Note: After Eddie Cicotte testified to his involvement in the 1919 World Series fix, he was asked why he went along with the bribery attempt. His response — “I did it for the wife and kiddies” — became one of the most infamous lines associated with the Black Sox Scandal. Little is known of these “wives and kiddies,” the women and children whose lives were up-ended when the players were banished from baseball. This occasional series for the SABR Black Sox Scandal Research Committee newsletter will focus on their stories. This story was originally published in the June 2018 newsletter.
During the celebrated honeymoon of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, the blonde bombshell actress returned to their hotel room after a visit to entertain U.S. troops in Korea. She began to tell the former New York Yankees star about the ovations she received from thousands and thousands of soldiers every day.
“Oh, Joe, you never heard such cheering,” Monroe exclaimed.
“Yes, I have,” he answered.1
Buck Weaver and his wife both knew how it felt to be showered with the cheers of adoring fans, too.
The Chicago White Sox infielder was beloved by fans on the South Side from the moment he joined the team in 1912, the same year he was introduced to Helen Cook by the manager of a hotel in San Francisco where they were both staying. Weaver was wintering in California following his rookie season with the White Sox; Helen and her three siblings, performing as the Cook Sisters, were on the West Coast swing of their national tour on the Pantages vaudeville theater circuit.
The 22-year-old Weaver’s infectious smile and enthusiasm had already made him a popular idol to the Comiskey Park faithful. They also endeared him to the “breathtaking young lady” with a “richly endowed figure” and a singing voice to match.2 The 20-year-old Helen and her sisters, Bessie, Harriet, and Marie, were one of the most popular singing groups in vaudeville at the time, regularly drawing sellout crowds at their shows all across the country. “Each day their performance is greeted by roars of applause,” one observer reported, “and they are never allowed to depart without several encores.”3
Weaver was delighted to discover that the sisters hailed from Pontiac, Illinois, and that the Cook family had recently moved to the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, just a few miles from where the White Sox played. The sisters weren’t often at home — they had been touring virtually nonstop for the past three years — but Weaver vowed to stay in touch with the tall, blue-eyed brunette who had caught his eye as Helen left for a week-long gig at the Savoy Theater in San Diego and he readied for spring training.
Born on March 2, 1892, Helen was the fourth of James and Rose Cook’s seven children.4 James was an electrical engineer and Rose (née Haney) was the daughter of Irish immigrants. Helen and her sisters5 all showed a proclivity for music at a young age, singing in church choirs and lyceum programs in central Illinois. They were blessed with strong voices at a wide range of octaves, and on stage they supplemented their pleasing harmonies with bright, fashionable costumes that turned spectators’ heads. Their act quickly drew attention on the vaudeville circuit as they took their show on the road beginning around 1909.
The Cook Sisters “are the neatest, prettiest quartet of girls that has been seen here,” one reviewer wrote. “Their act is a musical act clear through, no dancing or comedy work being used. … They have perfectly blended voices, ranging from high soprano to almost a male bass.”6 They “sing rag time with a swing that stirs the audience into unconscious accompaniment,” another said.7 In addition to their aural stylings, “their act might be termed a fashion show as well, for the gowns worn by the members of the cast are said to be the latest from the Parisian modistes.”8
Sometimes known as the American Ladies’ Quartette — they were one of the few all-female acts in vaudeville at the time — the sisters caught a big break in the spring of 1910 by performing in the same program with the pioneering comedian Cal Stewart. Their growing popularity helped push the Cooks to a more prominent place on the bill as they made their way around the theater circuit in Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, and other mid-sized Midwestern cities.
“Maidens in pink with beribboned coiffures, the four Cook Sisters sang popular ditties, their ensemble singing being interspersed with solos, wherein one maiden occasioned mild surprise with her exceedingly deep baritone voice.”9 Their act included contemporary hit songs such as “Under the Yum Yum Tree,” “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland,” and “I Want a Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad).”
In 1911, the sisters signed with the Pantages theater circuit and took their first trip to the West Coast, playing week-long shows that summer in Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Denver. The Cook Sisters “created a veritable sensation wherever they have been heard in their repertoire of harmonies.”10 In the fall, they hit the East Coast, playing venues from Washington, DC, to Philadelphia to Boston. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, “the charming soprano” Hattie Cook fell in love with a “well known speedy and fancy roller skater”11 named Frank Brower, whom she married there in February 1912.
