Bunny Cooper was a pretty girl who never amounted to much in Hollywood, but found her true calling after marrying a noted writer and sharing a life of family, adventure and research with him.
Berna Anne Cooper was born on June 9, 1931 in Newton, Massachusetts, to Benjamin Austin Cooper and Bernardine McDade. Her father was a college educated engineer. Her mother was born in Canada and a naturalized US citizen.
The family moved around, first to Connecticut where her younger brother Benjamin was born on September 30, 1933. In the late 1930s, they moved to New York. Bunny attended high school there and afterwards got married and divorced before going for Hollywood.
Bunny appeared in only one film in her career, the Lana Turner vehicle Diane – what to say about this movie? It’s starts as a promising story of Diane de Poitiers, the 16th century noblewoman who became the mistress of the french king Henry, but falls int the favorite trap of so many epic movies – too much money, too little soul. The sets, the costumes, the musical score, almost everything in fact, is stupendous, done meticulously and lavishly. But the story? The characters? Do we root for them? Do we see than as real flesh and blood people? Well… No. They just “drown” in all the splendor around them, and become secondary in the whole affair. Lana Turner is also worth discussing – she was by no means a good actress, and despite getting better with age, she never achieved a high level of thespian skill. Despite this, I find her interesting and actually enjoy watching her movies. She had a better filmography than many other more talented actresses. Also worth noting is the male lead, played by Roger Moore way before he became James Bond. You can see the same elegance and virility that would make him such a popular 007 in his later years. Bunny plays Lana’s lady in waiting, a glamorous but small role.
Berna Ann Cooper, as she was known then, married Peter Shattack on April 28, 1951, not yet 20 years old. They had a son together, also named Peter, but divorced around 1955.
Bunny’s ticket to Hollywood was Joan Crawford, whom she met via her brother, Ben, who was a regular in Hollywood by that time. Joan liked Bunny and asked her to try he hand at movies. Despite her slim career, Bunny ended in Hollywood and her life would have been totally different if she had not.
In Hollywood, Bunny dated Sterling Hayden, the funky blonde giant of an actor, previously married to Madeleine Carroll and Betty Ann de Noon. They were pretty serious for a time in the 1956. In 1957, she was often with Gene Nelson, just divorced from Miriam Franklin. Like many a times when a man is freshly divorced, it did not work.
Then, in mid 1959, Bunny met THE man of her life – writer Hank Searls. They wed on December 19, 1959, after knowing each other for only five months.
Henry Hunt Searls was born on August 10, 1922, in San Francisco, California, a fourth generation Californian. His father, Henry Hunt Searls Sr., was a notable surgeon who was a associate professor and also worked for the US army. Searls had a very interesting life before meeting Bunny. Some information (taken from this site):
SEARLS, HENRY HUNT “HANK,” JR. (1922- ). Novelist and author of nonfiction and short fiction, Hank Searls was born in San Francisco 10 August 1922. Graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1944 with the wartime-accelerated class of 1945, he remained an active-duty naval officer until 1954. He served in the Pacific as a gunnery officer on U.S.S.Washington and later with air photo reconnaissance squadrons mapping Labrador and Newfoundland. Indeed, it was at 20,000 feet in a B-24 flying over Newfoundland that Searls began writing, initially detective and aviation short fiction.
His thrillers often involve aviation or aquatic themes; he wrote novelizations of the movies Jaws 2 (1978) and Jaws: The Revenge (1971). Kataki (1987) fictionalizes George Bush’s World War II experiences as a navy pilot in the Pacific. Also set in World War II, The Hero Ship (1969) involves an American carrier heavily damaged by kamikazes, inspired by the near sinking of the U.S.S. Franklin, whch Searls witnessed. In the early 1970s Searls and his wife sailed the South Pacific, a voyage he made use of in Overboard (1977), where a man and wife try to resolve relational differences while sailing the South Pacific. Sounding (1982) is a remarkable modern counterpart to Moby-Dick (1851), with a whale-protagonist as a thoroughly developed character yet still “very like a whale.”
Perhaps Searls’ best-known book is the nonfiction The Lost Prince: Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy (1969), about the Kennedy brother whose plane was shot down over France on a special mission during World War II. by C. Herbert Gilliland
Searls was married once before and had two children, Courtney Searls and Henry “Hank” Searls, bron in the late 1940s.
After living in Malibuu when their children were small, they gave up the comfy life and the “rat rate” to live on a boat so Hank can do research to write a book, Outbound. So, in February 1972, they left San Diego for Pitcairn island. All in all, they lived for three years on a boat, ending up in New Zealand. They gave extensive interviews about the experience afterwards. It wasn’t an easy life, especially after the encountered one of the New Zealand gales, and three days later they were both seasick, lost their engine, had a bad leak, had no radio. In this less than stellar situation, Bunny proved to be a true survivor as she took the sextant and learned to navigate the good old fashioned way. Bunny also had to cook on a old three burner alcohol stove with an oven and when the weather got rough, she was tied with a window washer’s belt in the gallery.
The experience, with two people alone on the boat, with nothing but the elements around them, served to cement the Searls marriage for keeps. They sold the boat when they stopped in New Zealand, but continued to sail for rest and recreation afterwards.
For the next twenty years, Bunny became her husband’s assistant, researching with him every and each one of his novels. Their close relationship is very touching and is a true and true companionship between two people who truly love and understand each other.
For a time after their return to the States, they lived in a cozy, two-bedroom condo overlooking a golf course in Newport Beach. They enjoyed the local social life and played tennis frequently. The Searls moved to Washington state in the 1990s. They are active member so of the local community, donating money to charitable causes and holding the Authors’ Workshop for budding writers in the city.
Bunny Searls lives with her husband in Gig Harbor, Washington.