|onald Cook (Sep 26. 1901 - Oct 1. 1961)|
Height: 5' 11" (1,8 m)
Brothers: Mortimer P. (1892 - 1976),
Ransom McCurdy (1893 - 1986)
Sister: Marjorie (1892 - bfr. 1961)
(1) Frances Beranger, actress
(Sep 20. 1930, ca feb 1931, divorce)
(2) Maxine Dailey Lewis, radio singer/dancer
(Jan 16, 1934 - Jul 1934, divorce)
Daughter: Donna Dailey Cook
(b. May 22. 1934)
(3) Princess Gioia Tasca di Cuto
(1937 - until Oct 1961, his death)
Joan Bennett (1956- his death)
Donald Fenton Cook was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, to Frank Ransom Cook and Edith Parker.
He originally studied farming and inaugurated his theatrical career at the little theater in Portland. Cook graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in agriculture. He also played football.
He worked briefly as a bank clerk but gave up the job to take a fling at vaudeville during the early 1920s. So at one time he toured the West in a song and patter act. "Strictly small time," he explained. One night when he teamed with a partner for an amateur song, and patter act at The Wigwam in San Francisco. The team of Cook and Wadhams obtained a four months booking in vaudeville and toured through little western towns and down to Amarillo, Texas. The booking agent who was to meet them there to send the act to Chicago failed to appear.
Undaunted he made his way to Emporia, Kansas where he sang in movie theaters. He moved to Kansas City and worked there at odd jobs as a bellhop, elevator boy, grocery clerk, and cattle counter in the stockyards. Finally he secured a job as a lumber salesman, and in the evenings, organized a little theatre group and studied drama.
His two years with the Kansas City Community Players were not
wasted. In the summer of 1925, encouraged by letters of introduction from Miss
Anglin to three producers, Donald arrived in New York. Two of the producers
turned him down. The third, George C. Tyler, was in Europe. During the waiting
period, Cook studied voice and dancing. When Tyler returned he interviewed Cook
and sent him to Minneapolis to join a star-studded company playing on the road
in The Rivals. The cast included Chauncey Olcott, James T. Powers, and
Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske. Cook listened to all the advice from these
experienced thespians, but was especially grateful to Mrs. Fiske who coached him
in his role as Captain Absolute. He still attributes his “fundamental knowledge
of comedy technique” to her patient teaching. This great lady of the stage, said
Cook, taught him everything he knows about the theater.
Spellbound was a 3 act play by Frank Vosper, which
ran for 24 performances at the Earl Carroll Theatre, New York, starting November
14, 1927. Elisabeth Patterson, Campbell Gullen and O.P. Heggie played the
leading roles. Donn Cook was Rowlie Bateson a young boarder led by Ethel
Underwood to murder her husband Harold Carter.
Above: Madge Kennedy, Donald MacDonald and Donn Cook. in Paris Bound, a Comedy in 3 acts at the Music Box Theatre New York (starting Dec 27. 1927) playing another kind of husband ... , the sort that goes to Europe for romances.
On Broadway's Gypsy Donn Cook, reportedly played in
support of Miss Claiborne Foster. (Klaw Theatre, January 14.
1929, to March 1929)
Donn then joined the Murphy Brown Players at The Wieting, Syracuse where he performed with great success in several plays (at 9 shows a week).
In 1929 in the five consecutive productions of the Murphy-Brown Players, some husband has always gotten it right on the chin. Donn Cook had the worst of it. In This Thing Called Love (April 1) and in Excess Baggage (April 15), he found his wife in another man's arms, and even in Seventh Heaven (April 22), it is only Chico's blindness which prevented him from seeing the same thing when he came back from the war (Donn slashed his finger grabbing the knife away from Helen Baxter). In The Royal Family (April 8), Albert Hayes had to stand by and see his young wife practically desert him and their baby to return to the stage. It was Bill Jeffrey's turn in Camera (April 29), he stood on a club veranda and watched his wife in the familiar clutch. Major honors went to Frank Wilcox and Ralph Murphy's co-stars Helen Baxter and Donn Cook. Donn played Jerry Donovan, expert cameraman who himself screens as the ideal Romeo.
The Skull (May 6) was a blood-curdler, Donn Cook played the part of a lawyer and Helen Baxter that of the girl he loves and saves from the menace of the criminal. Frank Wilcox had the important role of Captain Allenby. The play for the following week An American Tragedy (May 13) brought stark realism, with Donn Cook and Lucia Laska carrying the burden beautifully.
