Carole Cook

Carole Cook

Actress Carole Cook long has been a bragging point for Baylor University even if the former Paul Baker student claims she left more with Baylor's approval than blessing at the time.

She's in the Del Shores comedy "A Very Sordid Wedding," which screens at 7 p.m. Monday at the Waco Hippodrome, and even though it's small part as Hortense, a hyper-religious chairman of the anti-gay Anti-Equality Revival, she's likely the one you remember.

I chatted with Carole recently by phone from her West Hollywood, Calif., home  — OK, she chatted and I listened — but ran out of time and space to include the interview in the story that ran in Friday's Tribune-Herald. As my mother would say, and you can see here, she's a live wire.

She came to the filming of "A Very Sordid Wedding," shot in Winnepeg, Canada, and Dallas, after working on her one-woman show "I'm Still Here" and enjoyed the experience. "They were all crazy, but wonderful and extremely professional, but we never lost sight of the fun involved," she said. 

Shores set "Sordid Lives" and "A Very Sordid Wedding" in Winters, Texas, where he was born, and that was a selling point for Cook. "I come from Abilene, darling, and you don't kid about that," she said.

She found Shores and producer-actor Emerson Collins, gay and Baylor graduates, kindred souls - appreciative of their time and education there, but constrained by its official religiosity and student code of conduct. At the same time, the actress was named a Baylor Distinguished Alumna in 1995. "I was a rebel. I left Baylor under what we called a dark cloud. Now they call me eccentric," she laughed.

For her role as Hortense — and I'm guessing there's a double entendre in that name — Cook channelled her straitlaced grandmother for inspiration. "I just recalled my childhood. I had my grandmother to think of," she said. "It was really fun to play a villain."

She admits the humor and church-bashing that's in the comedy may step on righteous toes in too-tight shoes, but points out it's all in fun. "That whole movie is fun. It's a sendup. It's outrageous," she said.  

Cook came to Baylor as Mildred Frances Cook — friends know her as Cookie — but she adopted Carole as a stage name on the advice of Hollywood actress Lucille Ball, who took the young Texan under her wing. Ball suggested Carole, after actress Carole Lombard, would make more of an impression on audiences and talent scouts than Mildred.

Carole Cook did prove memorable in a long career on stage and before the cameras, but much more likely due to the talent and personality under the name. That name is in the credits for more than a dozen television series from the 1960s to 1990s, more than a half dozen films and many stage roles, including the original productions of "42nd Street" and "Romantic Comedy."

She followed Carol Channing as the flamboyant Dolly Levi in the Broadway production of "Hello Dolly!" and finds that a favorite role to this day. "Wearing a big red dress, coming down the stairs with 40 boys looking at you — you can't beat that," she said.

"Mame," however, might tie that, for reasons she says are obvious. "I've turned into Auntie Mame, a larger-than-life woman — and fun," she said with relish.

She and her actor husband of 53 years, Tom Troupe, are working on plans to go to New York with her show "Dress Up," with its closing Stephen Sondheim song from "Follies," "I'm Still Here," that Cook has performed to standing ovations at revues and AIDS/HIV support fundraisers.

The self-professed Baylor rebel is certainly still here. "I know to some I'm a rebel or an eccentric, but with time, darling, it heals all wounds," she explained.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor