get very well acquainted with someone, and it’s in a transitional state of being (which this business is), it’s one of those things that he and I both understand. We met during the filming of Kansas City Bomber shortly before I came to Y&R. Raquel Welch was the star, and Bill was the young leading romantic interest.
Of course, they made Raquel look a couple of years older. Bill was lamenting about it, and I said, “Hey, you’ve now entered show business.” Since she is the star, they’re going to accommodate her any way they can. But, she is really a super lady. I loved working with her. I really did. She is professionalism to a tee. She was protecting her career, and I think I made him understand that.
When Bill heard I was coming on Y&R, he said to the cast, “Everybody get ready because she’s professional.” Everyone was mumbling on the first day of rehearsal, but I was very distinct, very audible. You could hear me. Everybody looked like a stranger had come into their midst (laughs). John Conboy just sat there and smiled, like he was thinking, “Okay, now we’ve got the glue that makes it work.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, and if you weren’t aware, Bill left acting in the 1980s. He now enjoys tromping in the woods on his land in south Alabama.
Jeanne Cooper: Yes, he did. He’s been back for one or two appearances since he left. But, he decided there was something better than being at somebody’s will. In other words, he’ll tromp in the woods, and his heart will be filled with what it should be. He just didn’t want to play the game. He found out what makes him happy. That’s what I love about him!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He is a super guy. Hey, I was absolutely shocked to read that you had an affair with your son!
Jeanne Cooper: Yeah (laughs). When someone said, “You had an affair with your son!” I said, “Not Corbin, for God’s sake! I’m not immoral!” It was my other son, Brock, my TV son. I think Beau Kazer probably interprets dialogue better than anyone I’ve ever worked with, including Lee Cobb.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Really?
Jeanne Cooper: Yeah. He is one of the great interpreters of dialogue. Incredible. He can make it sound as though it’s true. You would never know he’s acting. Whenever he’s doing certain things on the show, and he has to deliver speeches, you are there listening to him. He’s got that kind of power. He has always liked older women. He’s an old soul, and there’s just not a lot of stuff that he’s interested in that people his own age offer. He’s just not. He’s an old soul, always has been and always will be.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He’s hot also.
Jeanne Cooper: Oh, yeah. I guess, at that time, I would have been what they consider today a cougar. But, as I said to him, “I don’t want to be the oldest cougar, for God’s sake!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you really upset over the age difference?
Jeanne Cooper: Yes, I was. But, that’s where I was foolish because he’s still the same person today and thinks the same way. I talk to him rather often. It’s very nice to hear what he has to say and what we have to say to one another as human beings. It’s just something that I was concerned with. He wasn’t. I’m the one who was.
In fact, the kids got to know him quite well. They loved being with him. He was marvelous. He could be at their levels and entertain them singing and playing his guitar, and then he could be deadly serious. They do remember him well. It was just on that premise that it was ended. I ended it, not him. Even to this day, it is really a lovely part of my life.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you and Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman) ever discussed those years that the two of you were estranged, so to speak?
Jeanne Cooper: Never ever discussed. After all of it, she waves her hand and says, “Oh, mom.” It was just some silly thing, I guess. I’m wondering if she remembers (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That is just so strange. She basically ignored you on the set for two years and had nothing to do with you off set.
Jeanne Cooper: I know. You think it’s strange. You should have been me! I mean, here is someone who is like a daughter to me. I really was very protective of her. She’s a very talented lady, but very very sensitive. She still has the innocence and childishness that makes for creativity.
Melody’s not jaded, and that’s what I love about her so. I just talked to her the other day at a wedding. She never even refers to that period nor will she ever explain it. I don’t think she ever will. But, I wasn’t the only one. She did that to other people, and nobody knows why.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Before we go any further, how did you feel about the Daytime Emmys?
Jeanne Cooper: Just like you did (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You could tell in my voice?
Jeanne Cooper: Sweetheart, you just told how you felt, and that’s double for me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I was trying to hide the emotions (laughs).
Jeanne Cooper: Yes, it’s like, please don’t hurt us anymore. Please just give us a luncheon and announce who won after the luncheon. You don’t have to televise it. We were so desperate the last three years that it’s pathetic. First of all, we’re part of a commercial for the Hilton hotels, and by the way, we’re giving away Emmys in between commercials.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): They couldn’t even play show themes when winners were announced.