In The Command to Love (May 21) Donn in resplendent costume was Gaston, Marquis Du Saint-Lac, French military attaché, fallen under the spell of the statuesque and jealous Marie-Anne (Ethel Wilson), wife of the unsuspecting French ambassador (William Jeffrey). But it turned out (such is diplomacy ) that the honor of his republic demanded that Donn Cook win the favor of Manuela (Helen Baxter), coquettish consort of the Spanish war minister...
He also starred as Donn Cook in Half Gods (Dec 1929 - Jan 1930, Plymouth Theatre) and Rebound (Feb-May 1930, Plymouth Theatre) and kept using that name until 1930, even in his first film assignments. Donald would never betray his love for the theater.
Above: Donn Cook as Bill Truesdale and Hope Williams as Sara Jaffrey in Rebound (1930).
In Elitch Gardens, Denver Selena Royle and Donn Cook were
signed as members of summer's stock company playing the leading parts. Others
engaged included Nedda Harrigan, Raymond Bramley, Duncan Penwarden, J. Arthur
Young and Frances Beranger. It opened on June 14. 1930 and Melville Burke would
direct the company.
Cook fell in love with Frances Beranger. “We were in love, and she urged me to go to Hollywood,” Cook said. “I did, and we were married when she returned to the coast from Denver.”
On September 16. 1930 newspapers announced the engagement of Frances Beranger/Berwanger, actress, and daughter of Mrs. William DeMille to Donn Cook, New York leading man. The announcement was made by the girl's mother. No definite date was set for the wedding but, according to Mrs. DeMille in the article, it probably will take place within the next month.
The two players became acquainted while in the same stock company in Denver last season. After their marriage they went to live in Whitley Heights, Hollywood. They married in Los Angeles on Sep 20. 1930.
“We didn't hit it off” was his only comment.
The marriage lasted six months. However, the prestige of the Elitch engagement helped him get my first Hollywood contract – with Warner Brothers.
Above left: Miss Frances Beranger, daughter of Mrs. William DeMille, was married to Don Cook, New York actor, in Chicago. They met while appearing on the stage together in Denver.
Above right: An engagement of interest to many Syracuse theatergoers is that of Miss Frances Beranger, daughter of Mrs. William C. DeMille, and Donn Cook, former member of the Wieting Stock Company.
He started screen work in "shorts" (Roseland,
1930) before going on to feature
films. It's fair to say Donald Cook came to films initially as leading man
during the early sound era. 1931's Unfaithfull with Ruth Chatterton and
Paul Lukas was his first feature (billed als Donald Cook, he was loaned from
First National by Paramount). Although he is certainly an expert and handsome
actor, his features are not as strongly etched as most of the top stars of the
screen. Subsequently relegated to supporting roles. Cook
spent seven years in Hollywood playing in 30 films. He always seemed to project
a dour personality, which was more effective as the shell-shocked war veteran
brother Mike Powers of James Cagney in the film The Public Enemy
(1931). He also played the protégé of
crippled ballet impresario John Barrymore in The Mad Genius
(1931), Bette Davis' love interest in
The Man Who Played God (1932).
Above right: Donald with Sylvia Sydney in Jennie Gerhardt (1933).
Reportedly Donald Cook’s "hobby" was collecting stray dogs
and giving them a home until friends take them, so the actor has room for
another. After moving into a new home in Beverly Hills, the actor built the wire
enclosure for his five dogs and housed them safely before he moved his own
belongings. The white dog was named Jean, after Jean Harlow (1932).
In May-June of 1932 Cook had a
concussion of the brain after being hit by an automobile.
Top: Evalyn Knapp visits Donald Cook in the hospital after an auto accident.
Above right: Donald Cook as Lt. John Gregg in Private Jones (1933)
He was one of the first film actors to portray Ellery Queen. In The Spanish Cape Mystery, a low-budget 1935 mystery Cook plays Ellery Queen in a low-key, poker-faced fashion, which may not be terribly exciting but is actually closer to the original concept than most of the movie Queens. Cook's flirtatious Ellery is unrelated to any Ellery Queen novel. (Pictures below left and right)
While his screen roles were run-of-the-reel, he was heard on radio in Charlie and Jessie, with Dianne Bourbon and Florence Lake, Life Begins, Martha Webster, and Mother of Mine, the latter with Agnes Young. Because of his unexciting and unimportant Hollywood assignments Donald returned to the stage.
In 1937 Cook married to former Princess Giovanna Mastro - Giovanni Tasca Di Cuto, with whom he resided on Long Island, NY. (aka Gioia Tasca di Cuto) where he was hired by the Theatre Guild.
