Empire′s Mistress, Starring Isabel Rosario Cooper

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 41 illustrations Published: February 2021

Asian American Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Empire's Mistress Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez follows the life of Filipina vaudeville and film actress Isabel Rosario Cooper, who was the mistress of General Douglas MacArthur. If mentioned at all, their relationship exists only as a salacious footnote in MacArthur's biography—a failed love affair between a venerated war hero and a young woman of Filipino and American heritage. Following Cooper from the Philippines to Washington, D.C. to Hollywood, where she died penniless, Gonzalez frames her not as a tragic heroine, but as someone caught within the violent histories of U.S. imperialism. In this way, Gonzalez uses Cooper's life as a means to explore the contours of empire as experienced on the scale of personal relationships. Along the way, Gonzalez fills in the archival gaps of Cooper's life with speculative fictional interludes that both unsettle the authority of “official” archives and dislodge the established one-dimensional characterizations of her. By presenting Cooper as a complex historical subject who lived at the crossroads of American colonialism in the Philippines, Gonzalez demonstrates how intimacy and love are woven into the infrastructure of empire.


“Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez crafts a gorgeous and meticulous portrait of one of the most intriguing women of the twentieth century, Isabel Rosario Cooper. Woven out of ghosts of texts and archival fractures and gaps, Empire's Mistress is a replete mystery tale, a feminist biography, a Hollywood story, an intimate study of Philippine-U.S. relations, and a masterful work of postcolonial noir. Above all, Empire's Mistress is a haunting, by which afterlives of empire address our contemporary dilemmas about how to articulate, frame, and center unspoken lives to tell history accurately. A deeply satisfying work of exhumation, Empire's Mistress makes complex history live, and I'm grateful for Gonzalez's unflinching, refractive, and always revelatory gaze on that history.” — Gina Apostol, author of Insurrecto

“Imaginatively tracing the life of Isabel Rosario Cooper in and through the elisions and silences of the archives, Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez makes a significant contribution to rethinking the process of archival research when it involves marginalized subjects whose existence appears sporadically in the historical accounts of others. A compelling read.” — Vicente L. Rafael, author of Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez is Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, author of Securing Paradise: Tourism and Militarism in Hawai‘i and the Philippines, and coeditor of Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai‘i, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Archival Detritus, Fabrications, Second Takes, and Other Provocations
1. This Is Not a Love Story  1
2. Death Certificate, Partial  13
3. A General and Unruly Wards  15
4. The Flower of Cathay, Excerpts  28
5. Misapprehensions  30
6. The Farm Boy and the Unbiddable Wife  32
7. The Delicate Moonbeam  48
8. "Dimples": Innocence (Colonial Kink)  49
9. Stage Presence  67
10. Letters Lost at Sea, Imagined, Excerpts  69
11. The New Filipina, Kissing  72
12. Gossip: Fiction and Nonfiction  86
13. "It Girl" Meets General  89
14. Recipe for the Douglas  93
15. The Washington Housewife, the Hollywood Hula Girl, and the Two Husbands: Reinventions  94
16. Out of Place 111
17. 1st Filipina Nurse, Geisha, Little Sergeant, Javanese Nurse, Uncredited  112
18. Lolita's Lines  127
19. Bit Parts: Racial Types, Ensemble  128
20. Caged Birds  149
21. For Future Archives, Apocrypha, and Fictions  160
22. Death Certificate, Entire  165
23. The Suicide  167
24. Last Review  170
Acknowledgments  173
Notes  177
Filmography (with Roles)  199
Bibliography  203
Index  215
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1400-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1186-6