Jeanne Cooper: Can you believe that?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And Y&R didn’t win.
Jeanne Cooper: Not a thing. Honey, thank God Christel Khalil is still young enough to win Younger Actress. Was that the only one we won?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, Anthony Geary and Heather Tom won for leads.
Jeanne Cooper: Oh, thank God, Heather got it. But, the Emmys made us look desperate. Even porn conventions don’t look desperate. Porn conventions have such a happy thing going about them. Everybody’s happy, and at least something is going on. There were a couple of people that looked so tarnished doing it. I thought, “Why would you do it when you promised me you wouldn’t? You said you wouldn’t.” I couldn’t support them. I couldn’t, Melissa. I didn’t go this year, and I have gone, honey, until I’m beginning to look like I’ve attended every one of them (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I felt pain for everyone.
Jeanne Cooper: I just couldn’t support it. But, God bless the people who picked it up. What made it even worse that when it was over, they started playing it all over again, and when that was over, they played it again. It went on three times in succession which means if you hadn’t gone out and shot yourself in the head after the first one, you will have done so by the third showing (laughs). If you have not met your demise by that time, nothing is ever going to disturb you. I couldn’t believe it when it ended and started all over again. I said, “What? Did they forget they already filmed this?” If you thought it was bad the first time, look at it the second time. By the third time, you’ll really see where it went wrong (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve got to talk about you going around and pinching people on the set!
Jeanne Cooper: Oh, God, Greg Rikaart is so cute! The little devil! We were rehearsing a scene when he was playing a nutcase. In one of those scenes, I said, “Somebody is going to slap you in the face.” He said, “I’d rather they do this (pinching motion to his crotch).” Then, he became conscious of it anytime in a scene where he’d be near me. He’d be waiting, of course, for when I was going to pinch him. I’d do it at the most inopportune times.
In a wedding scene, I’m walking down the aisle. Katherine says to Kevin, “Oh, that’s a lovely tie. You look wonderful today.” Well, I just ran my hands down the tie, grabbed his crotch and kept on walking. He’s left with this look on his face. That was hysterical. The rest of the cast didn’t think I would do it to them. But, you have to do it when the cast knows that’s what you do, however, they can’t wait to see when you do it and to whom you do it. It’s funny when you see some of these boys offering parts of their bodies to be pinched!
I pinched Josh Morrow in the middle of a scene when he was talking. I’m standing beside him, and I pinched him. It’s so funny because he just kept going on with his speech and then whispers to me, “A little farther to the left.” He was marvelous! He doesn’t jump or anything like the others do … like Eric Braeden does. You would think that somebody was raping him in a scene when I would pinch him! It’s fun for me to figure out when I’m going to do it and to whom I’m going to do it, but Greg was my basic target because he starts laughing when I’m ten feet away form him. He starts with this smirk on his face because he knows he’s going to get it somewhere (laughs). It’s a fun thing that we have in the Y&R family. I think I will pinch my son, Tucker, tomorrow.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As a viewer, I’m beginning to watch for it now.
Jeanne Cooper: Yeah. When you see a strange look on some of their faces, you’ll know that my hand was somewhere (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So, Eric Braeden (Victor Newman) always has to have the very last word in a scene?
Jeanne Cooper: Yeah, no matter what. If my line is supposed to be the last in a cliffhanger, Eric will say something like, “Katherine, we’ll see,” just to have the last word. He’s always in the content of what we’re doing, but he has to have the last word. It’s marvelous!
What he does sometimes when he knows I’m trying to have the last word is he’ll adlib the last words. But, when he knows I’m waiting on him to say something to have the last word, he doesn’t. He will just look me in the eye, and that just cracks me up. His sense of humor is divine. He’s a great disciplinarian and enjoys what he’s doing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): There are rumors swirling around that Eric might be leaving, so it must be …
Jeanne Cooper: That his contract must be near (laughs). I don’t think so. I don’t know where he could go unless he became an ambassador to another country. That, he could do very well. I’d like to personally see him as an ambassador of this country to some other country. I really would. The man has a short fuse, but he has an insatiable appetite for what is going on in the country and the world. He has an incredible sense of humor. He also has a bark that could scare pit bulls (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve interviewed him by telephone and haven’t gotten a sample of the bark.
