NEW YORK (AP) — Barbara Cook has won a Tony Award, a Grammy and she’s a Kennedy Center honoree. But the thing she seems most pleased about these days is her latest title — author.
The 88-year-old singer, whose buttery soprano enlivened Broadway originals such as “The Music Man,” ”She Loves Me” and “Carousel,” has written the memoir “Then & Now” and hasn’t really gotten over it.
“So I guess I’ve written a book, haven’t I?” she said by phone. “It’s made me feel that I can do anything if I try. If I can write a book, then I can do anything.”
The memoir is an often frank look at her grim childhood in Atlanta, her triumphs and failures onstage, her affairs and battles with panic attacks, weight gain and alcoholism.
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“I just sat down and wrote straight from the gut,” she said. “Why do it if you’re not going to be honest?”
The bright lights of Broadway seemed very far away when Cook was young. Her baby sister died of pneumonia when she was 3 and her father left when she was 6. She was raised by her far-too-clingy mother, who blamed young Barbara for both the death and the abandonment.
“If I had to give a color to my life during the years before my daddy left, it would all be a golden sunny yellow. After he walked out it changed to a heavy, dull gray,” she writes in the book.
Cook made it to Broadway and became one of the leading ingenues of the 1950s. She married and had a baby, divorced and struggled with her inner demons before reinventing herself as an in-demand solo artist, often tackling Stephen Sondheim songs.
The book contains Cook’s impressions of such luminaries as Elaine Stritch, Hal Prince and Leonard Bernstein, and also describes her hitting rock bottom as a drunk: “I was so broke that I was stealing food from the supermarket by slipping sandwich meat in my coat pocket.”
One strong theme emerges: While Cook frequently turns to men — whether collaborators or lovers — it “turns out I was stronger than all of them put together, only I didn’t know it at the time.”
Cook said she resisted writing her life story for a long time but realized that lately she had been peppering her solo shows with stories from her past and realized her journey might give some inspiration.
“It occurred to me I have had many ups and downs in my life and maybe if someone came to this book with an open mind, if they were in need of help, that they might find some help there. They might see that it was possible to go through difficult times and come out the other end.”
She dedicated the book to her son, Adam. “Of all the people I’ve loved in my life, I’ve loved him more, I think,” she said. “He has read the book now and he just says, ‘This is wrong’ or ‘That is wrong.’ I told him to write his own book.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits