Interview: Legend CAROLE COOK Talks About Her Upcoming Cabaret Act at the Gardenia

By: Sep. 18, 2015
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The inimitable Carole Cook is one of those theatrical greats who...well, the mere mention of her name makes faces light up. And immediate laughter abounds at the thought of the outrageous things she has said and done onstage. This fiery redhead legend - it's OK, she and Lucy were friends - is about to open her night club act for 5 performances only - directed by the one and only David Galligan - at Tom Rolla's Gardenia. Miss Cook took time from her rehearsals to sit down and chat about the upcoming show.

Talk a little about the content of your show. Is it a series of anecdotes from your life in chronological order?

To an extent it is in chronological order, but not all of it. When I talk about certain things, it'll spark a memory that I'll then bring up. Some sweet things that happened when I was young that influenced me later in life. Frankly, I hope it gives the show a very spontaneous feeling, and I want the audience to feel like I'm telling it for the first time. I love the illusion of it being for the first time. Some of them are my favorite stories. I love telling them. And I love to hear the audience react. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they take things very seriously. But they all mean a lot to me. I go emotionally with it each night. David Galligan, the director, does such a wonderful job molding and shaping the show, and Chris Marlowe tailored the songs which just makes it such a pleasurable experience for me to perform it.

The last thing I want to create is a spoiler alert, but will you give us just a tease of the music? What are some of the songs you have chosen to perform? What is your favorite one?

My favorite song in the show - there are two: I absolutely adore a song that goes waaay back and is pertinent now. It's called "Something Cool" by Billy Barnes (I sing 4 of his numbers in the show). And I'm very fond of "Have I Stayed Too Long At The Fair." And, of course, I love doing "Hello, Dolly!" Gower Champion really created a legend with that staging, and I loved doing it for two years in Australia. I mean who wouldn't? You have 20 handsome guys looking at you coming down the stairs. "Before The Parade Passes By" is also very special to me. Honey, let me tell you, that's what Dolly's all about. 'I'm gonna throw open the doors and embrace life and just do it!' I believe in that song. And it's what I believe for my life, too.

What is one of the funniest mishaps - when everything went wrong - you can remember from a show you did onstage?

Oh, my dear, my life has been full of missteps. Like when there's a mess up and you're laughing your ass off. And you try to shake it off and say, "Carole, be a professional!"

There was a play, I can't even remember the title. It was a murder/comedy and in the end of Act 1 there were people sitting around the breakfast table. And I burst in (I was the murderer) and the curtain comes down. This night, I came on to kill the man. I reached in my pocket to shoot him dead and there is no gun! I did not have the gun. It was a breakfast scene, so I grabbed a jar of grape jelly and I reached in and grabbed a handful and started throwing it at the man!! I was screaming "Poison jelly!!" I got so into it, I hit everyone at the table. I "killed" the whole cast with poison jelly at the end of Act 1! Now what??? In Dolly one time I kicked my foot up and my shoe went flying off into the audience. And this little bald man brought it down to the foot of the stage. I gave him a big, red kiss on the top of his head. These crazy things are the best part of live theatre.

How did doing Steel Magnolias change your career?

I would not say it changed my career, but it gave impetus to it. I loved playing Ouisar. Everybody in it loved what they were doing, and that was joyful. And we're in an audience-pleasing show, so it was just so rewarding. All of the women, there were six of us, loved each other. I don't think there were any cross words among us. It goes against the axiom that women do horrible things to each other in show business. Barbara Rush and Margo Martindale were in that show and we toured for years. We did the Kennedy Center and performed for the Bushes. Bobby Harling wrote it, and it was just a fabulous show.

What is the favorite show you have done? Why?

It's difficult to pick a favorite. I worked with my husband, Tom Troupe, in Lion In Winter, and that was special. There are wonderful things about many shows that make them dear to me. I've done such enjoyable shows from comedy to drama. I love Chekhov. Some would find that hard to believe. I'd love to do Gypsy. Honey, there's a roomful of shows I'd like to do. The trick is, "Keep breathing!"

Did anyone serve as mentor to your career?

There are so many more opportunities for women in comedy now. There's SNL and so many other things to cut your teeth on. Just get out there and do it! There are so many talented, funny women right now, and it's hard work. Lucille Ball, God knows, proved that. Lucy loved to rehearse, you could never rehearse her enough. And I learned my professional dedication from that.

Years ago, Lucy heard about me and sent for me to come to LA. And at the meeting we had a long talk and I told her some of the stories I do in my show, in fact. And at the end of our conversation she wanted to put me on contract. She asked if I would consider changing my name which was Mildred Frances Cook then. And I said, "Of course!" (I mean, it was Lucille Ball, after all!) And I said, Carole, for Carole Lombard who was married to Clark Gable. And Lucy said, "Carole Cook." "You, Carole Cook, and Carole Lombard have the same healthy disrespect for everything in general," and I took that as the greatest compliment.

Talk about your marriage to Tom Troupe and how that wonderful marriage has lasted all these years. What's the secret?

We've been married for 51 years, and it's been the best thing that's certainly ever happened to me. He's made me better. He's just improved me. I don't think there's a secret. You just do it every day. There has never been jealousy between us - any competition professionally. If only one of us can get the job, I want him to get it. I want people to recognize the talent that each of us sees in the other. He was in The Caretaker, and I thought he was the best actor I'd ever seen. I didn't see any tricks in his work. There was so much honesty-nothing showy. But the end result was stunning. There was always a hint of danger in his work. George C. Scott had the same quality, and it sets some people apart. Tom plays comedy as honestly and dead seriously as tragedy. Anything less than great in those two fields will get you booed off the stage.

What do you want to be remembered for most? What should the inscription on your tombstone say?

I would like to be remembered as somebody who brought a little difference to people's lives for the good. We all want to be beloved, and that would be nice. I'd like for them to think "I'm glad I knew her."