Celebrity deaths dominated the news for the past 10 days—Edward Leo Peter “Ed” McMahon, Jr., Farrah Leni Fawcett (Farrah Fawcett), Michael Joseph Jackson, Josephine Owaissa Cottle (Gale Storm), and Billy Mays. The extensive television coverage following the death of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson made everyone, regardless of age, familiar with whom these personalities were and their accomplishments. When the list included only the first three, I intended to write a column focusing on the celebrity bounce, i.e., a rapid but temporary rise in the value of memorabilia that occurs in the weeks and/or months following the a special achievement or death of a celebrity.
TRIVIA QUIZ: Who is Billy Mays?
An autographed copy of a cover photo of Gale Storm from the July 1957 edition of "Song Hits" Magazine.
When I read the Monday, June 29, 2009 issue of The News-Times (Danbury, Connecticut) about the death of Gale Storm, my focus changed. The News-Times devoted almost one-third of Page 2 in the A section to a Los Angeles Times story by to Dennis McLellan about her demise. After reading it, I could not stop thinking about this sentence: “A 1953 poll of the most popular TV stars listed Storm at No. 2, behind TV comedy queen Lucille Ball.”
Who remembers who finishes second? American school children learn the names of the presidents. Forget the vice presidents. More often than not, they are less than memorable second bananas. Dan Quayle is a perfect example. School children encounter the names of those who lost the presidential races but are not required to memorize them. The New York Yankees won 26 Major League Baseball World Series, a statistic embedded in the minds of every Yankee and Red Sox fan. How many world championship series did they lose? I have no idea. I have to research it.
Life focuses on winners. Those who come in second are forgotten by the masses. A few devoted followers may keep their memory alive for a generation or two, but inevitably their second place finish is a line in a statistical chart or a historical footnote.
I watched “My Little Margie” (1952-1955) and “The Gale Storm Show” (1956 to 1960) on the black and white television located in my parents’ living room at 55 West Depot Street in Hellertown, Pa. I also listened to her singing “I Hear You Knocking,” “Memories Are Made of This,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “Dark Moon” and other songs on the radio and jukebox. During the 1950s, Storm developed a Las Vegas act (1953-54) and did occasional television guest appearances. She faded from the entertainment scene by the mid-1960s.
Ted Hake’s “The Official Price Guide to Pop Culture Memorabilia: 150 Years of Character Toys & Collectors” (Gemstone Publishing and House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group, 2008), does not included a “My Little Margie” listing. If one existed anywhere, it would be here. Although “My Little Margie” and “The Gale Storm Show” aired during the Golden Age of TV Collectibles, the shows failed to generate licensed product. I am unaware of any boxed board game or lunch kit associated with the shows. Gale Storm collectibles are limited to autographs, records, movie related posters, stills, magazine covers and articles. EBay had only 80 listings the day following her death. There were over 51,000 for Michael Jackson. The “Buy It Now” price for a Gale Storm signed index card, assuming of course that one could trust the signature was authentic, was $9.99.
In honor of all of those whose best finish was a second place, the balance of this column shares some facts I discovered researching Gale Storm on the Internet. For many, this will be your first and perhaps only introduction to this special lady.
Josephine Owaissa Cottle was born in Bloomington, Texas on April 5, 1922, the youngest of five children born to William Walter Cottle and Minnie Corina Cottle. Her father died when she was 13 months old. A participant in the drama club at Albert Sydney Johnston Junior High School and San Jacinto High School in Houston, Josephine, encouraged by two of her teachers, entered a 1940 contest sponsored by the radio program Gateway to Hollywood, originating in Hollywood and broadcast on CBS Radio. The first prize was a one-year RKO studio contract with a guarantee of a major role in a future picture. The winning male and female contestants would receive the stage names of Terry Belmont and Gale Storm. Lee Bonnel from South Bend, Ind. and Josephine Cottle won. In the “only-in-Hollywood-tradition,” Lee Bonnel and Josephine Cottle became husband and wife.
Dark Moon” original sheet music (1957) with Gale Storm on the cover.
“Tom Brown’s School Days” (1940) was her first film. Her career at RKO ended after two films. In 1941 she sang in several Soundies, the popular three-minute musicals that played on movie jukeboxes. Undaunted, she switched to B-movies, appearing in films for Allied Artists, Monogram, Republic and Universal. Her roles ranged from musical comedies to film noir dramas to westerns, three of which starred Roy Rogers. She appeared in more than three dozen pictures for Monogram including roles in its Frankie Darro series and features including the East Side Kids, Edgar Kennedy, and the Three Stooges.
Television saved her career. Music enhanced it. “My Little Margie” aired on radio as well as television. “My Little Margie” ran for 125 episodes on CBS and NBC television. Frank Fox created the series. Roland D. Reed, Hal Roach, Hal Roach, Jr., and Guy V. Thayer, Jr., produced it. After it was canceled, “My Little Margie” was placed in syndication, often airing on local stations paired with “I Married Joan.” “The Gale Storm Show” ran for 143 episodes, initially on CBS and in its final year on ABC. Lee Karson created the show. Lou Derman, Alex Gottlieb, and Hal Roach, Jr. served as producers. When the show went into syndication, it was entitled “Oh! Susanna.”
Most individuals remember Gale Storm the actress. She also spent five years taking voice lessons and appeared frequently as a singer on television variety shows. Her break came in 1954 when Linda Wood, the 10-year old daughter of Randy Wood, vice president of Dot Records, saw Storm singing on a Sunday evening television comedy show hosted by Gordon MacRae. Wood called the studio and negotiated a record contract with Storm before the show was over. “I Hear You Knocking’” her first record, sold over a million copies and ironically reached No. 2 on the 1955 Billboard chart. She also broke into the Top 20 with “Dark Moon,” “Ivory Tower,” Memories Are Made of This,” “Teenage Prayer,” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” In her role as cruise director Susanna Pomeroy aboard the S.S. Ocean Queen, Storm also sang.
Gale Storm was a secret alcoholic, a fact which became public when she became a spokesperson for the Raleigh Hills Hospital, an Oxnard, Calif. alcohol rehabilitation clinic no longer in business. “I Ain’t Down Yet,” her 1981 autobiography, described her successful battle against alcohol addiction. Storm also is featured in David Tucker’s “The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms” (MacFarland and Company, 2007).
An NBC press release photo of Gale Storm and Charles Farrell from “My Little Margie.”
Storm was a favorite at fanzines across the country, generously autographing “My Little Margie” stills picturing Charles Farrell and her. Josephine Owaissa Cottle died on June 27, 2009. She is survived by three sons (Paul, Peter, and Philip) and one daughter (Susanna).
What is the purpose of all this? First, it makes me feel better. I really did not want to write about the future worth of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson collectibles because younger readers most likely would not agree with many of the points I was prepared to make. Second, the ranks of the movie and television stars of my youth and early adulthood grow thinner each year. Each death marks the loss of a part of my past. Third, I grow increasingly concerned about the “who cares” question. In the days immediately following her death, some will care about the loss of Gale Storm. What will be the case in five years, twenty-five years, or a hundred years? Who will care then? The older I get, the angrier I become when forced to deal with my own immortality.
I am under no delusions. My ability to postpone the inevitable loss of my own identity or that of others is miniscule. All I want is the ability to put in my two cents worth every once in awhile, even if for no more than a few seconds.
TRIVIA QUIZ ANSWER: Billy Mays was the pitchman for Orange Glo and OxiClean infomercials.
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“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site: http://www.harryrinker.com
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