While Hattie took some time off to celebrate her nuptials, Bessie, Marie, and Helen continued their tour. They all reunited in the fall for another West Coast swing on the Pantages circuit, where Helen met the man she would marry. Buck Weaver had unwittingly crossed paths with the Cook Sisters in 1911 when he was playing baseball for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League while they were traveling down the coast on their first western tour. Following Weaver’s rookie season in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1912, he went back to California to spend the winter with his friend and former teammate, Ossie Vitt.12
The Cook Sisters spent most of December at the Pantages Theater in San Francisco, playing on the same bill with North Pole explorer Frederick Cook (no relation.) “The Four Cook sisters, young women attractively gowned and with pleasing voices, proved a big hit and were called back repeatedly,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.13 During this time, Helen and Buck were introduced and immediately grew fond of each other’s company.
Their budding relationship remained at a long distance for nearly two years as Buck resumed his baseball career in Chicago and Helen and her sisters toured the country throughout 1913 and 1914. After the ’13 baseball season, Buck was invited to go on a promotional tour around the world co-organized by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey. According to Weaver’s biographer, Irving Stein, Buck invited Helen to come with him, but she “probably said she didn’t think it proper and stayed behind.”14 Buck brought home some jewels and other gifts for his fiancée; they had quietly become engaged and were set to be married on October 17, 1914.15
Their courtship wasn’t traditional and neither was their wedding. As the White Sox mounted an exciting three-games-to-one comeback in the postseason City Series16 against the Chicago Cubs, rumors swirled in the newspapers that the Sox team captain was about to get married. Weaver was spotted acquiring a marriage license hours after Game Six at City Hall with his friend and teammate Joe Benz, but he hotly denied the news when asked to confirm. “Off the diamond, I’m a private citizen. Get me?” he told the Chicago Examiner.17
Two days after Game Seven, Buck and Helen gathered privately at the Cook residence on LaFayette Avenue shortly after 2 o’clock in the afternoon to be married by the Rev. Willard Robinson of the First Church of Englewood. Only Helen’s parents, James and Rose, were in attendance. It’s unclear why neither Helen’s siblings nor any of Buck’s teammates were on hand, but Buck’s insistence on privacy in the face of so much public interest in his affairs may have compelled the couple to keep things quiet even among their closest friends and family.
In any case, Weaver “couldn’t have been more up in the air” after the brief ceremony.18 When he went to Comiskey Park afterward to gather his belongings, he was greeted by owner Charles Comiskey, manager Jimmy Callahan, and the rest of the White Sox. “The boys down at the clubhouse presented us with a big, fat check as a wedding present,” Weaver said. “They were waiting for me when I came in. … But I wouldn’t have taken the kiddin’ they gave me for a hundred checks.”19
The newlyweds waited until spring training to take a honeymoon trip to California, which happened to coincide with the White Sox spring training camp in Paso Robles on the central coast. Their lives didn’t change much after they got married: Buck played baseball with the Sox all summer and Helen and her sisters resumed touring. But baseball increasingly played a large role in the Cook Sisters’ world. Hattie Cook’s first marriage had ended quickly and she was now in a relationship with one of Buck’s White Sox teammates, pitcher Jim Scott.
Following the 1915 season, Weaver, Scott, and the four sisters embarked on a vaudeville tour together around the Midwest. They opened their new show on November 2 at the Empress Theater in Chicago, where “3,000 loyal rooters of the south side thronged the vaudeville house.” In their act, they “talked baseball, danced, sang ballads, and ragtime. … Buck teamed up with one of the girls and imitated Vernon and Irene Castle, the internationally popular ballroom dancers.”20
One reviewer complained that the ballplayers weren’t given enough stage time: “It is a good sketch, but there is not enough of it. It should [give] Jim Scott, who really is the owner of an excellent voice, a chance to sing a song all by his lonesome, and Weaver an opportunity to display his footwork. Umpire Billy Evans says Buck is one of the best dancers he ever saw, and yet Buck is not called upon to display his skill in this act. They also refuse to let Buck sing a solo, but maybe that is a wise move. Perhaps they have heard Buck sing.”21
When the ballplayers returned to the White Sox for the baseball season, the Cook Sisters picked right back up with their regular stage show, touring the country throughout 1916 and ’17. Where they had once been a novelty as female stars in vaudeville, there were enough popular singing and comedy groups by now for Pantages booking managers to put together an “all-girl program,” with a bill that also included the Portia Sisters, the Three Symphony Maids, and a musical comedy called “The Courtroom Girls”22 that toured the West Coast during the spring of 1917.
