Baldwin and Alice Cooke: Early Partners of Stan Laurel

An introduction today, for those that require one, to Baldwin “Baldy” Cooke (1888-1953) and his wife Alice Hamilton Cooke (1882-1985), who are today remembered pretty much entirely in terms of their career-long association with Stan Laurel.

Alice was the daughter of William Cranston Hamilton, founder of the San Francisco Star, and later the press agent of circus impresario James A. Bailey and manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. She was about 16 when she meet Cooke in New York. The pair married and formed a vaudeville act. Initially they toured small time with two other people in a quarter. By 1915 they were touring as a two-act, and around that time they found themselves on a bill on one occasion with an act called the Keystone Trio, which featured Stan Laurel and Edgar and Wren Hurley performing imitations of Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, and Mabel Normand. It was a pretty cheesy act, and Laurel expressed a wish to bail on the Hurley and form a new act. A few weeks later he contacted the Cookes and they became The Stan Jefferson Trio (Laurel’s original name was Jefferson). This act, consisting primarily of comedy sketches remained together on the circuits for several months, but broke up circa 1918, when Laurel formed a new two-act with his common-law wife Mae Dahlberg. It happened suddenly and without warning, laving the Cookes in the lurch.

The Cookes were initially hurt and furious but they remained friends with Laurel, and continued to work in vaudeville on their own. A decade later, when Laurel was well established in pictures, he helped the Cookes out by giving them supporting roles in his films. Baldy was in nearly three dozen Laurel and Hardy pictures spanning nearly the entirety of their career as a team, starting with Two Tars (1928) and ending with Swiss Miss (1938). The association meant roles in other Hal Roach films, such as numerous Our Gang and Charley Chase comedies, and the non-comic film Of Mice and Men (1939). Roach’s distributor was MGM, and in Baldy’s last years he got some bit parts at the latter studio, including his last, Ship Ahoy (1942) with Red Skelton and Eleanor Powell, directed by Eddie Buzzell. 

While Baldy was in nearly 90 films, Alice appeared in only five, four of which were for Roach: March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934), The Bohemian Girl (1936), Neighborhood House (1936), and Our Relations (1936). She also had a bit role in MGM’s The Painted Veil (1934) with Greta Garbo and Herbert Marshall. And yet perhaps Baldy worked too hard. Though he was was Alice’s junior by six years she outlasted him by three decades, passing away at the age of 103.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.