Photo by Bulletin file photo
Actress Carolyn Clark portraying Cook.
Photo by George Lauby
The Fredrickson house at the Lincoln County Historical Museum is a possible location.
Cook in her later years.
If you could peel back the layer of the future in North Platte, you might see movie camera trucks parked downtown, filming a doctor in an upstairs office handing someone a bottle of morphine and getting some money in exchange.
This is part of a series of Bulletin reports about future possibilities in North Platte.
That is just one scenario that might take place by the end of the year, as filmmakers finalize a two-year plan to make a long-awaited, often-rumored movie about the troubled side of North Platte during the early part of the 20th century -- the days when prostitution, drugs, gambling and booze were prevalent and an evil woman named Annie Cook profiteered.
The story of Cook’s crimes and obsessions was meticulously told by the legendary North Platte writer, Nellie Snyder Yost, in the book Evil Obsession.
The book was published in 1991 and Yost died a year later, but book sales remain steady 22 years later.
The powerful story of good and evil captured the attention of Jon Robinson, a California writer who moved to Gothenburg five years ago to be near friends and relish the great Midwest.
Robinson found the story riveting. He suggested to friend and film director Robert Manciero that they make a movie.
The two agreed and began building a business plan, lining up funds and developing the script. Recently, Robinson was in town to scout locations.
The two men are 95-percent certain that the film will be made, Manciero told the Bulletin. Final plans should be set in July and filming could begin in late fall.
It will be a full-length feature film. They have an executive producer who has put together an investment group and the budget is just about set.
As Robinson drove around the area in his restored DeSoto from the era, he was happy with the possible locations that he saw.
He said they both want to film most if not all the movie on location in Lincoln County.
It is a North Platte and Lincoln County story about those who suffered and who survived, Robinson said.
“It is a very compelling human experience in which people were harmed terribly,” he said. “It is a story of an organized crime operation that was well in place even before prohibition.”
The criminal underworld perfected many practices in the early 1900s, in places such as North Platte, rather than the big cities of Chicago or New York, Robinson said.
The story also shows that women have as much criminal potential as men, and very sophisticated crimes arise in out of the way places.
“Annie Cook could have taught Lucky Luciano some of his criminal practices,” Robinson said.
On the positive side, no matter how corrupt a town has been, the story shows the town can survive and good people can take it back from the underworld.
Robinson said some interior scenes might be shot inside the Fredrickson house at the Lincoln County Museum. Farm machines at the museum could be used.
Other scenes might be filmed in the house that was the home of a prominent person in the story, as well as downtown and out in the country.
The producers are looking for a big authentic barn to use inside and out, a barn with a climbable windmill nearby, an authentic hog pen and a dozen hogs, and a good-size coop of chickens.
“Most importantly, we are looking for a variety of 1930s autos in authentic condition, not overly restored,” Robinson said. “They cannot be too shiny to use. We want a variety of brands and models; and, a variety of farm trucks in the working condition they would have been in the 30s."
Two accomplished screenwriters have converted the book into the movie script, boiling the time frame down to about two years while depicting the authentic story.
The story, including the ending, will be true-to-life, Robinson said.
“It’s going to be quite a movie," Manciero said. “I am really pleased with the script. We looked at several prospective scripts. This one was clearly the best. It’s an unbelievable story, real and original.”
About Annie Cook
Annie Cook was one of North Platte’s most notorious residents.
Cook moved just west of town after marrying Frank Cook. Her childhood frustrations of being denied money (because she was female) fueled her desire to own land and make money. She demanded power and respect from everyone around her.
After she arrived at the farm, she quickly became dissatisfied with the land. So she devised a plot to purchase more from her neighbors, thereby doubling the size of her farm and acreage.
But Cook wasn’t satisfied. In order to be as successful as a man, she greased the palms of corrupt government officials and high-powered businessmen. She had a sixth sense about what weakness could be exploited in local businessmen, and exploit them she did.
Cook landed a contract with the county to run the poor house and she took in indigent men. She opened a prostitution house in North Platte.
In 1896, Annie gave birth to a daughter, Clara. As far as Annie was concerned, Clara was just another employee. As soon as Clara was old enough, Annie put her to work in a prostitute house that Annie acquired in her many business dealings.
Over the years, Annie’s husband Frank became fed up and tired with the overbearing, aggressive, money-loving nature of his wife. Frank was not a confrontational man; but when Annie accused him of sexually assaulting Clara, he was finally done with it. Frank moved into the barn and lived there until he died in 1936.
Cook lived a life of selfish, greedy domination and abused anyone who crossed her path. Many North Platte residents knew and feared Annie. If they had to walk by her house, they walked on the opposite site of the road, afraid of the mean witch who lived in the Cook house.
Annie easily survived during the Great Depression and didn’t let the downturn in the economy stop her from continuing to prey upon the weak and the innocent.
First published in the May 8 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin. The summation of Annie's story is from the Bulletin's files and North Platte Cemetery Tour information.