And yes, I put on my Hedda Hopper flower hat to type “star of stage and screen,” but that’s exactly what the great Carole Cook was. Carole Cook’s talent touched several generations throughout her 60+ career with her performances in The Lucy Show (1960s), Kojak (1970s), Sixteen Candles and American Gigolo (1980s), and Home on the Range and Grey’s Anatomy (2000s). Carole’s husband of 58 years, Tom Troupe, shared the sad news that she died of heart failure in Beverly Hills, CA yesterday. Carole was 98.
Carole Cook was born Mildred Frances Cook on January 14, 1924, in Abilene, TX. When Carole was four years old, she saw her first show, and that was it for her. She knew she wanted to be an entertainer. The Hollywood Reporter says that Carole’s show business career started in the basement of the First Baptist Church, where she performed as a kid. After graduating high school, she studied Greek drama at Baylor University. Carole starred in local productions before moving to New York City. She made her NYC stage debut in 1954 in off-Broadway’s Threepenny Opera, replacing Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Peacham. A few years later, Carole’s career got a major boost when her performance in a local production of Annie Get Your Gun caught the attention of THEE Lucille Ball, who immediately said to her assistant, “Annie, get your phone, and get me Carole Cook.” Lucy invited Carole to Hollywood to audition for her Desilu Workshop for young actors. Lucy saw a special spark in Carole and signed her to Desilu Productions. Carole became Lucy’s protegee and even lived in Lucy’s house after she split from Desi Arnaz. Carole was going by her born name, Mildred Cook, at the time, and Lucy convinced her to change her stage name to Carole Cook after Carole Lombard. Lucy introduced the newly-named Carole Cook to Hollywood and a wider audience by putting her in an episode of CBS’ Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse where she sang, danced, snapped, and showed off her next-level eye-ography skills:
Carole made her acting onscreen debut in the Desilu-produced TV series U.S. Marshal. She made her movie debut in 1963’s Palm Springs Weekend, and a year later, she starred in The Incredible Mr. Limpet opposite Don Knotts. From 1963 to 1968, Carole starred in several episodes of her mentor’s show The Lucy Show.
In 1965, Carole became the second actress ever, after Carol Channing, to play Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! when she starred in an Australian production of the musical. Carole made her Broadway debut in the 1979 play Romantic Comedy, which also starred Mia Farrow and Anthony Perkins. And she later starred on Broadway as Maggie Jones in 42nd Street.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Carole was in episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Daniel Boone, Here’s Lucy, McMillian & Wife, Maude, Baretta, Chico and the Man, Starsky & Hutch, and Kojak (as the owner of the cop bar Stella’s). Since I’m a child of the ’80s, I’m obviously biased, but I have to say that the golden era of Carole’s career was the ’80s. She started the decade off piping hot by playing rich widow Mrs. Doburn in American Gigolo. And she was in the movie Grandview U.S.A., and episodes of Laverne & Shirley, Hart to Hart, Knight Rider, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, The A-Team, Cagney & Lacey, Magnum, P.I., and Dynasty as Denver’s premier madam Cora Van Husen. ’80s kids may know Carole best as the boundaries-ignoring Grandma Helen in Sixteen Candles:
Carole Cook’s later credits include voicing Pearl the Farmer in the 2004 animated movie Home on the Range and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
By 2018, Carole was already in her mid-90s, but that didn’t stop her from getting headlines. Carole became the Kathy Griffin of Old Hollywood when TMZ asked her about Trump as she left a restaurant, and she said, “Where is John Wilkes Booth when you need him, right?” That got her a visit from the Secret Service, and she later joked about it:
“Anybody would know that’s a joke. But it’s obviously a joke. The damn Secret Service came over, could not have been nicer. I said, ‘I can’t go to prison, though; the stripes are horizontal. They do not look good on me.'”
For 30 years, Carole used her name and talent to advocate for several HIV/AIDS charities, including S.T.A.G.E. LA and San Francisco’s Help Is On The Way.
When Carole married Tom Troupe in 1964, her mentor Lucille Ball was her matron of honor, and TCM host Robert Osborne was Tom’s best man. Carole is survived by her husband Tom, stepson Christopher, and sister Regina.
Here’s a profile on the glorious life and times of human sparkler Carole Cook from Australia’s Studio 10 in 2019:
Rest in peace, Carole Cook.