Thursday, April 23, 2009

DELICIOUS! REMEMBERS: Marilyn Cooper, Tony-Winning Actress for Woman of the Year

April 23, 2009 - Marilyn Cooper, who won a Tony Award in 1981 for her droll performance in the musical Woman of the Year, died April 23 at the Actors Fund Home in New Jersey, following a long illness. She was 75. Brunette, with large eyes and a deadpan manner, Ms. Cooper excelled at comedy. It wasn't easy drawing focus away from Lauren Bacall, the star of the John Kander and Fred Ebb musical (which was based on the Tracy-Hepburn film of the same name), but Ms. Cooper managed to do it as Jan Donovon, the drab second wife of Tess Harding's (Bacall) ex-husband. She stopped the show with her punchlines in "The Grass Is Always Greener," a duet with Bacall's Harding, in which the two women envy the circumstances of one another's lives. Ms. Cooper stole the number, sending the audience into gales of laughter with her nasal refrain "What's so wonderful?" Ms. Cooper also won a Drama Desk Award for her work. She would later tour with Bacall in the show, and toured again, in 1984, this time with Barbara Eden.

Born in New York City, Ms. Cooper's musical theatre chops stretched back to Mr. Wonderful in 1956, and included ensemble roles in the original production of West Side Story (as Rosalie), Gypsy (as Agnes, the leader of the Hollywood Blondes, which back up Louise) and I Can Get It for Your Wholesale. She replaced Jane Connell as Agnes Gooch in the original production of Mame and played a variety of roles in the Jule Styne-Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Arthur Laurents musical Hallelujah, Baby!

During the 1970s, Ms. Cooper appeared in Two by Two, On the Town and Ballroom. In the 1980s, she took roles in a few straight plays, including Neil Simon's The Odd Couple and Broadway Bound. Television viewers may remember her from her marvelous turn as Dr. Lilith Sternan-Crane’s caustic mother on a particularly memorable episode of "Cheers".

One wonderful anecdote passed on to us about Marilyn (or "Coopie" as her friends called her) was a story she related about her experience as the female lead in "Wholesale". "I was the star of a Broadway show once" she said. "Oh yes, I was above the title and everything... They needed a girl to sing one song in the show... one lousy song.... Just my luck, they picked Barbra Streisand."

Coopie will be missed.

Click this link to watch Marilyn and Raquel Welch perform the show-stopping number 'The Grass is Always Greener' from WOMAN OF THE YEAR.

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