Soaps.com recently had the great pleasure of chatting with "Y&R's" Jeanne Cooper, who in addition to continuing to rock her iconic Daytime role of Katherine Chancellor, has become a best-selling author! Read on to hear her insights on the memoir, "Not Young, Still Restless," as well as her thoughts on the recent departure of Maria Arena Bell, which really hit her heart, and more on "Y&R."
Soaps.com: Congratulations on making the New York Times Bestsellers list!
Cooper: Oh my gosh! I never in a million years...it's new to me.
Soaps.com: How did you find out and what was your reaction?
Cooper: Harper Collins. I was in my dressing room at the studio and picked the phone up. I was expecting a call from my wardrobe designer, but there was this big, "Congratulations!" I thought, "It's not my birthday." But it was Harper Collins congratulating me. I made the tour in New York without any kind of a problem, and I said, "What, what, what?" They said, "You made the New York Times Bestsellers list!" My stomach just went 'kadiddledump'. [laughs] It was just amazing; just a phenomenal kind of thing. I was totally embraced by everybody, and that in itself is an affirmation that what you've been doing all your life has reached a lot of people, especially when you have seven decades into the entertainment business. I guess I must have done something right.
Soaps.com: Early on in your book, you refer to yourself as shy, yet your story paints you as a woman who is confident, social, and, of course, comfortable on stage and in front of the camera. Did you outgrow your shyness or do you still see yourself that way?
Cooper: Well, I still sort of see myself that way. When I assert myself, that's just me bringing myself up to speed and saying 'this is something you must do'. I'm very private about a lot of things, but when it comes to my life, and what is happening in my life, I've been very honest and very open and unafraid, and that's the other core part of me that functions as one person, and the portrayal becomes a second person; so in many ways I guess I am Katherine Chancellor and Jeanne Cooper. I still won't force myself into a situation or that sort of thing; I don't go to a party and just swing through it. [laughs] I won't put myself in a position to be uncomfortable if I can help it.
Soaps.com: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your memoirs – besides trying to remember everything?
Cooper: Lindsay [Harrison] who is a dear friend and also a very fine writer, said [of the book], "Jeanne, I will help you but it's gotta be done. Here's a recorder - that's 'on' and this is 'off' - so turn it on and say something when you feel like it." [laughs] I felt like a complete idiot. So I turned it on and said, "My name is Wilma Jeanne Cooper," and turned it off. About 3 weeks later I turned it on again and said, "I was born in Taft California," and then things just started popping out, and I began to realize that there's a lot of my life that people don't know anything about. There are so many things that happened in 83 years of living, what do you choose? Lindsay was marvelous about it because when I got on a subject that I found I had a lot of anger about, she would say, "No, no Jeanne, remember Marcia Wallace's title of her book - 'Don't Look Back We're Not Going That Way'. So I basically made that a rule of thumb - stop looking back because there's nothing you can do about it. I decided to forgive but not to forget let's put it like that. A lot of things that have happened to me in my life, other people have had happen to them in theirs, I think that's one of the interesting things they will find in the book. I have never ever said, "Look at me, look what I've done." I've just done a lot and it was very difficult...so it was Lindsay's and my choices to bring out what we did. There is a slice of me and a slice of Katherine Chancellor.
Soaps.com: You were very candid about your experiences with your wayward husband, Harry Bernsen. Did anything you revealed about him in the book come as a surprise to your children or family members?
Cooper: Not really, no. Some accepted it and that was the way it was, or they wouldn't accept it and that's the way it was, and I, of course, thought I could overcome it, or him, or he could overcome whatever it was. We know that's a red flag. Hey, he was who he was. I've forgiven him, but I sure as hell can't forget it.
Soaps.com: So, the kids always saw him for who he was?
Cooper: That was their dad and that's who he was. I don't know if they liked it or not, we didn't really discuss it to any degree because they were busy discussing their lives, and our association with one another. We're all very very close, and he was not that kind of a person. If you had a family reunion he wouldn't be there. It's just one of those things...he was who he was. You can't look at an elephant and say I'm going to make you a giraffe. [laughs] It just doesn't happen.
Cooper: I just spoke to Beau yesterday, in fact. He's so amazing, and he's fine with the book and things like that. That's probably one of my misgivings. Although Beau is now 60, I'm still 83. I should have given him more credit for going beyond the age thing, but he said that a long time ago. But, I'm content.
Soaps.com: After the relationship ended, was there ever a time it was awkward, when he came back to work at "Y&R?"
Cooper: No, never.
Soaps.com: Occasionally we see Beau and Corbin [Jeanne's son, Father Todd Williams] back at "Y&R" at the same time. Did they maintain a relationship?
Cooper: Oh yeah, absolutely, when Beau was around the kids loved him, because he could be Pied Piper in many ways. But Beau has always been like older; older people, older situations. He's an old soul in many ways.
Soaps.com: You say in the book that you fought your own battle with alcohol as did your character, Katherine Chancellor. Looking back, what do you think led you to that battle?
Cooper: Oh, the knowledge of Harry's nonsense and the pending divorce. I developed these incredible stomach spasms and my stomach would go out like it was 15 months pregnant. I was having lunch with a friend and we were discussing some of the nonsense [Harry] had pulled, and my stomach went [into spasms]; it was horrible. He was having a [brandy] and said, "Here take a shot of this and relax those muscles." So all negative thoughts sort of related to Harry, and pretty soon the brandy started calming the stomach spasms. So that's how that all started. I never really liked to drink ever. That was actually the pain. It's like a punishment. It's what you would like to do to the other person, you do to yourself. Rehab was the greatest thing I ever experienced in my life because I learned to like myself again, and to like who I am. I'm very proud of rehab; nothing to be ashamed of.
Soaps.com: Overcoming an alcohol abuse problem requires a lot of inner strength, and some would say having a facelift on-screen is a pretty brave thing to do, and but I wonder what you are most proud of in your life.
Cooper: I have to say it would be children; having three intelligent and involved human beings that you've given your genes to and they accept those genes and are responsible for them...and you are responsible for what they do. Beyond that, no one can really wish for anything more. Having three people you put on the planet and having them turn out well, that's their own achievement, but you helped put them here. If it comes to what I did personally, I think it was possibly the first reality show, but having the lift on television, which took the fear out of facelifts and reconstructive surgeries and things like that, I'm very proud of that. And the alcoholism; the sobering of Katherine and doing it in a documentary form. Today I have people coming up and shaking my hand and leaving their chip in the palm of my hand - it's overwhelming.
In The Young and the Restless Interview: Jeanne Cooper. Part II, she discusses the transition at "Y&R," and gives her thoughts on the recent storylines and what she hopes is ahead for Katherine Chancellor. Don't miss!
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Header photo: Harper Collins
- Candace Young