For every detail I learn about the World War II era there are thousands more, one of those damn known, unknown, unknowable known things, I guess. This past week at Koening & Clinton Gallery in Chelsea I came across another stunner, Isabel Rosario Cooper, the subject of Miljohn Ruperto’s current exhibit.
Cooper began her career as a dancer, singer, and actress in Manila in the mid-1920s. In 1930, at 16 years old, she somehow attracted the attention of one of the U.S. military's star officers, the soon-to-be "I shall return" savior/Emperor of the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, on his second tour as military attaché of the Manila district. MacArthur, who must have been 60 at the time, took Dimples, as Ms. Cooper was known, as his mistress. Under the circumstances, did she really have a choice?
The only foreseeable problem with this, in MacArthur's mind, was his mother. The valiant up-and-coming General was a mama's boy, and she would not approve. Mother, Mary Pinkney Hardy, went wherever the General was assigned. When the General was re-assigned in 1930 to Washington, as President Hoover's Chief of Staff, MacArthur hid Dimples in Georgetown at the Chastleton Hotel, where she followed a strict rule of never leaving her room -- for four years!
The arrangement ended when two reporters got wind of the General's captive friend. The reporters Drew Pierson and Robert Allen, writers of the Washington-Merry-Go-Round column, were being sued by MacArthur for defamation when they accused the General of lobbying for his own promotion in their column. The suit was dropped when Pierson and Allen threatened to expose Ms. Cooper's existence. They also demanded and got $10,000, which they gave to Cooper.
Cooper took the money and her freedom and went off to Hollywood to follow her dream of stardom in movies. Sadly, Hollywood was not so interested. Dimples Cooper took what bit parts she could, most notably in Charlie Chan movies and The King and I, before committing suicide in 1960.
Miljohn Ruperto, himself of Philippine descent, took four years to splice together scenes from Isabel Rosario Cooper's career. He then blurred out all the actors, except Cooper, leaving her as the sole focus of the montage. Ruperto, who also has a video installation in the current Whitney Biennial, allows Cooper's ghostly presence to briefly haunt the present, then fade.