Born in New York City in 1936, Marilyn Cooper was an actress best known for her work in musical comedy. She made her Broadway debut in Jule Styne and George Gilbert’s musical Mr. Wonderful (1956), playing Little Girl. In 1957, she created the part of Rosalia (one of the Sharks’ girls) in the original cast of the landmark musical West Side Story, by Laurents, Bernstein, and Sondheim. As Rosalia, Cooper opened the famous duet “America,” singing alongside Chita Rivera, and both can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording.
In 1959, Cooper created another character in a Broadway classic: Agnes in Gypsy – the musical by Laurents, Styne, and Sondheim based on the memoirs of the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Nominated for eight Tony Awards®, the musical starred Ethel Merman and Jack Klugman, who can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording.
Though Cooper had already performed in two of the 20th century’s best-loved musicals, it was not until 1962 that she had a leading role – as Ruthie Rivkin in Jerome Weidman and Harold Rome’s I Can Get It for You Wholesale. The musical also featured a young Elliott Gould and an even younger Barbra Streisand in her first Broadway role; all can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording.
In 1967, Cooper played four roles in Hallelujah, Baby! – a musical grappling with racism, by Styne, Green, Comden, and Laurents – starring Leslie Uggams, who sings with Cooper on the original Broadway cast recording.
Cooper briefly stepped in as Agnes Gooch in Mame in 1969, and in the same year she starred opposite Jackie Mason in the comedy A Teaspoon Every Four Hours by Mason and Mike Mortman, which folded after one night. Two by Two – the 1970 musical about Noah’s ark by Peter Stone, Richard Rodgers, and Martin Charnin – enjoyed a more enthusiastic response. Danny Kaye starred as Noah and Cooper as Leah (with Madeline Kahn as Goldie), and all are featured on the original Broadway cast recording.
Cooper played Lucy Schmeeler in the 1973 revival of On the Town and played Natalie in the Tony®-winning Ballroom (1978), by Jerome Kass, Billy Goldenberg, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. In Woman of the Year (1981) – a musical (based on the Tracy-Hepburn film classic) by Peter Stone, John Kander, and Fred Ebb – Cooper sang a memorable duet with Lauren Bacall, “The Grass Is Always Greener.” (Cooper and Bacall later took part in the musical’s national tour.)
In a new take on a familiar play, Cooper played Vera in the feminized version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (1985), playing alongside Rita Moreno and Sally Struthers, and was the radio voice of Mrs. Pitkin in Simon’s 1986 comedy Broadway Bound. In Cafe Crown (1989), she was Ida Polan, and she stepped in as Miss Lynch in the production of Grease that opened in 1994. In City Center’s Encores! series, she also appeared in Fiorello, One Touch of Venus, and Do, Re, Mi.
Cooper’s television credits include appearances on Alice, Kate and Allie, Cheers, Law & Order, The Nanny, and Caroline in the City.
Marilyn Cooper died on April 22, 2009 at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, following a long illness.