The death last week of The Young and the Restless’ Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor) shook the daytime landscape in numerous ways: from cast mates losing a beloved friend and scene-partner, to the enormity of what Jeanne meant to the CBS soap’s legacy, and to the millions of fans she touched worldwide with her performances on-screen, and her humor and compassion off-camera. Many of Jeanne’s triumphs and personal struggles were recently detailed in her memoir, Not Young Still Restless, which came out in 2012.
However, when you think of Jeanne and Katherine Chancellor on Y&R, you cannot help but stop and recall her epic battles with her long time, beloved scene-partner and dear friend, Jess Walton (Jill Foster Abbott). As Katherine and Jill, they were the number-one daytime drama’s true super couple; always bickering, but often times finding a way to love each other through all that they had put each other through.
On-Air On-Soaps spoke to Jess Walton yesterday in an emotional, impactful, and at times difficult interview, where she shared her thoughts on the loss of the soap opera icon, and scene partner. Jess does provide insight into the final scenes between the two of them, which aired on May 3rd, and what she will hold dear in her heart about what made Jeanne so unique, and one hell of a dame! Here is Jess on the passing of Mrs. C.
Jess, everyone has been re-watching what are now Jeanne’s final Y&R scenes, and they were fittingly with you. Jeanne clearly was not well at the time the episode was shot. How was it that day to film those scenes? What can you share with us?
JESS: She was not well. She was in a lot pain, and we had been in the dressing room all day hanging out and talking. I had a virus so I wasn’t well either, and Jeanne would give me her oxygen in that cannula thing, and we would take turns with it. We would do lines with Michael Fairman (Murphy) who was in there, and Elizabeth Hendrickson (Chloe) and Greg Rikaart (Kevin) came in. It was like it always was in Jeanne’s dressing room. It was like a party atmosphere. It was like making work fun. And even with her not feeling so well, never did her sense of humor flag for a second. She was always, always, fun and joyous.
Looking back now, those scenes carry so much weight in the ongoing relationship of Katherine and Jill, and more importantly, Jeanne and Jess.
JESS: Doing those scenes on the soundstage, it was very much about Jeanne and Jess, rather than Katherine and Jill, in a way. We are so blended with our characters after all these years. I was so grateful that they had written a scene where it let me express how I was feeling, instead of being the Jill that was always stirring up things. They let me sit down and say to her, “This is why I am so hurt by what you have done.” And then when I saw nothing was going to change, Jess/Jill got concerned that Kay was getting tired and that is when we decided for her to go upstairs. And every step Jeanne played on that stairway was just pure genius. I am so grateful that, that happened. It wasn’t planned. It all came together, so, so well. She played it for all its worth.
Did Jeanne add the line “Goodnight” to Jill, as has been reported, as her final Y&R piece of dialogue?
JESS: I can’t remember, but I know my line was “Do you want my help? Are you alright?” And she said, “No.” That was something, wasn’t it? And that was the last time I saw Jeanne, too. She came down the stairs when we were done taping, and she had her wheelchair there. That was the last time I saw her, because I had a virus and I could not take it to her while she was sick in the hospital. In a way, I am kind of glad. You don’t want to see somebody you love suffering.
And we all now have our memories with Jeanne…whether we saw her at the end, or we didn’t.
JESS: There is much more than just the physical. The physical is just the body. I believe she knows what’s going on. I believe we are as close as ever.
That final moment when you look up the stairs as Katherine goes up to bed was amazing. Did you watch the final scene between you and Jeanne?
JESS: I did see it, and I saw it when she was still alive. I have not seen it since she passed away. But it would probably kill me, if I did see it.
And we have heard now from Y&R powers-that-be, that this was not to be Jeanne’s final episodes, is that true?
JESS: Absolutely, it wasn’t. It wasn’t written that way. It just worked out that way, which is amazing, I know.
You and Jeanne are, if not number one, one of the true all-time soap supercouples! It must be amazing to know that you will always have that recognition, and heartbreaking now all at the same time.
