Wilma Jeanne Cooper (October 25, 1928 – May 8, 2013) was an American actress, best known for her role as Katherine Chancellor on the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless (1973–2013). At the time of her death, she was eighth on the all-time list of longest-serving soap opera actors in the United States. She was the mother of actor Corbin Bernsen.
Cooper was born in Taft, California,to Albert Troy Cooper, and his wife, the former Sildeth Evelyn Moore. She was the youngest of three siblings. The family lived in Kern County for several years, first in Taft until 1942 and then moving to Bakersfield. Her mother died August 21, 1944, and her father died April 11, 1986.
Cooper began her career in the 1950s, appearing as a supporting player in films with stars like Maureen O’Hara, Glenn Ford, Tony Curtis, and Henry Fonda. Her first film role was as Myra in the 1953 western film, The Redhead from Wyoming. She later appeared in small roles in The Man from the Alamo, Over-Exposed, 5 Steps to Danger, Rock All Night, House of Women, 13 West Street, The Intruder, Black Zoo, The Glory Guys, Tony Rome, The Boston Strangler and Kansas City Bomber.
Cooper was a fixture on episodic television throughout the 1950s and 1970s. In 1956, she was cast as Mrs. Hinton in “The Rabbi Davis Story” of the religious anthology series, Crossroads. That same year, she portrayed Louise Douglas in “Girl Bandit” of Broderick Crawford’s syndicated crime drama, Highway Patrol. She also appeared in the Wagon Train episode titled “The Whipping”.
In 1957, she starred in one of the early episodes of NBC’s Tales of Wells Fargo in the role of the woman bandit Belle Starr; in 1959, she portrayed Duchess in a second Tales of Wells Fargo episode, “Clay Allison”. In 1958, she was cast in the episode “Wheel of Fortune” of the NBC western series, Jefferson Drum, starring Jeff Richards as a newspaper publisher. Also in 1958, Cooper appeared as Lucy in “Sundown at Bitter Creek” of the CBS western anthology series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater. In 1960, she again played Belle Starr in an episode of the TV series “Bronco” titled “Shadow of Jesse James”.
Cooper made five guest appearances during the nine-year run of CBS’s Perry Mason, beginning with the role of Laura Beaumont in the 1958 episode, “The Case of the Corresponding Corpse.” In the final season of the show, she made her fifth and final appearance as defendant Miriam Fielding in the 1966 episode, “The Case of the Vanishing Victim.”
In 1962, Cooper earned her first Emmy nomination for her performance in Ben Casey. After a turn as a regular on NBC’s Bracken’s World. She also appeared in The Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Ironside, Storefront Lawyers, The Silent Force, Touched by an Angel, Gunsmoke, The Untouchables, and many other series.
In 1965, Cooper appeared in the ABC network’s western television series, The Big Valley, as Elaine Baxter Jason, a mercantile store owner and an old friend of series character Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck). In another episode she appears as the money-hungry aunt of Heath (Lee Majors) . Her husband was portrayed in the episode by John Anderson, who years later became known as MacGyver’s grandfather, Harry Jackson.
She filmed her last scene on the show in March on the same day as the Young and the Restless 40th anniversary and this scene aired on May 3, 2013, five days before her death.
A tribute episode of The Young and the Restless in honor of Jeanne Cooper made up of clips, cast memories and interviews was shown on May 28 on the CBS network. The production company did a bucket list of trips around the world for her character Katherine, where her character died in Hong Kong, visiting her son Tucker McCall.