In November, Hattie Cook and Jim Scott were married in San Francisco, where he was training with the US Army officer reserve corps at the Presidio. Scott was one of the first big-leaguers to enlist in the military during World War I. He left the White Sox to join the Army in August, just a few months before the team went on to win the World Series.23 Buck and Helen traveled west for the wedding and the Cooks welcomed another ballplayer into the family.
Soon afterward another Cook sister, Annetta Marie, also got married. Her husband, William Scanlan, was a pharmacist from Chicago. After nearly a decade on the road, the sisters’ days of traveling around the country on vaudeville tours were numbered.
With their youngest sibling, Vesta, having replaced the eldest, Bessie, in the singing act, they only played a handful of shows in 1918 — including at least one with all five of the sisters on the Fourth of July in Indianapolis24 — and briefly starred in an ensemble musical comedy called “Kentucky Belles.” The Cook Sisters’ final show together before settling in to married life may have been a Thanksgiving weekend set at the Majestic Theater in Fort Wayne, Indiana.25 They were still fan favorites everywhere they went and they left the stage at the top of their game.
Helen Weaver turned 27 just a few weeks before Opening Day in 1919, and she tried to adapt to her new life as a full-time baseball wife. For a brief time, there was some glamour in the role and newspaper photographers delighted in capturing her fashionable image with their cameras. But that life was abruptly cut short by the Black Sox Scandal. Buck was implicated in the plot to fix the 1919 World Series and permanently banned from organized baseball, throwing their world into disarray.
As Buck began what would become a lifelong quest to clear his name, he began working at his brother-in-law William Scanlan’s successful drug store at Halsted and 69th streets in Chicago. The pair later expanded the business into a chain of six stores before the Great Depression virtually wiped them out.26 The Weavers shared an apartment on Michigan Avenue along with the Scanlans, James and Rose Cook, and three of the Cook siblings, Bessie, Vesta, and teenage brother Harold.27
Life in the 1920s was a struggle for them all. Buck spent most summers chasing his baseball dream, playing in semipro and “outlaw” games all over the country, often with his old Black Sox teammates. In January 1927, he made a public appeal to baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for reinstatement and was denied a chance to get back in the game. One month later, Helen’s father, James Cook, died. Buck stayed home in Chicago that summer, hooking on with an independent team in nearby Hammond, Indiana. By then the Weavers had moved to their own apartment on the South Side and Buck worked odd jobs around the city between games, including stints as a painter, florist, and tile-setter.
In 1931, tragedy struck the family as William Scanlan died at age 40 after an attack of acute appendicitis, leaving his wife Marie and young daughters, Bette Lou and Patricia, without their husband and father. The girls all moved in with Buck and Helen, and the Weavers helped raise Marie’s children as if they were their own. Bette Lou and Patricia thrived under the watchful eye of Uncle Buck, who doted on his nieces with shopping outings to Marshall Field’s and camping trips to the north woods of Wisconsin.28
“That helped my mom tremendously,” Patricia told the Chicago Tribune in 2015, “because it was Depression time and my mom had been in show business — she didn’t know how to get a job.”29
Around the same time, Buck’s old teammate, Jim Scott, and his wife Hattie moved back to Chicago and briefly lived with the Weavers and Scanlans at their bungalow on Winchester Avenue. This arrangement didn’t last long; the Scotts soon moved west to Los Angeles, where Jim found a job as an electrician at RKO Pictures.30 Later, Helen’s sister Vesta and mother Rose moved back in with the Weavers, too.31
While life was hectic at times, the Weaver household was always full of love and levity. Another niece, Marjorie Follett, remembered Buck’s fondness for bread. “He loved bread,” she said. “When we’d go over there to visit, Aunt Helen would always set this beautiful table, linen napkins, china, and there’s always be a plate with a stack of bread where he sat.”32 Buck taught Helen how to bowl and they were frequently seen out together, riding in his Chevrolet. They also had a dog named Goofy — “of course, he also called Aunt Helen goofy,” Follett said.
