England’s Most Beautiful Actress, 1929

Gladys Cooper (later to become Dame Gladys Cooper) was an English actress with a long career in films, TV and the theatre. She was born in 1888 and got her start on the Edwardian stage, and pre-World War One silent movies. Here she was in 1913.

Gladys Cooper, 1913

Gladys Cooper, 1913

I was familiar with her in one of her later roles from 1964 – that of Mrs Higgins, Henry Higgins’ mother in “My Fair Lady”, for which she received an Oscar nomination. But I never knew she’d had such a glittering career prior to that. Or been such a raving beauty.

In My Fair Lady, 1964

In My Fair Lady, 1964

In 1929 she was 41, and still described in this newspaper article in the Gloucester Citizen as “England’s Most Beautiful Actress”. She did have an angelic look to her, like an cartoon of a perfect flapper come to life.

Gladys Cooper with her children

Gladys Cooper with her children

In the article, she gives her thoughts on the subject of beauty. Her assessment is to be aware that beauty is skin deep, and that charm, personality, developing your intellectual talents and maintaining your health are more important in being an attractive person all round. Which is sensible and hard to disagree with.

She considers children one of the best ways of keeping young – well, yes, I suppose they are in that they keep you in touch with the more youthful side of life, although the lack of sleep involved isn’t great for a non-haggard appearance. I like her line saying that “I don’t see how one can get old with so much mischief and such a diversity of young interests around her.”

As a fellow 41-year-old woman, I am pleased that to see that “Time was when a woman of 35 was old. Now many women of that age are still considered girls.”

By Gladys Cooper

(England’s Most Beautiful Actress)

“If I were only beautiful!” is the obsessing thought of countless women. To many of them physical attractiveness would mean the consummation of all their worldly aspirations and longings.

Does physical beauty really mean as much as all that however? I think not. Beauty ought to be as asset to any woman – it is, but only under certain conditions.

To the woman who is content to rely upon physical attractiveness alone, without attempting to make herself intelligent, clever, or amusing, and too lazy to develop whatever intellectual qualities she possesses, beauty is a handicap. Middle-age will find her very sorry for herself, and in old age she will suffer complete disillusionment.

The qualities which cause the world to acclaim a woman as beautiful are elusive, and I should think that three-fourths of the beautiful women of the world are as much in spite of their physical attractions [as] because of them.

Perfect features alone do not make a woman beautiful: expression means almost everything in a face, and since expression springs from thought, it follows that perfect beauty comes from perfect thinking.

So it is that many women whose features could be “torn to pieces” by a critic, achieve great attractiveness through beauty of expression. On the other hand I know women whose features have set in a permanently petulant cast purely as a result of their unbeautiful disposition. And I know few things more unpleasant than an ugly expression on fair features.

The more beautiful a woman is, the earlier should she look to her future. By developing her intellectual self she can face without fear the time when she will be no longer physically beautiful.

For that is a time that every woman has to face – we grow old soon and our looks go.


Some women, of course, never grow old, and are beautiful to the last. Such was Ellen Terry, who was as gracious a figure in her old age as in her extreme youth. It was not physical beauty, however, which made Ellen Terry a loved figure. She had not perfect features, she was not a perfect type. But she had a charm that transcended any sort of physical beauty.

Charm! That is a word that ought to mean everything to a woman, that is the secret of three-fourths of the so-called beautiful women of the world.

They may, some of them, be physically beautiful, but that is only incidental. Many of them, as a matter of fact, are not beautiful, but are women of pure and beautiful thought which finds its physical refection in beautiful reflection. And they go on being beautiful forever.

A plain woman with the quality of charm will find herself a centre of attraction where a score of so-called beauties would be almost un-noticed.

Beauty does not get one far in any walk of life, unless it has something behind it. It may help in the first instance – in the theatrical profession it certainly does. But it is a slender reed upon which to lean unless there are brains and understanding behind it.

I should not like to be thought that I disparage physical beauty. In a reasonably-minded person, it ought to be a glorious thing, and it is the duty of every woman who is beautiful to do all she can to remain so.

There are many ways which she can preserve her attractiveness. First she must preserve her health, for I do not think an ailing woman can be beautiful. “Delicate” beauty does not mean ailing beauty. By living a health life and thinking healthily, a woman may do much to preserve her freshness. These are days when women look younger than ever.

Time was when a woman of 35 was old. Now many women of that age are still considered girls.


Present day fashions offset beauty much more effectively than the fashions of our forebears, and the athletic life of present-day youth also helps considerably. Present day “make up” too, by its naturalness, is infinitely better than the artificial fashion of former generations. No right-minded woman need fear age, and I think the most pathetic spectacle is that of the woman who, driven to desperation by the first grey hairs, tries to look young and succeeds in making herself into a freak. Middle-age can have beauty and dignity if taken complacently; it is a tragedy to the woman who gets into a panic because she detects signs of its approach.

My own view is that children are one of the best things for helping to keep a woman young. I don’t see how one can get old with so much mischief and such a diversity of young interests around her.

That may not be a popular view, but I give it as my own experience.


A beautiful woman has a big responsibility to her home. If she cares she can make its whole atmosphere reflect her personal charm. If she is vain and empty, her good looks will avail her less than nothing, and will probably be a curse to all with whom she comes into contact.

It would be a happier world if every good-looking woman would look upon her beauty not as a personal asset about which she had reason to be proud, but something towards which she had a duty – the duty of sharing her gift with the world.

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