The Song of Gladys
Gladys Cooper (1888-1971), born this day in 1888, was one of the great beauties of the British stage, growing in acting prowess and critical esteem throughout the first three decades of the 20th century. She even found time to appear in a handful of silent films and one talking picture, The Iron Duke (1934), starring opposite George Arliss. When she arrived in Hollywood at age 51, she segued gracefully into screen character parts requiring aristocratic bearing and – whether for good or ill – an autocratic will, beginning with Rebecca (1940), Kitty Foyle (1940) and That Hamilton Woman (1941). Soon came one of her signature roles as Bette Davis’ loveless, domineering mother in Now, Voyager (1942), playing for all it was worth one of the most iconic and imposing impediments to romance and personal freedom in movie history, even to the admiration of the awestruck Davis, who paid tribute to her in a 1971 Dick Cavett Show interview conducted around the time of her death. It would earn Cooper her first of three Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nominations, the last of which would come for her worldly-wise and charmingly level-headed Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady (1964). Cooper’s second Oscar® nod would come a year after her first for a compellingly reverent and supremely crafted project that gave moviegoers a respite from World War II strife and an ethereal sense of release. Opening December 21, The Song of Bernadette (1943) offered a glimpse of the heavenly, recreating the legendary visions of a “beautiful lady” seen by peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous (Academy Award® winner Jennifer Jones) in the French village of Lourdes in 1858. Based on a wildly popular novel by refugee novelist, playwright and poet Franz Werfel, who was sheltered for five weeks in Lourdes during his flight from the Nazis and was aided by caretakers of the shrine where Bernadette’s vision occurred, The Song of Bernadette was a triumphant depiction of hope for ordinary people overwhelmed by extraordinary events. In common with her antagonistic Now, Voyager role, Cooper played a skeptical nun who served as the novice mistress at the convent where the lionized Bernadette goes after her notoriety. Her embittered dismay with the young postulant cannot be contained. “The chosen ones have always been those who’ve suffered,” she taunts her charge. “Why then should God choose you? Why not me? I know what it is to suffer…If I who have tortured myself cannot glimpse the Blessed Virgin, how can you who never felt pain dare to say you have seen her?” Cooper is one of several church and civil authorities who challenge the young girl’s unwavering faith but her invective – stoked with the intense fire of both devotion and resentment – is perhaps the most devastating. Winner of four Academy Awards® including Best Dramatic Score (Alfred Newman), B&W Cinematography (Arthur C. Miller) and B&W Art Direction/Interior Decoration, The Song of Bernadette, enshrined on a beautiful Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, is a testament to the impact of simple devotion and timeless talent like that of the indomitable Ms. Cooper.