Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

TINTYPE TUESDAY: Gladys Cooper Was a Pin-Up Girl — And Other Pix That May Surprise You!

Recently I came across this old British postcard, which I bought years ago, back when there were bookstores. Printed in 1910, it features Jessie Winter (as “Modesty”), Gladys Cooper (as “Beauty in Everywoman”) and Patricia Collinge (as “Youth”). Winter had only a brief film career, but Cooper, of course, went on to become everyone’s favorite battleaxe in films including Now, VoyagerKitty Foyle and The Bishop’s Wife, and Collinge played the perfect mother (and too-trusting sister) in Shadow of a Doubt. But decades before all that, they were, well, hotties.

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In fact Cooper—who was actually an exceedingly kind person when she wasn’t making everyone’s life a living hell on screen—was pretty much the Betty Grable of The Great War, the favorite pin-up girl of British soldiers across Europe.

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She also adorned greeting cards for just about every occasion.

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And here’s Collinge in 1920 with a baby-faced Leslie Howard, on Broadway in Just Suppose—which co-starred Frederick Kerr, who’d go on to play the Baron in Frankenstein.

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All of this got me thinking: What about some of the other lovely ladies who became known mostly as doting mothers, dowagers, drudges and daffy old dames? Here are a few of them, peering out from their younger years.

Here’s Mary Boland, before she barreled through the Old West in Ruggles of Red Gap, elbowed her daughters up the social ladder in Pride and Prejudice and trilled her way through a husband or two in The Women (“L’amour, l’amour!”).

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Here’s Cathleen Nesbitt, around the time she was known as doomed poet Rupert Brooke’s lover, rather than as Joseph Cotten’s mother in The Farmer’s Daughter and Cary Grant’s heartbreaking “nanou” in An Affair to Remember. And Lucille Watson, before she was mother to pretty much everyone, including Norma Shearer (The Women), Robert Taylor (Waterloo Bridge), James Stewart (Made for Each Other), and Carole Lombard (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), when she wasn’t someone’s terrifying (Little Women) or benevolent (The Great Lie) aunt.

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Below are the “fifth Marx Brother,” Margaret Dumont (who always got the joke), and Kathleen Howard, W.C. Fields’ bombastic wife in It’s a Gift and other films. (“Those were my mother’s feathers!”) Both started out as opera singers, with Howard spending several seasons at the Met alongside Caruso. (Read more about their colorful, fascinating lives here and here!)

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Enchanting Ethel Barrymore was so irresistible that even Winston Churchill proposed to her…

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…and Agnes Moorehead was stunning before she morphed into Aunt Fanny in The Magnificent Ambersons and Velma the hag/maid in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. (This woman did not have an ounce of vanity!)

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So the next time you see these ladies mothering their broods, peering over their spectacles, henpecking their hapless husbands or giving the leading ladies no end of grief, remember that inside each one of them is an absolute doll.

TINTYPE TUESDAY is a new feature on Sister Celluloid, featuring fabulous classic movie pix (and often a bit of backstory!) every week, to help you make it to Hump Day! Why not bookmark the page, here, to make sure you never miss a week?

5 Comments

  1. Agnes! So beautiful!

    • I know, right? And Mary Boland and Lucille Watson — Holy Dowager, Batman!! 🙂

  2. WOW. Is it just me, or does Drew Barrymore have a bit of a resemblance to her great-aunt?

  3. Oh thanks for this! I knew about Gladys being a famous model in England, and that Agnes was a hottie, but didn’t know about the others.

  4. Wow, what beautiful photos of such gorgeous women! Their ethereal style looks like the tail end of the Victorian “professional beauty” era, when well-born women’s photos were actually commercialized for public consumption. Those of Gladys Cooper are stunning (though I have to wonder about all that HAIR, how difficult it must have been to manage!). Thanks for posting!

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