Living Legend Carole Cook speaks about REAF benefit concert and her career

Carole Cook celebrating with cast and crew at Feinstein's 54 Below in NYC. Photo by Matthew Rettenmund

This reporter had the privilege to talk to the legendary Carole Cook, as she will be among the many celebrities performing at the upcoming Richmond/Ermit Aid Foundation’s 25 annual “Help is On The Way” benefit concert and gala on August 18. REAF’s event is Northern California’s largest annual charity concert benefiting HIV/AIDS and hunger programs. It’s an elegant evening of wonderful music, delicious food, beverage tastings and, as Cook said, “most of all, it’s fun.”

The legendary Carole Cooke of stage, screen and TV will be among those performing at the annual REAF Benefit Concert at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Aug. 18

For as Cook explained, “no matter what, regardless of what I am doing or where I am, I have always asked producers/directors to let me be able to do the “Help is On The Way” show. Because it is so dear to me.” She and her husband Tom Troupe have been dedicated to the charity almost since its inception 25 years ago. She is pleased to be a part of this long-standing charity benefit gala, especially with so many fellow celebrities contributing.

When asked how she would describe herself, would it be as a singer, actor or a comedian? “I have always loved performing on stage. The stage is my first love,” she said. “It was Lucille Ball and ‘The Lucy Show’ that brought me to Hollywood and to movies.” With her contract at Desilu Productions and a movie deal at Warner Bros, her career was set. The 1964 live-animated “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” with Don Knotts, was her first movie and it was a hit.

But it was her love of the stage and of musicals that beckoned Cook to risk it; to leave that for a chance to go on tour to Australia. “I took a gamble,” she said. Yet for Cook it was on her heart to go with the Broadway hit “Hello Dolly.” Even her husband Tom was willing to pull up roots and go on that venture that made Cook the 2nd to follow after Carol Channing in a long line of leading ladies to portray the upbeat Dolly Levy in the very successful Jerry Herman composed musical.

“I have had the rare and fun opportunity to play both Dolly and Mame, said Cook. And, I think one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much is because they both were survivors, so full of life, even in the midst of adversity. ‘Before the Parade Passes By’ is one of my favorite songs to sing. And, I think it is a much better song to sing than the song ‘I am Still Here.’ Don’t get me wrong,” she added.

Making some comparison she said. “That’s a great Stephen Sondheim song. But ‘Before the Parade Passes By’ reaches out to everyone. It’s wonderful to portray a positive and upbeat character everyone can relate to,” said Cook.

Cook is thankful for the unexpected longevity of her career. It has spanned the decades. Baby-boomers remember her from “Incredible Mr. Limpet” and on TV from the Lucy Show. Younger generations know her from the film “Sixteen Candles” with Molly Ringwald. “Director John Hughes was brilliant at the work he did capturing that era and the mood of the youth at that time. I was uncomfortable with the profanity of my lines she said (which now are famous). But once I got into character, he let me ad-lib and improvise. I thought it was a cute movie and had fun making it. Since then it has gone on to cult-status” -(among ’80’s movies fans).

Cook has continued in film and TV since then with roles on series like Grey’s Anatomy and TNT Network’s ‘Major Crimes.’ “I love it all, she said, working on TV and in movies. It’s like having lots of children in one family. Tom and I consider both coasts our home.” Yet she reiterated, “the stage is my first love; especially Broadway musicals.”

Carole Cook celebrating with cast and crew at Feinstein’s 54 Below in NYC. Photo by Matthew Rettenmund

She credits her mom for encouraging her to have such a zest for life, music and theater. “My mother would drive us kids 200 miles from Abilene to Dallas Texas to see plays, the opera, ballet – anything cultural. She was wonderful that way, said Cook. My mother was like a prairie version of Auntie Mame, but with less money than Mame.”

And, she is grateful to her father and mother for insisting that she go away to college and get a degree. “They valued an education and thought it best that no matter what I did in life, I should have an education.” It was Cook’s love of music and theater that got her to Baylor University out of Abilene and off to the world beyond Texas.

She enjoyed her years at Baylor University and considers the theater department there at that time under instructor Paul Baker as one of the nation’s best. There she learned all the classics. “At Baylor I was trained in both drama and comedy. With the training I was able to go from Medea (an ancient Greek tragic play) to portraying Auntie Mame.”

Her time with Lucile Ball was valuable too. “Lucy loved to work and she took it very seriously,” said Cook. “On set we rehearsed a lot before taping a show,” said Cook. “I think the reason why Lucy liked rehearsals was because it was a way to experiment and expand; to see what was possible before setting out a performance before the audience.”

Two stand out in her mind as the most influential and professional. Lucy and Ethel Merman had a strong work ethic. Cook learned a lot from them.

“Lucy is the one who said I should go by Carole instead of Mildred Frances Cook.” Lucy was a fan of comedian Carole Lombard. Interestingly Cook noted. It was Lombard who told Lucy she should do comedy instead of what the studio-system was handing out to her at the time. “It was not until later in life when Lucy got to be famous through her TV shows.”

Another aspect to Cook’s longevity is the fact that whatever she does, Cook strives to do it well and tries to have fun. “I love the life I have lived, am living. I go with what I know, said Cook. I try not to get caught up in trends. I figure if I focus on what is human to everyone, then the gaps between generations don’t matter. Reaching out to make it something everyone can relate to reaches an audience.”

“I will keep performing as long as I am able to,” she said. Cook and husband Tom are scheduled to give a master class in November and hope to do another production of “The Gin Game.” But for now, Cook is looking forward to “Help is On The Way.”

“I am hoping the younger generations will take this charity to heart and continue on in this work,” she added.

REAF’s Help is On The Way is an annual benefit providing support to SF Bay Area’s charities such as Meals on Wheels and Rafael House.

The Richmond / Ermet Aid Foundation’s HELP IS ON THE WAY 25 – Concert and Gala Celebrating Broadway benefit for Meals on Wheels San Francisco, and Raphael House will be on Sunday August 18, 2019 at Herbst Theatre, located at 401 Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco. There will be a VIP Gala Reception at 5:00 pm in the Green Room.

A Silent Auction at 5:00 pm in Main Lobby – street level. The Performance begins at 7:00 and continues until 9:30 pm. There will be a Club REAF After Party with the cast following the show at 9:30 and will go on until 11:00 pm For tickets or additional info, please visit website. Or call 415- 273-1620.