JESS: (in tears) It was amazing that we were, and now there is no couple. I really think it’s hitting me slowly and gradually. Most of the time I am so celebratory of how incredible she was, and is, and I don’t know if I even believe in death. I don’t really go to the sad place, and it’s even surprised me that I have been so aware of the glory of her, rather than going to the sad place that she is gone. The partnership is over, and it hadn’t hit me till now.
Do you remember when you first came on to Y&R and replaced Brenda Dickson in the role of Jill? How was Jeanne to you when you first arrived on set?
JESS: She was fantastic! Jeanne was always great, and she taught me that. When somebody comes on to Y&R it’s not easy. It’s hard to walk into that family and everyone being so tight. And most people are so good about opening their arms and welcoming people, and considering how she loved Brenda Dickson, I really think it’s to Jeanne’s credit that she was so good to me. She did her very best to bring me up to speed on the relationship between Katherine and Jill. She was fabulous!
There is so much now being said about Jeanne … that she was one of the most giving people, and she could also be very cantankerous and feisty, which are just a few adjectives to describe her.
JESS: She was very feisty and she could be very cantankerous, of course! We can all be judgmental. She could be all those things. She was nothing, if not human. Jeanne had all those sides to her. She could be kind as could be. She could be bitchy, as we all can, and we are actors, too! We have got all these emotions sort of swirling around that are at our fingertips and very accessible to us. Jeanne ran the gamut of all of them! But Jeanne really was somebody with a huge, huge heart, and huge sense of humor. She had a huge sense of humanity. It was always really hard for me to cry, and it was always really easy for me to fight as an actress. But one day, when I told Jeanne it was hard for me to cry, she said, “Here’s an exercise: when you want to cry, pretend you are anything. Pretend you are that doorknob there!” She went to this whole thing about, “Here I am. Sitting on this door all day and people come up and grab me.” And she became the doorknob and started to cry! (Laugh) But it was amazing! But what I mean by all this is, she was able to put herself in somebody else’s place. I think that is incredibly important for an actor.
The partnership you shared with Jeanne, as Katherine and Jill, spanned decades. They went from mortal enemies to becoming biological mother/daughter, which Jeanne disliked, and then they unraveled that. What did you think of the twist and turns in the journey of these two strong women of Genoa City?
JESS: That story went on for so long, and at the beginning it was so antagonistic. And then the love would kind of creep in for a while, and then when the mother/daughter thing happened, there was a lot of love, and then it got really complicated. It just had its own little arc, that story, and then at the end the love kept coming through more and more, at least with Jill. In the last scenes there was a lot love there. It was a good culmination of the whole thing.
What is your greatest takeaway of your time with Jeanne?
JESS: Well, my greatest acting partner of my life is now gone. She is just irreplaceable. I love her, she was my friend, and she meant so many things to me.
Did you read Jeanne’s memoir, Not Young, Still Restless? If so, what did you think of it?
JESS: I loved her book. It was very much in her own voice, because Lindsay Harrison (co-writer) knew her so well. I think what is so weird for both of us, Michael, is in my own spiritual belief I believe there is a thin line between life and death. It’s so very hard for me to grieve her right now, because she is still very much with me.
What do you think Jeanne’s legacy is on The Young and the Restless?
JESS: Her work stands for itself. That is her legacy, and the love she gave to her fans means she will be forever in so many people’s hearts. She shaped Y&R, for God sakes! Her stamp is all over this show.
And those catfights that they would often time force you to do! (Laughs) I felt so bad for you and Jeanne, because as much as we all loved to see Katherine and Jill and another catfight break out, you never knew whether they would make the two sling wedding cake at each other, or God knows what! (Laughs)
JESS: I know! Two grown women are going to go at it again? Oh, my God! And then we would try to figure out how to make it different every time. (Laughs)
I often thought, “What if Jess hurts Jeanne during one of those classic Katherine and Jill catfights?”
JESS: I always tell this story, how I always try to be so careful with and around Jeanne, and she is clobbering me! (Laughs) Oh, she was the best, and it’s devastating. I have nothing but love for her.
So Y&R fans, what do you think about the heartfelt sentiments shared by Jess Walton on Jeanne Cooper? Was there ever a couple more dynamic than Jess and Jeanne on-screen? What do you think about Jess’s comments on Jeanne and her final scenes? Share your comments below with us.