Carole Cook, Lucille Ball Protégé and ‘Sixteen Candles’ Actress, Dies at 98
Carole Cook, who used a career boost from Lucille Ball to build a career that included three turns on Broadway and roles in Sixteen Candles and The Incredible Mr. Limpet, has died. She was 98.
Cook died of heart failure on Wednesday, three days shy of her birthday, in Beverly Hills, her husband, actor Tom Troupe, announced.
On television, Cook showed up as the ex-wife of Walter Findlay (Bill Macy) on Maude, as the bar owner of the cop hangout Stella’s on Kojak, as madam Cora Van Husen on Dynasty and as Donna La Mar, the girlfriend of Charlie Cagney (Dick O’Neill), on Cagney & Lacey.
The fun-loving Texan came to Hollywood at Ball’s behest and appeared on a 1959 episode of the comedienne’s Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Ball convinced her to change her first name from Mildred to Carole in honor of the actress she most admired, Carole Lombard.
Cook then worked alongside Ball on 18 episodes of The Lucy Show from 1963-68 — often playing Lucy Carmichael’s pal Thelma Green — and five installments of CBS’ Here’s Lucy from 1969-74. They even played a game of Password together in 1965. She wore her hair red, as did her mentor.
Cook also portrayed the wife of Don Knotts’ character and watched him swim out of her life in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) and was Molly Ringwald’s touchy-feely Grandma Helen in John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles (1984).
In 1965, she followed the legendary Carol Channing as the second actress to portray Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! — this was for a lengthy gig in Australia — and then appeared in the original Broadway productions of Romantic Comedy and 42nd Street, which bowed in 1979 and ’80, respectively.
In September 2018, Cook and her husband were interviewed by TMZ outside Craig’s in West Hollywood, and she got into a spot of trouble when she suggested that President Trump should be assassinated. “Where is John Wilkes Booth when you need him, right?” she asked.
The Secret Service paid her a visit, and she pointed out “they couldn’t have been nicer. I said, ‘I can’t go to prison, the stripes are horizontal, they don’t look good on me.’”
One of four children, Mildred Frances Cook was born in Abilene, Texas, on Jan. 14, 1924.
“Abilene isn’t exactly the hub of Broadway — you’re up to your ass in mesquite trees — but I saw my first show when I was four, knew I wanted to do that, and I never deviated,” she said in a July interview. “I started out in the basement of the First Baptist Church and worked my way up to Broadway, to movies.”
After graduating in 1945 from Baylor University, where she studied Greek drama, the green-eyed Cook worked in regional theater and made it to Broadway in 1954 in a revival of Threepenny Opera, replacing Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Peachum in the cast.
She was appearing in Kismet in Warren, Ohio, when she received a call from Ball, who had read a review of her performance in Annie Get Your Gun and asked her to come to California to audition for her Desilu Workshop company of young actors. (Future Untouchables actor Nicholas Georgiade also got his start there.)
She signed with Desilu and even lived in Ball’s home after her divorce from Desi Arnaz.
On Christmas night in 1959, Cook appeared on CBS’ Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse as one of the young performers getting coached by Desilu co-founder Ball for a musical revue. Three weeks later, she made her onscreen debut on a Robert Altman-directed episode of the Desilu series U.S. Marshal.
In her first film, she flirted with a basketball coach (Jack Weston) in Palm Springs Weekend (1963), starring Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue.
Cook’s résumé also included episodes of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, That Girl, McMillan & Wife, Chico and the Man, Magnum, P.I., Dynasty, Hart to Hart and Grey’s Anatomy — where she sang “Stormy Weather” — and such films as The Gauntlet (1977), American Gigolo (1980), Summer Lovers (1982) and Home on the Range (2004).
She and Troupe married in March 1964, when Ball was their matron of honor and future THR columnist and TCM host Robert Osborne (another Desilu player) their best man. They acted together in such plays as The Lion in Winter and Father’s Day and raised money for those living with HIV/AIDS.
In addition to her husband, survivors include her stepson, Christopher, and his wife, Becky; sister Regina; and nieces and nephews.
Donations in her memory can be made to the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly The Actors Fund).
In 2018, Cook sang and shared memories in a one-woman show at the intimate Feinstein’s/54 Below club in New York. “At my age, playing [here] is not a career move,” she said. “I have jewelry bigger than this room.”