Return to

COOKE, Ethyle
(Ethyle Cooke Benham)

Thanhouser Career: Actress (1911-1917)

FROM THE RIVER'S DEPTHS, released September 5, 1915, featuring Justus D. Barnes, Boyd Marshall, Thomas Curran, and Ethyle Cooke. The scenario was by Gertrude Thanhouser. (Courtesy of Dominick Bruzzese)

Thanhouser Career Synopsis: Ethyle Cooke, also known by her married name, Ethyle Cooke Benham, was a prominent Thanhouser actress circa 1911-1917. Her husband and two children also appeared in Thanhouser films.

Biographical Notes: Born on August 4, 1885 (some sources say 1880, 1886, or 1888; the 1885 date was given by Harry Benham to film historian John Thayer) in Lynn, Massachusetts, Ethyle Cooke was educated at the Girls' Latin School in Boston (one account, in the May 30, issue of Reel Life, states she graduated from "the famous Roxbury High School in Boston"). She began her stage career at the age of 12 at the Boston Museum, although she had been a toe dancer and acted child's parts from age six (one account says seven). Her first stage appearance was in the title role of Little Red Riding Hood. She later appeared in The Defender, The Little Host, Peggy from Paris, Marrying Mary, Madame Sherry, and other productions. By the time she was 14, she was teaching dancing in Boston.

With Thanhouser: Her film career began with Thanhouser in 1911, after which she remained there through 1917, including one year spent playing heavy leads with Florence LaBadie. On September 7, 1912 she and her family attended the Thanhouser picnic and outing, and she came in first in the fat ladies' race. In the summer of 1915 she was on the Thanhouser employees' female baseball team. By mid 1914 she had "to her credit fully 200 screen appearances," according to an article in the May 30, 1914 issue of Reel Life, which also stated that she preferred to be introduced as "Mrs. Harry Benham," but "in the studios she is abbreviated to 'Cookie.'"

Her husband, Harry Benham, and her two children, Dorothy and Leland Benham, were prominent Thanhouser personalities as well. Ethyle Cooke's sister was the wife of Raymond Hitchcock, a prominent stage and screen actor and comedian of the era.

The Moving Picture World, October 14, 1916, told of her association with another Thanhouser actress: "When you see Florence LaBadie's name in the cast of a photoplay, close by you will find Ethyle Cooke's. At the Thanhouser studios they wouldn't think of casting a Florence LaBadie feature without putting Ethyle Cook in it. Miss Cooke plays what the directors call 'heavy leads.' She usually is an unscrupulous woman who gets Florence into a pile of trouble. In The Fugitive Ethyle committed a murder and let Florence take the blame. In The Fear of Poverty Florence stole Ethyle's fiancée. In Saint, Devil and Woman Ethyle suffered at the hands of a man who has Florence in his power. In The Pillory Ethyle was the thief who tried to drag Florence down.

"She is a bad, bad woman. Ethyle Cooke is—if you know her only through her work in Thanhouser-Pathé productions—you'd think that Florence LaBadie would shudder every time Ethyle Cooke came near, but she doesn't. Ethyle is Florence's best friend. Ethyle is the most domestic woman at the Thanhouser studios. She is married and has two children. The accomplishment of which she is most proud is her ability to make fancy embroidery…. Ethyle Cooke was a dancer in Madame Sherry when she and her husband decided to try motion pictures. For six years she has been with Thanhouser. At first she played bits, but such talent did she show that she quickly was given leading parts and featured in many Thanhouser productions."

A 1914 Portrait: In its issue of September 26, 1914, The New Rochelle Pioneer carried this sketch by John William Kellette: "Ethyle Cooke Benham, wife of 'Handsome Harry' and mother of those charming Benham children, Leland, aged 8, and Dorothy, aged 3, is a Boston girl, and she has two nicknames—'Cookie' and 'Beanie,' the last from the famous provender of her native city. Mrs. Benham is distinctly a home-lover and home-builder, and delights, after her labors at the local studio are over for the day, to hurry to get home, 21 Rhodes Street, and attend to the wants of her family. She supervises her own home, having, of course, maids that do the menial work, but she is in touch with every detail that means so much for home comfort.

"Mrs. Benham is known as a perfect blonde, and here's a secret—she's a southpaw. Were she of the other gender some baseball magnate would be trying to sign her up to pitch for his club, and in that event, the screen would lose a good artist. Mrs. Benham plays everything from maid parts to star roles in her stories for the screen, and the maid's part gets as much finesse as the star role. Her latest big thing was in Stronger Than Death, in which she shared honors with her famous husband.

"Motoring is her favorite pastime, but in swimming season she spends much time at the beach. Hudson Park is a favorite recreation ground for her, and the children are always sure of a good time when the park is mentioned. It is because of her sincere family affection that 'Cookie' has endeared herself to those New Rochelleans who have the honor of her confidence, and she personally teaches Leland and Dorothy in the ways and paths that they should go, both in private and professional life. She loves this city. She takes delight in rambling through the byways of New Rochelle little known to the average inhabitant, where, in spring, the birds can be watched and their gladsome songs heard, and in winter she wanders to the habitat of the squirrel and chipmunks to hear their chatter. She knows every wildflower, bird or feathered songster, and takes delight in studying them. She is a dancer of rare proficiency, and can always be found starring in dance parts in the films. Her movements are in perfect rhythm and her youth and grace photograph well. She idolizes her family, and doesn't care if all the women in the world are in love with 'Handsome Harry.'"

Her Later Life: After leaving Thanhouser in early 1917, she remained in films through the late teens. She appeared in the May 1917 Fox film, A Small Town Girl, the July 1917 Fox picture, Patsy, and in the January 1918 Astra for Pathé release of Convict 993. A biographical sketch in The Moving Picture World, July 7, 1917, stated that she had been an actress with Fox for six years! The same account noted that she was 5'2" and weighed 115 pounds "after lunch."

1916 directories noted that the Benham family lived at 90 Pinehurst Avenue, New Rochelle. At the time she was listed as being 5'3" tall, weighing 126 pounds, and having blonde hair and hazel eyes. Her pastimes included singing, dancing, horseback riding, swimming, tennis, and fancy embroidering. In early 1917 (per the Motion Picture News Studio Directory, April 12, 1917) her home address was 315 West 98th Street, New York City, and her studio address was Thanhouser in New Rochelle. The 1918 edition of the Motion Picture Studio Directory noted that she had moved to 209 West 107th Street, New York City. Ethyle Cooke Benham died on April 20, 1949 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Use the browser's back button to return to previous page.

Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc.
Contact Us
Copyright © 1988-1993 Q. David Bowers, All rights reserved.