Carol Cook portCarol Cook, 1965. Photo by David Cumming. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

KEVIN TRASK pays tribute to the late Carole Cook, the Broadway musical theatre star who created the role of Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! in Australia in 1965.

Goodbye, Dolly!

Sadly, American singer and actress Carole Cook passed away at the age of 98 on the 11 January 2023. I never met Carole but in 2010 I did record a radio interview with her which was arranged by my friend David Miller from 96.5 Inner FM. The link to the interview is on this website.

Mildred Frances Carole Cook was born in Abilene, Texas in 1924 and made her New York debut in 1954 in The Threepenny Opera. Mildred was contacted by Lucille Ball after she read about Mildred’s performance in a stage production of Annie Get Your Gun. Lucille invited her to audition for a role in the comedy television series The Lucy Show. Lucille suggested Mildred change her name to Carole in honor of her great friend the actress Carole Lombard and Mildred Frances Cook became Carole Cook. Carole lived with Lucille Ball as a guest at her Hollywood home for about eighteen months. Carole married Tom Troupe in 1964 and Lucille was matron of honour at their wedding. Lucille mimed to the singing voice of Carole in some of her television appearances.

In 1964 Hello, Dolly! opened at The St. James Theatre on Broadway with fabulous music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book adapted by Michael Stewart from Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker. The Broadway production starred Carol Channing who played the original role of Dolly Levi in the musical. The rights for the J.C. Williamson production in Australia were obtained by Sir Frank Tait three months after the Broadway production opened. This would be the second production of the show in the world.

Auditions were held and American actress Julie Wilson was cast as Dolly Levi. But Julie had to withdraw from the show and a panic was on to find a suitable replacement. Carole Cook was suggested and she flew from California to New York to audition. Carole had already played Dolly in The Matchmaker several years earlier. Carole got the role and flew to Australia to join the cast in rehearsal. She had to break her contract with Warner Brothers Studios to be able to take on the role. Carole just wanted to play Dolly and had no regrets.

Hello, Dolly! opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney on 27 March 1965. The reviews were ecstatic and the show broke box office records. The production was directed by Fred Hebert and the legendary Betty Pounder recreated the Broadway choreography.

The Melbourne opening at Her Majesty’s Theatre was on the 27 August 1965. The following year Hello, Dolly! opened at His Majesty’s Theatre in Auckland NZ with Carole and the Australian cast.

The cast included American actors Jack Goode as Horace Vandergelder and Bill Mullikin as Cornelius. The great Australian performers included Jill Perryman, Marion Edward, Brian Hannan, Alan Babbage, Barbara Young, Tikki Taylor, Nancye Hayes and Bruce Barry.

Carole loved Australia and Australia loved her. She made many friends and stayed in contact over many years. I have spoken with cast members from Hello, Dolly! and they shared some great memories -

David Ellis

Her close Australian friend David Ellis recalled that when Carole was 94 she did a one woman show at the famous 54 Below restaurant in New York—her opening line was, ‘Oh, to be ninety again !’ David and his partner were regular visitors to see Carole and Tom in America. The last time David spoke to Carole by telephone was on Christmas Eve.

Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy recalled the fun they had with the show. Tom Troupe came from America to accompany Carole and conducted special acting classes for cast members whilst they toured New Zealand. These days Mary is Honorary Archivist at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne.

Gail Esler

Gail told me that Carole loved the Royal family. She had a shrine in her Beverley Hills home devoted to the Queen and the Royal family. Gail was on a tour of The Tower of London with Carole who knew everything about the displays. Carole seemed to know more about the Royal Jewels and items than the tour guide. When her film The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts was released Carole took the cast of Hello, Dolly! to a special screening.

Carole Cook 10

Over the years many famous actresses in the US have played the role of Mrs. Dolly Levi Gallagher on Broadway. Originally created by the legendary Carol Channing, her first replacement was Ginger Rogers (1965), followed by Martha Raye (1967), Betty Grable (1967), Bibi Osterwald (1967), Pearl Bailey (1967), Thelma Carpenter (1969), Phyllis Diller (1969). Then came Ethel Merman (1970) Bette Midler (2017). Several prominent actresses took the show on the road in the US including Mary Martin, Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden and Yvonne DeCarlo.

Since 1965 there have been several professional productions of Hello, Dolly! starring some of our famous Australian performers as Dolly Levi. Highlights have included Jill Perryman in 1994, Amanda Muggleton for The Production Company in 2002 and Marina Prior once again for The Production Company in 2017.

I have seen non-professional productions in Australia which have been very good and it is a show that I love. I hope we see another professional production in the not too distant future.

I love the score with such beautiful songs such as Hello, Dolly!, When the Parade Passes By, Elegance, It Only Takes a Moment and Put on Your Sunday Clothes.

Carole Cook returned to America after the NZ tour. She had vivid memories of the last show when the waiters at the Harmonia Gardens were all in tears as she walked down the staircase to sing Hello, Dolly! for the last time.

But Carole did return to Australia in 1978 to star in the play Father’s Day in Melbourne and Sydney. The dark comedy was directed by her husband Tom Troupe and the cast included Anne Haddy, Tom Oliver and Patrick Ward. Stuart Wagstaff was one of the producers. I did see that production which I think was on at the Lido in Russell Street.

Carol was a guest star in many American television series such as McMillan and Wife, Starsky and Hutch, The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote.

She was in some major Broadway musicals such as Follies and the original production of 42nd Street where she created the role of Maggie Smith. Her roles in plays included Steel Magnolias and The Gin Game. Her film credits included Sixteen Candles, American Gigolo and The Gauntlet.

Carole had a great sense of humour, loved people and enjoyed a chat. As an example of her charm Adrian Turley told me that he and Frank Van Straten briefly met Carole after a performance of Father’s Day in Melbourne. Two years later they saw Carole in 42nd Street on Broadway and after the show went for a coffee in a nearby restaurant. Carole and some cast members came in and sat down at a table nearby.  Adrian went over and introduced himself and said how much they had enjoyed her performance. Carole invited them to join her group. Adrian said she never forgot their names and introduced them to everyone at the table. Adrian and Frank have never forgotten her kindness.

Peter Stephenson Jones has also been in touch with Carole and Tom over the years. Peter told me about Carole’s return to the role of Dolly Levi in 2002. There was a production at The University of Central Oklahoma where she performed with a mostly student cast.  The production of Hello, Dolly! was directed by Stephan de Ghelder, a cast member in the original Broadway production. Carole loved playing the role again.

Both Carole and Tom worked tirelessly for AIDS charities and became great friends of the LGBT community. In the 1980’s many of their theatrical friends were dying of AIDS and from the money they raised they helped people on a one-to-one basis with things that they needed to get through the day. Groceries, rent, bills—all the basic necessities.

Carole Cook died from heart failure at her home in Beverly Hill, California, three days before her 99th birthday with Tom and nephew Mark at her bedside holding her hands.

At the time of writing Carole is survived by her husband Tom Troupe who is best remembered for his role in the film Kelly’s Heroes and guest star roles in numerous television shows. Carole is also survived by her stepson, Christopher, and his wife, Becky; sister Regina; and nieces and nephews. Within two hours of her passing Tom rang close friends in Australia to tell them the sad news.

For those who remember Carole Cook and her role of Dolly Levi in Australia you have some happy memories. I hope you enjoy listening to the radio interview. I only wish I had met her in person.


Further resources

View programs on the THA Digital website


Kevin Trask interviewed Carole about her memories of performing in Hello, Dolly! in Australia and her outstanding life and career.

The interview with Carole Cook was produced by David Miller from community radio 96.5 Inner FM in 2010.