He originally studied farming and inaugurated his theatrical career at the little theater in Portland. Cook graduated from the University of Oregon.
At one time he toured the west in a song and patter act. "Strictly
small time," he explained. One day when he found himself in Kansas City out
of funds and had to take a job as a bell-hop, he thought he was down on his
luck. But he was wrong. It was strictly a gesture anyway, because his family is
in the banking business and, although they then disapproved of his choice of
professions, they never have felt any financial pain. Finally be got a job in
the lumber business but was so stage struck he started acting in the Kansas City
community theater and there Margaret Anglin saw him, liked his work, asked him
to call at her hotel, and told him so. "It seemed too good to be true,'
Cook related, "but soon I received a telegram instructing me to join an
all-star touring company of "rivals," featuring the late Minnie Maddern
Fiske." This great lady of the stage, said Cook, taught him everything he
knows about the theater.
He worked briefly as a bank clerk, but gave up the job to take a fling at vaudeville during the early 1920's. He was in "48 Hours Leave" in San Francisco before making his Broadway debut in 1926 as Donn Cook, a name he used until 1930, in Seed of the Brute. Then he made a hit with Madge Kennedy in "Paris Bound," playing another kind of husband..., the sort that goes to Europe for romances. Next he was in "Half Gods" and "Rebound".
He started screen work in "shorts" 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. 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).
In 1932 Donald and actress Evalyn Knapp (a 1932 WAMPAS Baby Star, with Marion Shockley!) announced their engagement, whatever happened it didn't result in them getting married.
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)
When in 1933 he met Maxine Lewis, radio singer, he proposed marriage to her on Aug. 11 and she accepted. On Nov. 16 Cook was named in a $100,000 breach of promise suit filed by Miss Lewis, who charged, among other things, that she was soon to become a mother. On January 13. 1934 Donald Cook and Maxine Lewis seem to have come to an agreement as was revealed that they are to be married privately on Tuesday January 16. "I'm terribly happy," said Miss Lewis in the newspapers. On May 22. 1934 in Los Angeles Maxine gave birth to a girl named Donna Dailey Cook. Shortly after they were married the romance went on the rocks. According to a suit for divorce filed June 29. 1934 Cook insisted after two days of honeymoon Cook on returning to Hollywood.
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.
He played the role of Steve opposite Helen Morgan's Julie in the 1936 film adaptation of Show Boat, was one of the suspects in the Philo Vance mystery The Casino Murder Case, and starred as an heroic U.S. Immigrant Inspector of the Deporting Squad in the 1936 movie, Ellis Island.
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).
Less known is his work in old time radio. 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. 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.
That same year Cook was also heard on radio CBS's My Son Jeep. Donald Cook plays Doctor Robert Allison, a widower in Grove Falls, USA. He is left to raise his sweet thirteen year old daughter Peggy, played by Joan Lazer, and his ten year old son, Jeffery "Jeep" Allison, a mischievous ten-year-old boy reminiscent of Dennis the Menace (Jan 25 - Jun 14, 1953)
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).
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' in the television series, "Too Young To Go Steady" (1959)
He died in New Haven aged 60. His death came a day after he suffered a heart attack while here for the tryout of a new Broadway play. He was found semi-conscious on the flour of his hotel room after he failed to appear for a matinee performance of the French comedy "A Shot in the Dark," an adaptation of L'Idiote, starring Julie Harris. Joel Thomas, the understudy stepped in but it was Walter Matthau who took over Cook's leading role in the play following his death.
Cook leaves 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.
Additional video & audio sources
(1) 'The Public Enemy' (1931) James Cagney takes a punch from Donald Cook
(2) Old Time Radio Downloads
Page first published on April 23, 2017
Last updated April 23, 2017
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