Wilhelmina Cooper

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

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

Wilhelmina Cooper (1 May 1939 – 1 March 1980) was a Dutch 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]

Early life and career[edit]

Born Gertrude Behmenburg[4] in Culemborg, the Netherlands, she was known professionally simply as "Wilhelmina," or "Willy" to intimates. Wilhelmina grew up in Oldenburg, Germany.[5] Her father was a butcher.[6] She moved with her family to Chicago, Illinois, United States, in 1954. She became one of the most famous models of the 1950s and 1960s. During her career as a model she was on the cover of 255 magazines. Wilhelmina also modeled in Europe, in France, she worked for both Coco Chanel and Christian Dior.[4] She also holds the record for most covers on American Vogue, appearing 27[7] or 28 times.[1]

According to her obituary in Time magazine:

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]

In 1965 she married Bruce Cooper, former executive producer of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. 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.[8][9]

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. ^ a b Barbara Cloud (June 4, 2006). "A lovely life taken by smoking". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved on August 6, 2008.
  5. ^ How Tough Is It to Become A Top Model in Tri City Herald, 1972
  6. ^ Cooper, Wilhelmina (1978). The New You. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 9. ISBN 0-671-22487-5.
  7. ^ Schwarz, Mark (2008). "Dear Shareholder" (PDF). Wilhelmina International, Inc. Annual Report 2008. Wilhelmina.com: 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-02-11.
  8. ^ Laurie Johnston (March 3, 1980). "Wilhelmina, High-Fashion Model And Agency Owner, Is Dead at 40". New York Times. Retrieved on August 6, 2008.
  9. ^ "A lovely life taken by smoking", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4 juni 2006

External links[edit]