Jeanne Cooper: Oh, what a shame! Put an animal or put a child in his presence, and you will see the real Eric Braeden. Then, do something he doesn’t like, and you’ll see the other real Eric Braeden (laughs). A pit bull ain’t got nothing on him!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Okay, what about some major storylines involving Katherine?
Jeanne Cooper: Well, do me a favor. Come out here and ask Marie (Bell). Just say we would like to know …
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Just about the last time Katherine had a few lines was at the July 4th celebration at the pool.
Jeanne Cooper: Yes. Murphy was barbecuing. Poor Murphy. He’s either ice fishing or barbecuing. I don’t know why I married him, but he’s a dear. I love working with Michael Fairman. He has been in quite a few movies, and he played a judge while Corbin was doing L.A. Law.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you think of Eileen Davidson leaving the show?
Jeanne Cooper: Well, I don’t know. I think she’ll be back eventually. I adore her. She’s an incredible talent. Again, one of the major pieces of talent that is leaving and going to jack up another show, you know? She will go to Days and when finished there, she’ll either go to The Bold and the Beautiful or back to us. I’m sure of that. Well, let’s put it like this. I’d like to think that I’m sure of that.
The abrupt changing of storyline with her and Tucker disappoints me because I loved that kind of relationship they had built up between the two. But, to suddenly take that away and say, “Okay, how do we resolve this?” Eileen Davidson will go to another show, and they didn’t have to resolve anything. That hurts a little bit because it’s not a solution to the problem. It’s a little too abrupt. I mean, “I love you, I love you,” and then, “I’m going to divorce you.” You can’t do that to your daytime audience.
I did The Talk, which will be shown when the book is released. What they have done, whether it’s Julie or Sara or all of them, is nurture that show. Trial and error. What isn’t working, they throw out of the agenda … out of the foundation. They’re doing a lot of what their audience wants and expects and looks forward to, and it’s at the top of the charts as a talk show. They nurture, and the audience sees their favorites. That’s daytime.
You cannot ask someone to fall in love with a character that you identify with that makes you escape for an hour a day, and all of a sudden say, “You can’t have that person anymore.” That happens when you make these abrupt changes. You become disrespectful of the audience that put you there in the first place. That’s what is wrong. In daytime, you can’t have a favorite grandfather, mother, sister or lover and the next day have somebody totally different looking and expect to like that person. Right off, you’re supposed to like that person as well as your favorite. That’s not sitting well with many fans. They are saying, “Don’t fool around with my emotions.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes. They’ve fooled around with too many shows as it is and have cancelled them.
Jeanne Cooper: Isn’t that a shame? They’re trying to tell the public, “You don’t like soap operas anymore.” Yes, they do! This is all upper level, all executives, and the bottom line is the dollar. Many people’s security is that one-hour a day they have. Most people who watch Y&R only watch one show a day. They might fool around with one or two, but they are faithful viewers of Y&R. You cannot tell them, “I’m going to tell you what you like.” I have a cousin everybody likes. I cannot stand him. Everybody liked my husband. I said, “You should be married to him. Be my guest.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are the rumors still pretty strong right now about soaps being cancelled?
Jeanne Cooper: I think The Bold and the Beautiful, Y&R and General Hospital will hang on. General Hospital is the only ABC soap that hasn’t been cancelled. But, my God, there is such a history to that show. We’re talking about bottom line, the all American dollar. But, by the same token, they’re telling you that you’re going to watch what they give you. They can say all they want about making shows geared to a younger generation. I don’t know of a single young person that turns on a food show and says, “I can’t miss this food show tomorrow. I’ve got to have it.”
We’re down to food shows and talk shows, you know? As I said, The Talk has an audience. The View becomes … thank God, Whoopi Goldberg keeps that thing moving. Joy Behar was the glue until she got her own show, but she still is very good. I’m not that partial, but I think The Talk is a great challenge to the others. You can have a few laughs, and it’s not tedious. It’s better than watching a food show. Today, if you’re not fat, there is nothing on TV for you. We’re an overweight society, but enough is enough. One Life to Live and All My Children are old staples. They should have stayed on, but ABC is just wiping their calendar.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I enjoy watching Debbi Morgan and Darnell Williams on Y&R because I was an AMC fan.
Jeanne Cooper: Well, there you go.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s great that these actors can share their talents with other soaps.
