Helen Rook


This is a photo of a star who burned briefly but brightly in the nineteen-teens. Her name was Helen Rook. I have but a few interesting fragments of information on her; if I uncover more I’ll add them to this post. She was of old Dutch stock. Her real name was Helen Stroock. Her brother ran a costume shop; her sister sang with the Metropolitan Opera; her niece was the actress Geraldine Brooks. 

A May 1915 piece in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle calls refers to her as “a singer recently discovered in an East Side picture house.” I found another reference to that origin: a 1913 edition of Moving Picture News mentions Helen Stroock as a finalist in a competition for “conveying emotions without words”. She was in a show called Maid in America at the Winter Garden Theatre in early 1915, but was switched out of the cast before the show opened.

She played the Palace in 1915. I found this review of her turn there in Variety;

Enunciation for vaudeville was again illus- 
trated with Helen Rook, who recently left the 
Winter Garden show to become a single In 
vaudeville. The girl has personality, gets her 
numbers over, has good songs to help her along, 
but is somewhat over-confident. She easily 
took care of the "No. 4" position. Among 
her numbers were "Watch Your Step" (new 
Berlin song), and "Paradise," during the last 
verse of which she gave an imitation of Al 
Jolson that clinched her success. Up to that 
time Miss Rook had done fairly well, getting 
a couple of good laughs with the comic "Step" 
song and nicely delivering "Bulletins" while 
"Kentucky Home" seems to be making a hit 
of itself without any material assistance from 
any one.

Later that year she appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915. She sang “Hold Me in Your Loving Arms” and “The Midnight Frolic Glide”. She did a solo turn (backed by the chorus on the latter song). Thus, it is inaccurate to call her, as many people do, “a Ziegfeld girl”. The Ziegfeld girls were the members of the chorus. (Just as it is inaccurate to call all Mack Sennett actresses “Bathing Beauties“. Some were, but many, like Gloria Swanson, were not).

In 1917, according to the Theatre Yearbook she toured in a show called Water Birds, “ a musical water absurdity, in three dips.”

The following year her visage (costumed as a dough boy), drawn by James Montgomery Flagg (Uncle Sam Wants You) graced the cover of Theatre Magazine representing the Stage Woman’s War Relief fund.


That year (1918) she was also mentioned in the New York Clipper as part of a show for troops “engineered” by Beatrice Palmer. 

In 1919 she retired to marry retail store magnate Zion de Frece Bernstein. She passed away in 1967.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


One comment

  1. Sorry I don’t have time to follow it further, but here’s a lead:

    1910 census shows Helen Stroock, daughter of Ely Stroock, aged 16 living in Manhattan:

    Genealogy site shows same Helen Stroock has having married Zion de Frece Bernstein in 1919:

    (There was a marriage announcement in the New York Times, but I can’t get beyond the paywall for now.)

    Death notice in 1937 for Zion de Frece Bernstein, founder of Norton Retail Stores in Manhattan, and Jewish philanthropist:

    Click to access Brooklyn%20NY%20Daily%20Eagle%201937%20Grayscale%20-%203522.pdf


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