|Intro||Dutch-American model and modeling agent|
|Was||Model Talent agent|
|From||Netherlands United States of America|
|Type||Fashion Film, Television, Stage and Radio|
|Birth||1 May 1939, Culemborg, Netherlands|
|Death||1 March 1980, Greenwich, USA (aged 40 years)|
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.
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, and Klasina van der Straten (1909–1992). Some sources list her name as being Gertrude Wilhelmina Behmenburg 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.
The family immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, in 1954. 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. She also holds the record for most covers on American Vogue, appearing 27 or 28 times.
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...
On 5 February 1965, she married Victor Bruce Cooper, former executive producer of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. They had two children together; Melissa Wilhelmina Cooper and Jason S. Cooper.
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.
In popular culture
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.