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One-on-One with Stage and Screen Legend Carole Cook: It's All About "Curiosity"

Carole Cook appearing in STAGE LA 2012
Stage LA

Now into her sixth decade in show business, stage and screen legend Carole Cook has done it all and seen it all. Filmgoers young and old alike undoubtedly know her best as Bessie Limpet to Don Knott’s The Incredible Mr. Limpet or for her work in Sixteen Candles, American Gigolo or even as the voice of the cow Pearl in the animated Home on the Range. On any given night one can turn on the tv and find Cook popping up in memorable shows like The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, Emergency!, Murder, She Wrote and yes, even Grey’s Anatomy while stage aficionados may break out in song at remembering Cook’s dynamic performances as Dolly Levi and Mame in such showstoppers as Hello Dolly!, Mame and Auntie Mame. An eight time Dramalogue winner for her theatre work, this year marks her 28th appearance in the 30th Annual S.T.A.G.E. Goes to the Movies, benefitting APLA and AIDS patients and their families in the Southern California region, a cause very close to heart.

As bubbly as champagne, Cook effervesces when talking about S.T.A.G.E. Goes to the Movies. “It’s honoring movies. We LOOOVE the movies. It’s a crossover. I’m not sure, but I know they’re showing a lot of movie clips.” Celebrating music in movies, many of the dance clips showing will have a live person dancing with the on-screen persona, other performance pieces will have entertainers like Jimmy Darren singing some of his most famous Gidget songs. But for Carole Cook, this year will be about remembering, celebrating and sparking curiosity about not only the S.T.A.G.E. project and APLA, but some classic movies and legendary entertainers.

“I’m gonna talk this year when I come out and talk about when I was a kid. I’ll tell those stories. But I’m gonna talk about the funny things that happened with me watching movies when I was a kid. I just thought that I could walk up on the screen and go INTO the movie. I would go outside - I swear, and this was after musicals - I would swing around the parking meters and just sing. I must have looked like the idiot of the world. I was in a little tiny town, Abilene, TX, but they thought, ‘Ugh. She’s really weird.’ [laughing] But, I kept hearing the music.”

And if hearing the music isn’t enough, what about doing impressions? “ Bette Davis. I’d try to be her. I’d try to be everybody I ever saw. For about two hours [after seeing a movie] I did a bad impersonation. I was about 8, 9, 10 and it was just terrible. But, you know what? My mother let me do it. And I’d cry, oh how I could cry! I was 10 years old and I saw Hedy Lamarr and Maria Montez and all those people and they wore turbans. And I wanted a turban. I’m 10 years old and my mother made me a turban. Now you talk about ridiculous! [laughing]”

Giddy with glee, Cook reminisces about one of her funniest movie-inspired antics as a girl, freely admitting, “I broke my arm because of Gene Kelly! I was in the gym. I thought, ‘Oh fabulous. I saw him jump and grab a rope.’ And I did it and of course plummeted right to the floor and broke my arm. And everybody wanted to be Judy Garland Mickey Rooney. Unbelievable!”

But as if all of the movies and tv and theatre and benefit work with S.T.A.G.E., isn’t enough, Cook has another passion. Together with her husband Tom Troupe, the two give master classes in acting at universities across the country hoping to not only teach young performers, but inspire; inspire them to want to delve into the history of the arts, inspire them to want to understand who came before that now allows them to build on that and move into the future, inspire them to be curious. “What kills me - now we’re talking master classes - we speak to young men and women who want to be in the theater. And do you know - and again, not the man on the street, it’s somebody who wants to be in theater - master class - and they don’t know who Ethel Merman is, who Lynn Fontanne is. Those are the people that came before us. . .It will help you today if you know your past. . . And I’m talking about waaay back. It’s fun to know about. And if this is what you want to devote your life today, you need to find out about it.”

For Cook, “It just seems to me that curiosity - I don’t find it. And I know I sound like the grand old lady of the theater and movies, but I find that lacking in most young people today - and I’m talking about people who are interested in [the theatre, movies]. It’s not your neighbor or person across the street. These are people that profess to loving movies or the stage. And the lack of knowledge of history, I don’t understand. I wanted to know who came before me.” And hand in hand with acquiring that knowledge today is the integration of social media. “What’s stunning about it to me is that with the social media, that is now at their fingertips [and they still aren’t curious]. I had to go to the library or I had to send off for the movies. All that is at the fingertips today. . .. I think the young people are fascinating. I find them talented. I find all the good things. But I do find the lack of curiosity.”

Giving Cook encouragement and joy about the future of curiosity, however, is the new generation of youngsters she meets outside of the university halls or theaters, those just on the street or, as she gleefully relates, in an airport. “This little group of kids came over to me and - now we’re talking “Limpet” was my first movie and it was many years ago - and do you know those kids came up to me, ‘Oh! It’s Bessie Limpet! It’s Bessie Limpet!’ And I said to the mother, ‘Where did they ever know that?’ And she said, ‘Oh, it was on last Sunday. We all watched it.’ Now see? Isn’t that fun! They were curious, and they remembered!”

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Curious? You can catch Carole Cook and some more legends of stage and screen in S.T.A.G.E. Goes to the Movies on May 10, 2014, from 7:30 to 10:30 at the Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90211. For more information or to purchase tickets go to www.stagela.com.