Monday, June 29, 2009

Gale Storm R.I.P.

Movie and sitcom star Gale Storm passed Saturday at the age of 87. She was perhaps best known as the star of My Little Margie.

Gale Storm was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle on April 5, 1922 in Bloomington, Texas. In both junior high and high school she appeared a number of plays, and in many of them played the lead. When she was a senior in high school at 17, two of her teachers encouraged her to enter the Gateway to Hollywood contest, which would be broadcast over CBS Radio. The grand prize winners would win a contract to a movie studio for a year, as well as stage names. The actress who won would be Gale Storm. The actor who won would be Terry Belmont. Along with Lee Bonnell from Indiana University, Storm won the competition. She also married Bonnell, whose film career was short. He later became an insurance executive. The two remained married until Bonnell's death in 1987.

Gale Storm made her film debut in 1950 in Tom Brown's School Days. Unfortunately, RKO dropped her after only six months and two movies. This did not stop Storm's career. For the next twelve years she would appear in 36 different movies. Most of them were B-movies, ranging from Westerns to musicals to horror, including Man From Cheyenne, Rhythm Parade, Revenge of the Zombies, The Dude Goes West, and The Kid From Texas. By the Fifties Storm's film career had slowed. She made her television debut on Bigelow Theatre in 1950 and guest starred on The Unexpected. It seemed as if her career was over until producer Hal Roach Jr. offered her a role in a prospective TV series, My Little Margie.

My Little Margie debuted as the summer replacement for I Love Lucy in 1952. Storm played Margie Albright, a 21 year old living with her father (Charles Farrell, vice president at the investment firm Honeywell and Todd, in an apartment in the Carlton Arms Hotel. With her next door neighbour, Mrs. Odetts (Gertrude Hoffman), with whom she often became involved in the sort of schemes seen in other sitcoms of the period, such as I Love Lucy and I Married Joan. The show lasted for three years and 126 episodes. My Little Margie would be one of the few television shows to make the transition to radio. On CBS Radio a radio version of the sitcom aired concurrently with the TV show, albeit with all new episodes.

Storm followed up her success on My Little Margie as host of the short lived The NBC Comedy Hour and with The Gale Storm Show, on which she played cruise director, Susanna Pomeroy. The show lasted for four years and 143 episodes. In the Fifties Storm also made guest appearances on Robert Montgomery Presents and The Ford Television Theatre. Storm's career declined in the Sixties, and she would only make a three guest appearances on television after The Gale Storm Show ended, on Burke's Law, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote.

Gale Storm also had a recording career. Her first hit was a cover of the classic rhythm and blues song "I Heard You Knockin'." It went to #2 on the Billboard chart. She also had hits with "Dark Moon," a country song originally performed by Ned Miller, "Ivory Tower, ""Memories Are Made of This," Teenage Prayer," and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Although My Little Margie is largely forgotten today, in her time Gale Storm was one of the best loved sitcom stars. The reason was simply that Storm had a flair for comedy which can also be seen in the comedies she made during her film career. She also had a flair for slapstick that only a few television stars (Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke) possessed. She will certainly be remembered.

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

When I was a kid, "My Little Margie" played in repeats in the afternoons, and the show was a big favorite with me. When I did get the chance to watch "Oh, Susanna", I loved that as well, especially as it introduced me to Zasu Pitts.

I'm sure I'd find both shows creaky now, but looking at the various pics of Gale Storm since news of her death, I think I see another, more instinctive reason why I liked watching her at that young age - she was really cute!

It always bothered me that she seemed to disappear after "Oh, Susanna" went off the air; and I did make a point of catching her in the "Love Boat" and "M,SW" episodes. I'm wondering now if that might have been due more to her battle with alcoholism and/or family concerns than it did with producers' interest in her?

At any rate, as I've read various obits and appreciations of her over the last few days, the more I've come to admire her as a person. And your appreciation of her career was excellent. Thanks!