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Maxine Cooper (1924 – 2009)
Categories: Joan Crawford

Maxine Cooper — an actress known for her appearances in such Robert Aldrich films as WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, AUTUMN LEAVES and most famously as the “Woo Bait” Velda in KISS ME DEADLY — has passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 84.

Maxine Cooper in a clinch with Ralph Meeker in KISS ME DEADLY

Maxine Cooper in a clinch with Ralph Meeker in KISS ME DEADLY

Cooper’s television appearances were a catalog of early TV’s finest series:  PERRY MASON, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, DRAGNET, etc. But her feature film debut as Velda, private eye Mike Hammer’s girl friday in the film of Mickey Spillane‘s Kiss Me, Deadly [the film title omitted the comma] granted her an immersion into immortality.  Not because of her histrionics:  as a thespian, she was rather lacklustre and non-charismatic.  But KISS ME DEADLY as a film is still being processed and understood (and borrowed from, e.g., PULP FICTION) a half-century after its release.  And the character Velda was a key player in the proceedings, perishing (in the U.S. ending of the film) in a nuclear apocalypse in tandem with her boss and the villains.  [The recently-unearthed U.K. ending can be viewed on the sadly-discontinued DVD of the movie.]

Director Robert Aldrich, who ‘discovered’ Cooper, must have realized the non-star material of his ingenue as her post-Deadly appearances for him logarithmically shrank in prominence.  The following year in his AUTUMN LEAVES she had a five-line scene at the end as a psychiatric nurse engaging in conversation with patient Cliff Robertson.  And her screentime in WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) was nothing more than a token bit part as a bank teller.

But by that time, Cooper had married and was raising a family.  Perhaps more than her acting career, she should be remembered for her post-cinema undertakings as she engaged the Hollywood community in progressive causes, including marches in Alabama with Doctor King and protests against the Vietnam War.  She also took up photography; her works can be viewed in Howard Fast’s book, The Art of Zen Meditation.

Doug / PoMo Joan

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