Much less is known about his radio work. In CBS' Life Begins Donald Cook played Lloyd Crawford, Virginia's Craig's love interest. The series ran from Jan 22, 1940 until Jul 18, 1941. He also appeared in an episode of radio's Columbia Workshop, described as a very touching crime story, beautifully told, "Wings of An Eagle" was broadcast on Feb 23, 1941.
In 1941 Don he did an average of 10 a week but in the past had made as many as 35 radio broadcasts in one week. He lived In East 48th street in the Turtle Bay district and also had a farm at Cobalt, Conn.
He said not a word about his "art" He even called it "play-pretending."
He didn't think that he will always be an actor. "An actor," he
said, "has too many crutches... first the author writes his lines and then a
director tells him how to deliver them. I'll get into something else eventually,
maybe directing or writing."
It was the stage, however that gave him widest range to
display his talents or comic lechery. He also enjoyed a comic lark opposite
Tallulah Bankhead in Foolish Notion, and a 1948 revival of Private Lives.
By 1950 he forsook films entirely in favor of stage work. In the original
1951 Broadway run of The Moon Is Blue he delighted Manhattan
theatergoers as Barbara Bel Geddes' would-be-seducer (Below
This play in which he starred that had the longest run, was made into a film
that caused a scandal in its time because it used the word "virgin" while
showing a woman's bedroom. Cook played the same role that David Niven played in
the 1953 film.
It was at this point in the mid-Fifties that he became reassociated with Joan Bennett, when he replaced Claude Dauphin in the comedy Janus, lasting through the eleven-month tour with Joan. So from 1956 Joan Bennett was seriously involved with Donald Cook, whom she referred to as the love of her life (he legally separed Gioia a few years before his death).
In her excellent book The Bennett Playbill (1970) Joan describes their “’first’’ meeting. "Producer Alfred de Liagre was looking for a leading man, and since was given cast approval, I suggested the distinguished actor Donald Cook. I’d seen him in his greatest successes, 'Skylark', 'Claudia' and 'The Moon Is Blue' and thought him a superb actor. We met during the preparation of Janus, and because I felt I knew him, I said ‘Hello Donald’ to which he replied, formally, ‘How do you do, Miss Bennett.’ It was the beginning of one of the most important relationships of my life."
Neither Cook nor Joan could remember appearing together in 1932's The Trial of Vivienne Ware. Over the years Donald believed his leading lady to be Fay Wray, and Miss Bennett felt certain John Boles had been her vis-a-vis in the Fox fiasco. Commenting on their mutual lapse of memory, Miss Bennett said, "No such memory lapse about Donald Cook would ever occur again, and | consider the four years we worked together among the most charmed of my life. It was a four-year acting lesson. An actor who was the very opposite of the introspective performer, his off-hand charm and ease with a laugh line was incomparable. Endowed with impeccable timing, he knew exactly when to drop the bomb, and his technique was accurately described as 'playing with a steady glib absurdity.' "
He also made television appearances in, Wanted: Dead Or
Alive, Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Prudential Family
Playhouse (1950), The Billy Rose Show and
The Philco Television Playhouse. But perhaps he is best known for his
role as "Tom Blake" next to Joan Bennett in the television series, Too Young To Go Steady
His death came a day after he suffered a heart attack while in New Haven, CT for the tryout of a new Broadway play. After he failed to appear for a matinee performance of the French comedy A Shot in the Dark, an adaptation of the play L'Idiote, starring Julie Harris and William Shatner. The manager of the play had a bellhop check Cook's room and found Cook semi-conscious on the flour of his hotel room. He was taken to Grace New Haven Hospital were he died, aged 60. Joel Thomas, the understudy stepped in but it was Walter Matthau who took over Cook's leading role in the play following his death.
To Joan Bennett it was a horrifying blow and she wrote, "I was heartbroken and at a loss myself, not only personally but professionally. Working with Donald, I understood what ‘ensemble’ playing meant for the first time and felt I never wanted to set foot on a stage again without him." Of course, she did return to the stage.
Cook left his widow Joya (sic), from whom he was legally
separated several years ago, and two brothers in San Francisco. He was buried at River View Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.
(6) Rotten Tomatoes
Additional video & audio sources
(1) The Public Enemy (1931) James Cagney takes a punch from Donald Cook
(2) Old Time Radio Downloads
This actor profile is a part of
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The actor above played Ellery Queen in
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Page first published on April 23, 2017
Last updated October 15, 2023
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