By 1942, she was married to a doctor, the first of her four marriages. Pressed, she scolds, “You want to know all about my lovers and all of that? How many lovers did I have? I don’t know, I didn’t count.” She huffs, then winks and says, “I am ready for another one!”
Cook first came to the District for an engagement at the Dupont Hotel. “I was married again,” she says, adding, “Husbands are not always easy. He didn’t want me to go away for weeks at a time.”
She says she preferred playing in Europe, where she performed after World War II. In Copenhagen during the 1950s, she had her own radio program. Cook recalls writing one of her songs in Denmark, inspired by “a young lieutenant who I met after I left my very stern and overpowering genius Hungarian husband, who gave me everything under the world, but I was just choked up.” The song is called “He’s Nobody Much.” Cook begins singing:
He’s nobody much, but I really don’t care
He has nothing else but a love I can share
He can’t give me rubies like the other one did
But he makes my lips burn
She stops and exclaims proudly, “You see, everything fits!”
Cook has transferred some of her records and reel-to-reel tapes onto three CDs. “The Classical Marianne Arden” has solo piano versions of Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and others; “Marianne Arden Sings and Plays for You” contains her original compositions; and “Marianne Arden Still Sings and Plays for You” is a collection of radio shows and homemade recordings. But the one she’s releasing is the collection of her originals.
On the cover of each disc is a different glamour shot. “I was very photogenic,” Cook says matter-of-factly. The pictures were taken by “a very famous photographer. It was Nickolas Muray, who did all the Hollywood stars,” she boasts, then dismisses him as “another Hungarian. A friend of my second husband’s.”
But Cook doesn’t like the photos. “Because you don’t show your pretty face, to heck with the pretty face,” she scowls, concerned that a picture that shows “bust and everything” suggests she isn’t a serious musician. “I am Viennese. And all Viennese musicians are very talented,” she states. So the final disc will use a photo that a press photographer took years ago in Copenhagen, a close-up of her “piano hands.”
“I don’t want to sell myself; I want to sell my songs!” says Cook, voicing the eternal songwriter’s lament. Cook sold her first song, “Please Don’t Go Away,” while she was performing in Scandinavia, many years ago.
The music business has changed several times over since the heyday of the traveling chanteuse, to the point where some people suggest that there isn’t a music business anymore.
But the thrill of seeing your work collected in one shareable form is timeless. So if “Marianne Arden Sings and Plays for You” isn’t a Warner Bros. or Sony release but a product of Cook’s checkbook, that’s par for the course for today’s musicians, be they 99 or 19. Cook doesn’t seem to mind. Instead, she speaks excitedly of getting “padded envelopes” and “sending [her CDs] out to the TV stations.”
Cook points to one of the discs and declares that her favorite track is “I Wish I Were Foolish.”
“It is a very philosophical, good song,” she says, “because that is real life.” Asked why she wishes she were foolish, Cook begins singing again:
I wish I were foolish as I was long ago
I was happy and trusting and thirsty to know
What makes the world round and what makes us tick
And what kind of chemicals make lovers stick
The sun was a beautiful bouncing ball
And for a good measure, some rain had to fall
To believe and to hope was a wondrous thrill
And a friendly word took away winter’s chill
“And then I grew up!” she shouts.