Down a red staircase laced with gold, the magnificent figure of Dolly gracefully glides, looking for all the world like Mae West in her heyday.
The second actress to descend the famed Harmonia Gardens stairs was also a Carole (this time with an E!). In addition to “almost” sharing the same name as the original Broadway Dolly, she also shared something with the international Dolly, Mary Martin. They were both Texans; Carole hails from Abolene, Texas.
Wiggling her way down the stairs onto a ramp, this Dolly poured her heart and soul into the number, from which Hello, Dolly! boisterously took its name.
This was a sequence that would galvanize Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney, Australia night after night for nineteen weeks beginning in March of 1965. After her show in Australia, she made her travels to New Zealand for six months where she would perform in Auckland, Christ Church, and Wellington; two months in each city.
This Dolly was tremendous! And the waiters…well, they could have danced all night.
Carole Cook led the Australian company of Hello, Dolly! playing Dolly to her fingertips, burstin’ with LIFE, and a fulfilling warm, natural cash-register instinct.
One of the most unforgettable scenes in musical comedy would probably be the moment when the curtains part atop the stairs of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant and Dolly Gallagher Levi appears in her gloriously red dress with a plumaged headdress. Dolly, in Jerry Herman’s hit Hello, Dolly! Channing was the first, winning a TONY Award for her performance in 1964. Cook was the world’s second Dolly, having run almost just as long in Sydney as Channing did on Broadway.
The role for this particular production was originally offered to Julie Wilson. At the time she was pregnant, and her husband promised to leave her if she left him to take the role. Already with one son, and a baby on the way, she chose family over career.
After Julie turned the role down, a pursuit for Dolly set off; one like none other since the search for Scarlett O’Hara took place.
Across three continents, Australian producers, JC Williamson Theatres LTD, searched for their leading lady. At the advice of Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman, Carole Cook flew into New York to audition for JC Williamson Theatres, AND Mr. Merrick himself. Mike Stewart had written “Red Hot Mama” for Carole several years before and imagined her as Dolly where he would then request that she fly in to audition. Well, she did AND she got the part. The odds were definitely against Carole because the producers wanted a MAJOR NAME! However, with true Texas, tenacity, Carole refused to allow this to discourage her. And, with true Texas luck, it clearly paid off. She auditioned on a Sunday and got the part the following Tuesday. She HAD played Dolly Levi previously in The Matchmaker in 1961 at the Dallas Theater Center, then she toured with the show .This bigger and brighter Dolly Levi would open in Sydney on March 26th, 1965 for nineteen weeks; then Melbourne for another nineteen weeks.
Carole is a red-headed, green-eyed American film and TV personality. It was Lucille Ball who suggested she take the professional name of Carole as a tribute to her own idol, Carole Lombard. Carole’s real name is Mildred Cook. She became one of Lucille Ball’s protégés, and played small roles.
Audiences knew of her through film roles such as Don Knotts’ long suffering wife in The Incredible Mr. Limpet; and she also appeared opposite Connie Stevens and Troy Donahue in Palm Springs Weekend. Audiences also knew of her because of her recurring role on Lucille Ball’s hit series, The Lucy Show. Lucille Ball discovered Carole and became her mentor and friend. As a matter of fact, Lucille Ball was Carole Cook’s matron of honor when she married her husband, Tom Troupe.
Carole told me, “when you have Lucille Ball as your matron of honor, NO BODY even knows you’re there!”
Their best man was TCM’s Robert Osborne.
Lucille Ball had formed a group of young performers to become the nucleus of her Desilu Stock company. When Carole discovered that her idol, Lucille Ball, was calling her to go out to Hollywood for a screen test, she originally thought it was a gag. Lucille Ball had called Carole to ask her if she would like to go to Hollywood and make a test after reading a review of Carole’s from Annie Get Your Gun.
Carole remembers vividly her arrival in California. When she got to Lucy’s home in Beverly Hills, Lucy told her that the maid would take her luggage to the guest house. Carole had seen movies where the maid would unpack someone’s suitcases and lay things out, but this was really happening! Carole told me, “When a performer is on the road, she is either traveling or rehearsing or acting.
I carried the bags and unpacked myself because I was mortified at the thought of someone going through her personal items.” THAT is how Carole got to Hollywood! Thank you, Lucille Ball!!
All of that was four years prior to Australia and Hello, Dolly!
Variety: January 22nd, 1965:
Carole Cook Doing ‘Dolly’ Down Under
Fred Hebert leaves for Australia this weekend to direct the first foreign production of “Hello, Dolly!” to open in Sydney Mar. 27 at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Down Under edition of the Broadway smash will be presented by J. C. Williamson.
Carole Cook, an American, will do the Carol Channing role. When Carole opened in Dolly! at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney on March 25th, 1965, the top ticket price was $6.00 and they broke box office records! Newspapers heralded this production as one of the best to reach Sydney stages in years. She would spend the next 16 months in Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne.
Variety: April 8th, 1965
DOLLY’ OFF TO SMASH START DOWN UNDER
Sydney, April 8.
“Hello, Dolly” got away to a smash start at Her Majesty’s, Sydney, for J.C. Williamson Ltd. at $6 top. Critics gave the show rave reviews and hinted it might run at least two years at this house. American stars Carole Cooke, Jack Goode and Bill Mullikin scored major hits with patrons and the press. Fred Herbert directed, with Betty Pounder handling the choreography. Understood Williamson laid out a production figure of $130,000 on “Dolly.”
“A PERFORMANCE OF HEROIC ENERGY AND AUDACITY!
Dolly has the asset essential to success in the gaudy, knowing, attention-compelling personality of Carole Cook. With the red-hair and man-eating smile of a beautiful fox, she took charge of the evening as greedily as the authors undoubtedly intended!” —MORNING HERALD, Sydney (March 1965)
Carole was joined in this company by Jack Goode as Horace Vandergelder. When they opened, they would spend the next two years as Dolly Levi.
“CAROLE COOK IS A GLOWING CANDELABRA OF ALMOST FEROCIOUSLY OUTGOING GOOD SPIRITS!
A magical kaleidoscope of colours… memorable, exciting, extravagantly exuberant. Her speaking voice is an orchestra in itself… she exploits wholesome sexuality. You won’t see a star performance twinkling more positively than hers!”
-CHEF STCHUECM PRESS, New Zealand (Mm 1966)
“THEY JUST WENT MAD OVER THIS DOLLY!
The standing ovation from a stamping, shouting, standing crowd was testimony that never before in the history of Auckland show business had anyone so completely and triumphantly captured an audience as Carole Cook. Unforgettable… a magnificent piece of barnstorming, the zany zest of which swept the audience before her all the way!”
-AUCKLAND STAR, New Zealand (Feb. 1966)
“A STUNNING RED-HAIRED BEAUTY! The second actress in the world to play the musical Dolly, she deservedly brought the house to its feet.”
-THE AUSTRALIAN, Sydney (April 1965)
There was a major revival of “Hello Dolly” in Australia in 1995 with Australia’s leading lady of musicals Jill Perryman. She had played Irene Molloy in 1965 opposite Carole Cook (and, understudying Carole, she took over when Carole fell ill during the run) and burst to stardom when she played Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl” in 1966.