By BETH HARRISSS
LOS ANGELES —
Betty White isn’t the only woman of a certain, ahem, older age still thriving on television.
Jeanne Cooper is right there with her.
Cooper plays wealthy Katherine Chancellor on “The Young and the Restless,” which aired its 10,000th episode Thursday. She joined the CBS soap a few months after it debuted in March 1973, and is its longest-tenured cast member.
Cooper, who turns 84 next month, shows no signs of slowing down.
She said this week: “What would I do? I’m no good at crocheting. My fingers would bleed.”
Like White, who is 90, Cooper authored a book about her career titled “Not Young, Still Restless.” At a recent signing, the grandmother of eight said some fans stayed the entire evening, awed at meeting the grand dame of fictional Genoa City, Wis.
“I’m very motivating for some people,” said Cooper, who makes infrequent public appearances. “It’s a character, as rich as she is, that has ordinary problems. If you impress one person to a better way of living, you’ve transferred what you should do.”
Cooper recalled a recent visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get new plates for her car. The employee behind the counter whispered to her, “I know who you are.”
“It has its perks being Mrs. Chancellor,” she said, laughing, “and if I have to use it, by golly, I’ll use it. I’m through standing in lines at my age.”
While other soaps’ ratings have dwindled or the shows have been canceled as the daytime audience has shrunk, “Y&R” has been TV’s top-rated soap since December 1998. Cooper attributes its success and longevity to the writing that created likeable characters.
“That’s the mainstay of the show,” she said. “You’ve always been able to become involved, whether you were wealthy or whatever your status is, our show hit the human being.”
“The Young and the Restless” will celebrate its 40th anniversary in March. New executive producer Jill Farren Phelps, who previously oversaw “General Hospital,” and new head writer Josh Griffith are cooking up story lines that include the return of Jess Walton, who plays Jill, later this fall, and emotional, professional and surprising physical challenges for the Newman family.
“Jill is making it a little sharper to meet the demands of where things are today in the world of very fast films and lazy minds,” Cooper said.
One of Cooper’s proudest moments was when her real-life facelift was televised on the show in 1984 as her character underwent the surgery at the same time. Call it TV’s first “extreme makeover” in daytime.
“It opened up reconstructive surgery for so many people, youngsters getting things done,” she said. “To this day, people will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for doing that. My mom or I had something done, and not just cosmetic surgery.’ That was an incredible experience in my life.”
Unlike a lot of actors, Cooper fesses up to having had her eyes done and a slight chin tuck. Three days a week, her trainer arrives at her hilltop home in Los Angeles at 6 a.m. to put Cooper through stretching and exercises.
“Then I get my tush to work,” she said in her famous throaty laugh.