For about two years in the early thirties, Buck and Helen ran a sandwich shop on 95th Street called “Buck Weaver’s,” where the special was french fried spareribs. The restaurant was poorly managed, however, and they were forced to shut it down.33 Buck found a more enjoyable job as a pari-mutuel clerk at the Sportsman’s Park horse racing track in suburban Cicero, where he worked for many years.
In 1952, Helen suffered a serious stroke, resulting in partial paralysis on her left side. She learned to walk again with the help of a cane, but had to wear a knee brace to keep her leg from collapsing. Niece Bette Scanlan, who had by then started working at the Chicago Sun-Times where she was a reporter for decades, bought Buck and Helen a television set and they stayed at home every evening watching their favorite shows.34
Buck died of a heart attack on January 31, 1956, ending their marriage after 41 years. The ballplayer and the vaudeville star, who had met on the other side of the country while each were at the top of their respective fields, remained devoted to each other long after the spotlights faded away. Helen stayed in Chicago, living with her sister Marie for nearly a decade afterward. She died on September 7, 1965, at the age of 73 and was buried near her husband at Mount Hope Cemetery.35
- Related link: Click here to read the next story in this series, “Lyria Williams, Wife of a Baseball Exile”
1 Gay Talese, “The Silent Season of a Hero,” Esquire, July 1966. Accessed online at http://classic.esquire.com/silent-season-of-a-hero/ on May 12, 2018.
2 Irving M. Stein, The Ginger Kid: The Buck Weaver Story (Dubuque, Iowa: Elysian Fields Press, 1992), 32-33.
3 Bridgeport (Connecticut) Evening Farmer, October 19, 1911.
4 One of the Cooks’ children also died in infancy.
5 Vesta, the youngest daughter, later replaced Bessie in the Cook Sisters’ act after she turned 18.
6 Decatur (Illinois) Review, April 22, 1910.
7 Goodwin’s Weekly, March 10, 1917, Vol. 27, 11.
8 Salt Lake Telegram, March 7, 1917.
9 The Oregonian, July 4, 1911. Two of the sisters, likely Bessie and Helen, could sing in deep voices, a trait frequently noted in reviews and which provided some comic relief during their shows.
10 Oregon Journal, July 2, 1911.
11 Bridgeport Evening Farmer, March 16, 1912.
12 Washington Times, December 3, 1912.
13 San Francisco Chronicle, December 16, 1912.
14 Stein, The Ginger Kid, 32.
15 Des Moines Register and Leader, May 25, 1914.
16 In the early 20th century, the Cubs and White Sox faced each other in a sanctioned postseason series in years when neither team won the pennant. The “City Series” was hotly contested and popular among fans in Chicago, sometimes drawing larger crowds than the World Series. See http://www.retrosheet.org/Regional%20Series/chi14.htm for box scores of the 1914 City Series.
17 Chicago Examiner, October 16, 1914.
18 Chicago Examiner, October 18, 1914.
20 Stein, The Ginger Kid, 72-74.
21 Rocky Mountain News, January 31, 1916.
22 San Diego Evening Tribune, February 24, 1917; Salt Lake Telegram, March 7, 1917.
24 Indianapolis News, July 3, 1918.
25 Fort Wayne Sentinel, November 29, 1918.
26 Family lore has it that Scanlan and Weaver were once approached by Chicago rival Charles Walgreen to go into the drug store business together, but they turned him down. As of 2017, Walgreens is a $100 billion a year company with more than 8,000 locations in all 50 US states.
27 1920 US Census, accessed at Ancestry.com.
28 Stein, The Ginger Kid, 305.
29 John Owens, “ ‘Our family can’t give up on Buck,’ ” Chicago Tribune, July 5, 2015.
30 Stein, The Ginger Kid, 304-305.
31 1940 US Census, accessed at Ancestry.com.
32 William Hageman, “Going to bat for Buck Weaver,” Chicago Tribune, March 30, 2003.
34 Stein, The Ginger Kid, 314-315.
35 Thanks to David Fletcher and the Weaver family for confirmation on Helen’s birthdate and burial.