• 12 May 1924
  •  Chicago, Illinois, USA

Maxine Cooper


This svelte, sultry-eyed brunette made a mark in one significant (some consider "ultimate") film noir classic helmed by Robert Aldrich in the mid-1950s -- and then, within a short time, she vanished. Another in the long line of pretty and promising actresses who traded in their career for marriage to a well-established Hollywood industry member, Maxine Cooper would be spotted on camera here and there after that but, for all intents and purposes, she settled into her life as Mrs. Sy Gomberg and the mother of two daughters (Marsha (born in 1958) and Katherine (born in 1964). Maxine was born on May 12, 1924, in Chicago,Illinois, the daughter of Richard, a General Electric distributor, and Gladys Cooper. She took college studies at Bennington College in Vermont, and while there became drawn to the theater. She moved West in the mid-1940s and furthered her training at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. In 1946, she went to Europe to entertain the soldiers and decided to settle in England, appearing on the BBC-TV and in a number of London theater productions for nearly five years. Maxine eventually returned to Los Angeles and broke into TV here with featured roles in such popular shows as "Dragnet," "Perry Mason" and "The Twilight Zone". She was noticed by film director Aldrich while appearing in a Los Angeles stage production of "Peer Gynt" and he cast her in what would be his seminal "B" noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Loosely based on the Mickey Spillane novel, Maxine made an enduring impression as Velda, faithful gal Friday to cynical private eye Mike Hammer (played by Ralph Meeker). The movie not only marked the film debut of Maxine, but also that of Cloris Leachman, whose ill-fated blonde sets the story in motion. Maxine never again made the same kind of impression in films. Within a couple of years she would retire. She did, however, appear rather obscurely in two more films for Aldrich -- the Joan Crawford starrer Autumn Leaves (1956), and, years after her self-imposed retirement, the Grand Guignol classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), which also starred Crawford and Bette Davis. She also was seen much later in the TV-movie High Ice (1980), written by her husband. Maxine married Oscar-nominated writer Sy Gomberg near Reno, Nevada, in 1957, and that was essentially that. Although her primary focus was raising her family, she also became a strong supporter of civil rights. She and her husband were among those who helped organize and represent the Hollywood film and TV contingency during the 1960s march on Montgomery, Alabama, alongside Martin Luther King. She also became an active protester of the Vietnam War and nuclear armament. In later years Maxine pursued photography as a hobby. Some of her photographs were used as illustrations in the popular Howard Fast book "The Art of Zen Meditation". Her husband, who contributed to Collier's Weekly and the Saturday Evening Post and who taught screenwriting at the University of Southern California for over ten years, preceded her in death, suffering a massive heart attack at age 82 in 2001. Maxine passed away of natural causes less than a decade later on April 4, 2009, at her Los Angeles home.