Star of the stage and screen Carole Cook passed away January 11 at the age of 98, only three days from her 99th birthday.
Born Mildred Frances Cook in Abilene, Texas, Ms. Cook made her Broadway debut in a 1954 revival of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, playing Mrs. Peachum in the final weeks of the production's run. She received a Masters degree in Greek Drama from Baylor University, but her performance style turned more comedic than tragic following an unexpected phone call from Lucille Ball while Ms. Cook appeared in a Kenley Players production of Kismet.
Ms. Cook became a protégé of the legend and came to Hollywood at Ms. Ball's behest. Once there, she lived in Ms. Ball's guest house and selected Carole as her stage name in honor of Carole Lombard. With matching vivid red hair and expressive eyes, the pair quickly became a comedic duo. After a test appearance on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Ms. Cook was cast opposite Ms. Ball in The Lucy Show from 1963 to 1968, playing Thelma Green. Additionally, Ms. Cook appeared in five episodes of Here’s Lucy from 1969 to 1974, and the duo appeared together on the hit television game show Password.
In 1965, Ms. Cook was the second actor to play Dolly Levi in the classic musical Hello, Dolly!, assuming the mantle from original star Carol Channing for an extensive Australian engagement. She made a triumphant return to Broadway in 1979 as the star of Romantic Comedy, which she immediately followed with the original Broadway production of 42nd Street, where she originated the role of Maggie Jones. When the production moved to Los Angeles for a sit down production, Ms. Cook went with it.
A frequent face on the small screen, Ms. Cook also appeared on Charlie’s Angels; Kojak; Murder, She Wrote; Cagney & Lacey; Dynasty; Grey's Anatomy; and Major Crimes. On film, she played Grandma Helen in John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles and was seen in The Incredible Mr. Limpet, American Gigolo, Grandview, U.S.A., Lost & Found, and Home on the Range.
Ms. Cook was a fierce advocate for AIDS research and support for those affected by the disease; in fact, she began raising funds backstage at 42nd Street before the disease had even been named. As Ms. Cook shared in a 2019 interview, "One of the dancers, Ray, was getting sick. When he was in the hospital, his father disowned him. I decided then that this was my charity for life." She did indeed continue for the rest of her life, working with the Richmond/Ermet Aid Foundation for more than 25 years.
In 2018, at the age of 94, Ms. Cook was thrust back into the spotlight when her comments regarding actor Timothy Hughes' altercation with a Trump supporter during the curtain call of Frozen on Broadway went viral. Said Ms. Cook in reference to her dislike of then President Trump: "Where is John Wilkes Booth when you need him, right?" The Secret Service considered her statement to be a threat, visiting her at her home, but no arrests were made and Ms. Cook remained firm.
In 1964, Ms. Cook married actor and writer Tom Troupe, to whom she remained devoted until her death. Information on a public memorial to Ms. Cook will be released at a later date.
See Ms. Cook perform "Before The Parade Passes By" and the famous oak leaf monologue from Hello, Dolly! in concert below.