By Marlena De Lacroix a.k.a. Connie Passalacqua Hayman
This week daytime television lost a great icon and a great lady: Jeanne Cooper, who played Mrs. Katherine Chancellor on The Young and the Restless for more than forty years, passed away on Tuesday at 84.
There was no character like Mrs. Chancellor. She was brought on six months into the show’s run in 1973 to be the spoiler in the romance of the nubile Jill Foster and the handsome older man, Phillip. Good news for fans, but bad news for the lovers: Mrs. Chancellor was a formidable woman who didn’t want to let her husband go.
Tough as she was, in the capable hands of an outstanding actress like Ms. Cooper, Mrs. Chancellor was no ogre. We were shown all sides to this very flawed human being. She always wanted to take a drink, and Ms. Cooper made you understand that unquenchable thirst. She never wanted to be left alone, and Ms. Cooper made you understand that awful loneliness, too. She wanted to be loved by all who were closed to her: husband Phillip, son Brock (who called her “Duchess)” and best friend Nikki, to whom she always acted the role of loving mother.
But woe to those who drew her scorn! Enemies Katherine and Jill became legendary for their constant fighting. Ms. Cooper was good in scenes with Brenda Dickson who originated the role of Jill, but absolutely great with Jess Walton, who became a legend unto herself as the equally tempestuous and vulnerable Jill.
Jeanne Cooper’s great achievement in soap acting was to keep the character interesting and challenging for four decades. From first broadcast to last in every scene in which she appeared, Katherine was the one we watched. She definitely was one of the most understandably human characters in the history of daytime.
Off screen, Ms. Cooper was constantly human, too. In her autobiography Not Young, Still Restless (It Books) published last year, she admitted her own tendencies to alcoholism and detailed her many affairs. Yet, she wrote most convincingly that her best and most cherished role was mother — she had three children (including L.A. Law’s Corbin Bernsen) and six grandchildren.
Jeanne Cooper and Mrs. Chancellor will be much missed. The Young and the Restless has planned a special episode in their honor for May 28. We wouldn’t miss it.