Actor Peter Cookson

Peter Cookson (May 8, 1913 – January 6, 1990) was an American stage and film actor of the 1940s and 1950s. He was known for his collaborations with his wife, Beatrice Straight, an actress and member of the Whitney family.

Early life

Cookson was born on May 8, 1913 on a houseboat on the Willamette River in Milwaukie, Oregon to Gerald Cookson, a career British Army officer, and Helen Willis, a nurse. Cookson attended the Pasadena Playhouse on a scholarship.


Cookson appeared in the play The Heiress on Broadway in 1947, where he met his wife to-be, Beatrice Straight. He was also a producer and produced the play The Innocents on Broadway in 1950, starring his wife. Cookson’s most famous stage role was of the love struck judge in Cole Porter’s 1953 musical Can Can in which he introduced the song “It’s All Right With Me.” “In interviews at the time, he said he was astonished at being given the part, as he had not sung for an audience since high school.”

Cookson starred in several feature films during the 1940s, including G. I. Honeymoon (1945) and Fear, before moving exclusively to television during the following decade.

He was a founding member of The Actors Studio, as was his second wife Beatrice Straight.

Personal life

In 1937, Peter married Maureen Gray. Before their divorce in 1948, they had:

  • Peter Cookson Jr. (b. 1942)
  • Jane Copland (née Cookson)
  • Peter and Maureen separated in Spring 1947. They attempted a reconciliation in the Summer of 1947, renting a house in Denver. At that time, Cookson had an affair with actress Patricia Neal. His wife found out and left him.

    In 1948, while starring in the Broadway production of The Heiress, an adaptation of Henry James’s Washington Square, Cookson met Beatrice Straight (1914–2001), who he was acting opposite. Straight was the daughter of Dorothy Payne Whitney (1887–1968), of the Whitney family, and Willard Dickerman Straight (1880–1918), an investment banker and diplomat. Straight’s step-father was Leonard Knight Elmhirst (1893–1974). Cookson and Straight married in 1949, and had two children:

  • Gary Cookson, an actor.
  • Tony Cookson, writer and director of And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird (1991)
  • Cookson died in 1990 of bone cancer at his home in Southfield, Massachusetts. Beatrice died in 2001 from pneumonia in Northridge, Los Angeles at the age of eighty-six.

    Published works

  • Henderson’s Head (1973), a novel described as “sexually whiffy psychotic stuff” by Kirkus Reviews.
  • Pigeons, a comedy play later turned into a script in 1986.
  • Million Rosebuds (1978), a play written with the New Dramatists
  • Unique Species (1984), a play.
  • Filmography and credits

    Title Medium Year Role Notes
    Swingtime Johnny Film 1943 Jonathan
    A Guy Named Joe Film 1943 Sgt. Hanson (uncredited)
    Strange Confession Film 1944 Soldier
    Detective Kitty O’Day Film 1944 Johnny Jones
    The Girl Who Dared Film 1944 Rufus Blair
    Shadow of Suspicion Film 1944 Jimmy Dale
    Adventures of Kitty O’Day Film 1945 Johnny Jones
    G.I. Honeymoon Film 1945 Lt. Robert ‘Bob” Gordon
    Behind City Lights Film 1945 Lance Marlow
    The Scarlet Horseman Film 1946 Kirk Norris
    Fear Film 1946 Larry Crain
    Strange Conquest Film 1946 William Sommers
    Don’t Gamble with Strangers Film 1946 Bob Randall
    Message for Margaret Theatre 1947 Robert Chalcot Theatre World Award (winner)
    The Heiress Theatre 1947-48 Morris Townsend
    The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse Television 1949
    Robert Montgomery Presents Television 1950 Maxim de Winter
    The Innocents Theatre 1950 Producer (ft. Beatrice Straight)
    The Billy Rose Show Television 1951
    The Little Blue Light Theatre 1950 Ellis Producer
    Lights Out Television 1951
    The Web Television 1951-52
    Broadway Television Theatre Television 1952 Nathaniel Dunham
    Seagulls Over Sorrento Theatre 1952 Producer
    Justice Television 1954
    Suspense Television 1952-54 Maj. de Spain / Jack Trent
    Can-Can Theatre 1953-5 Judge Aristide Forestier
    Studio One in Hollywood Television 1954
    Appointment with Adventure Television 1955 Jamison Wyatt
    Star Tonight Television 1955
    The Millionaire Television 1957 Alan Bruce
    Telephone Time Television 1957 Paul Wallace
    Armstrong Circle Theatre Television 1955-57
    The United States Steel Hour Television 1957
    Four Winds Theatre 1957 Garrett Scott
    Matinee Theatre Television 1958 James
    The DuPont Show of the Month Television 1958
    Kraft Theatre Television 1952-58 Bruis / Mr. Knightley
    The Investigator Television 1958 A Debonair Bachelor
    Rashomon Theatre 1959 Producer
    The Right Honourable Gentleman Theatre 1965-66 Producer, Tony Award for Best Play (Nominee)

    External Links

    Actor Peter Cookson – Wikipedia

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