Wilhelmina Cooper

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Wilhelmina Cooper
Wilhelmina Cooper in a photograph by Edgar de Evia.jpg
Wilhelmina photographed by Edgar de Evia
Wilhelmina Gertrud Frieda Behmenburg

(1939-05-01)1 May 1939
Died1 March 1980(1980-03-01) (aged 40)
Spouse(s)Bruce Cooper (m.1965)
Modeling information
Height5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)[1][2]
Hair colorDark Brown
Eye colorBrown

Wilhelmina Gertrud Frieda Cooper (née. Behmenburg, 1 May 1939 – 1 March 1980) was a Dutch-American model who began with Ford Models, and at the peak of her success, founded her own agency, Wilhelmina Models, in New York City in 1967.[3]


Wilhelmina Gertrud Frieda Behmenburg was born on 1 May 1939 in Culemborg, the daughter of Wilhelm Robert Karl Behmenburg (1901–1977), who was a butcher,[4] and Klasina van der Straten (1909–1992). Some sources list her name as being Gertrude Wilhelmina Behmenburg[5][6][7] or Willy Gertruida Frieda Behmenburg.

She had a younger brother, Walter Günther Behmenburg (1941–1945), who died in a car accident at 3 years old. The family moved to Utrecht in 1942, where they lived until 1944. After World War II, they moved to Oldenburg, Germany.[8]

The family immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, in 1954.[9][better source needed] Wilhelmina became one of the most famous models of the 1950s and 1960s, and during her career, she appeared on the cover of 255 magazines. She also modeled in Europe, and in France, she worked for both Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.[10] She also holds the record for most covers on American Vogue, appearing 27[11] or 28 times.[1]

According to her obituary in Time:

During her cover-girl days, Wilhelmina boasted that she was "one of the few high-fashion models built like a woman." And she was. With her 5 ft. 11 in., 38-24-36 frame, doe eyes, delicate cheekbones, and mane of high-piled dark hair, she epitomized the classical, aristocratic look that she helped to make the style standard of the 1950s and '60s...[3]

On 5 February 1965, she married Victor Bruce Cooper, former executive producer of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.[12][better source needed] They had two children together; Melissa Wilhelmina Cooper and Jason S. Cooper.[13]

In 1967, they founded Wilhelmina Models, which became the other leading model agency alongside Ford Models, years before Elite Model Management and other agencies began.


On 1 March 1980, Cooper died of lung cancer at the age of 40 in Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich, Connecticut.[14][15]

In popular culture[edit]

Cooper was portrayed by Faye Dunaway in the 1998 movie Gia, which tells the story of Gia Carangi, a model who was discovered by Cooper and later died of AIDS.

In American sitcom Ugly Betty, adapted from Colombian telenovela Betty La Fea, the antagonist Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa L. Williams) is named as a tribute to Cooper. Her nickname, Willy, and the fact that she became a successful businesswoman in fashion after being a model were attached directly to the character.


  1. ^ a b Cooper, Wilhelmina (February 27, 1972). "How Tough Is It to Become a Top Model and Cover Girl?". Tri City Herald - Family Weekly.
  2. ^ Cooper, Wilhelmina (1978). The New You. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 17. ISBN 0-671-22487-5.
  3. ^ a b "Wilhelmina Cooper obituary". TIME. March 17, 1980. Retrieved on August 6, 2008.
  4. ^ Cooper, Wilhelmina (1978). The New You. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 9. ISBN 0-671-22487-5.
  5. ^ Room, Adrian (2014-01-10). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins, 5th ed. ISBN 9780786457632.
  6. ^ Koda, Harold; Yohannan, Kohle (2009). The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion. ISBN 9781588393135.
  7. ^ Wills, David (2017-10-03). Switched On: Women Who Revolutionized Style in the 60's. ISBN 9781681882611.
  8. ^ How Tough Is It to Become A Top Model in Tri City Herald, 1972
  9. ^ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2HW8-7Y1
  10. ^ Barbara Cloud (June 4, 2006). "A lovely life taken by smoking". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved on August 6, 2008.
  11. ^ Schwarz, Mark (2008). "Dear Shareholder" (PDF). Wilhelmina International, Inc. Annual Report 2008. Wilhelmina.com: 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-02-11.
  12. ^ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VV1N-4W7
  13. ^ Fried, Stephen (June 1994). Thing of Beauty. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671701055. Wilhelmina Cooper.
  14. ^ Laurie Johnston (March 3, 1980). "Wilhelmina, High-Fashion Model And Agency Owner, Is Dead at 40". New York Times. Retrieved on August 6, 2008.
  15. ^ "A lovely life taken by smoking", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4 juni 2006

External links[edit]