Jeanne Cooper: One Life, Days of our Lives, B&B and Y&R are all west coast shows, and the west coast was a country cousin to New York and soaps. We’ve had to fight for existence. But, you just can’t say to millions of people out there, “You don’t know what you want. We’re going to tell you what you want.” I guarantee you that if people turned off their TV sets for two weeks, the networks would listen. To me, they don’t have their thumbs on the beat of this country.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will Jess Walton return to Y&R?
Jeanne Cooper: She left that so open, but in the meantime, they haven’t said, “You’re coming back.” I miss her like mad. Of course, I miss that whole relationship with Jill and Katherine. Nobody can have fights like the two of them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that Bonnie Franklin would be guest starring as a nun.
Jeanne Cooper: Oh, yes, Sister Celeste. Well, Bill Bell, where are you now? If Bonnie Franklin can be a nun, I can be Shelley Winters! Melissa, I really don’t know. General Hospital used to be at the nurse’s station, and everything took off from there. I haven’t seen a hospital on General Hospital in so long (laughs). I mean, unless somebody gets shot, that’s the only time you’ll see a hospital. Jessie Brewer ain’t there anymore (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of getting shot, Doug Davidson has been truly brilliant in the scenes where his character shoots his own son.
Jeanne Cooper: This man’s talent has been kept down for so freakin’ long. If I had another son, he’d be it. Why the man never won an Emmy is beyond me. They could say the same about me. Why didn’t I win one before thirty-something years? But, there is the old expression – maybe it seems that we’re not acting. If they do have another awards show, I don’t care if it’s held in my den, God let him get an Emmy before they give up altogether.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’re right. It doesn’t seem like you’re acting. The emotions are so natural and human. I mean that as a huge compliment to you.
Jeanne Cooper: Well, I appreciate that, but my boy deserves several Emmys, but he just never got nominated for some of the stuff. There are two or three Emmys that I think I should’ve had over anyone else, but that’s life. We’re survivors. We still have a job, and where are they? They don’t. I should look at that side of it.
In the meantime, our audience has grown older with us. We have some new ones, but only because when all these people got pregnant, they’d watch us. When the baby was born, his first words were “Y&R,” and not mama or daddy (laughs). That’s what we were shooting for. That baby can talk. He can say, “Y&R.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You missed work a couple of months last year. How is your health now?
Jeanne Cooper: Little by little by little the strength is coming back. It was a meltdown, Melissa, between that and so many other things. The worst thing is not having enough sense to take vacations. But, you literally must walk away from it for a week or two every once in a while. I never did that. Never in thirty-nine years. That was stupid, but I didn’t.
With other pressures and things going on, when I got that horrible flu and it went into pneumonia, it said, “Hey, this will stop you. This will make you think.” It did. At eighty-three, your body is like a car that needs retreads instead of tires (laughs). But, little by little, I’m building back to the right way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So glad to hear that. In case I don’t speak to you again this year, Happy Birthday in October!
Jeanne Cooper: You’re a darling! Lee Bell just celebrated her eighty fourth birthday. She’s six months older than me. Do you know why she never celebrated her eightieth birthday? That rotten stinker! She stayed at seventy-nine! Once you come out as eighty, you’ve had it.
I’ve had them ask if I need help, and I say, “No. I can still walk over the cables like I used to.” But, eighty is a major number in everyone’s mind. They’re thinking that it’s a miracle you’re still alive! But, if you’re seventy-nine, they say, “God, that’s fabulous! You look great!” Once you hit eighty, and it’s a known fact, they look at you like you’re a bloody miracle!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, you look fantastic. How is your family?
Jeanne Cooper: The grandkids are marvelous! Collin’s oldest son, Wes, just graduated from college. Collin’s youngest, Harrison, wants to be a pediatrician. My daughter, Caren, runs Pacific Studios for a woman named Marilyn, and they do set backdrops. In fact, we use her backdrops in our show. That’s an art of filmmaking very few people realize. Corbin is doing his independent films as well as still doing Psych. He made a film called 25 Hill about how a soapbox derby is important to kids. It just came out on DVD.
I was doing a Touched by an Angel episode with Corbin in the 90s. I was playing his mother who was in a nuthouse. This was filmed in Utah. I’m looking out at the snow. There are a few trees in the meadow. I was staring at this outdoor scene out the window of the nuthouse. I said, “God, that scene looks familiar.” I realized it’s the scene from Victor and Nikki’s ranch house in the wintertime. I thought, “God, I take that show with me no matter where I go or what I do.” Felt right at home.
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