Monday, August 11, 2008

Love, Luck, and Lollipops!

Sometimes, I bet, you wonder: "Is there method in his madness? How does he come up with this stuff?" I know it's something I've asked myself frequently of demented geniuses like Thombeau and, more recently, TJB.

As for me - well, it's mostly random. As in today's little meditation, which came to me when I used the phrase "star-studded" in a comment over at Princess Sparklepony's Blog. I sat there, as one does, vaguely vegetative while waiting for the comment to save, and thought, " Starr!"

It must be something like the revelation Method actors talk about with sense memory, that great rush of associations and feelings you get when you just drift off like that and suddenly snap back to. And, in the case of Our Gal Sal, Philadelphia's Favorite Cowgirl - what a rush it is.

She was, even as late as my arrival in Philly in the mid-70s, a local TV institution, her decades-long run as the hostess of "Popeye Theatre" having only recently ended. The show was one of those locally produced staples, a kid's program that, like so many others that played in markets across the country, now seem half hopelessly, quaintly dated and half subversive predecessor to "Pee-Wee's Playhouse."

Here she is in her glory, pushing Gold Square Stamps on behalf of her sponsor, another vanished Philadelphia institution, Lit Brothers Department Store:

She opened every show with her trademark greeting - "I hope ya feel as good as ya look, 'cause ya sure look good to your gal Sal!" and regularly wished her viewers the bounty of treats used as a title above.

In between her segments, she helped ensure that generations of kids got a proper dose of the Great American Cartoon - Popeye, of course, but a whole raft of others famous and obscure (who knew there were Beatle Bailey cartoons?). She even starred in the last Stooges feature (playing cowgirl, of course, alongside Adam West), and sometimes a Stooge would drop by.

She wasn't always a statuesque cowgirl of course; she started out as a fresh-faced Girl Singer:

And was, for a while, the very epitome of the mid-century Girl Reporter:

But it was definitely in cowgirl drag that she made her biggest mark, entertaining the kiddies while offering up a little something visually for any of the Dads (and maybe a few of the Moms) who happened to be home in the afternoon.

I never saw "Popeye Theatre," but I have my own memories of Sal. In the mid-80s, for reasons far too dull to go into here, I ended up being a regular guest on what must have been her last foray into the local TV market, a show on some obscure South Jersey UHF nightmare that packaged old Poverty Row Westerns with segments chockablock with her usual shtick.

No longer quite the bombshell above, Sally was still just as funny and loopy and sincere as you could possibly want; she really did think ya looked good, and she really did want you to have those lollipops.

Checking out Flickr, I was happy to see that she's still going strong - for a woman well into her mid-80s - and last year even enjoyed a moment in the sun, presiding as a special guest at Philadelphia's Pride Parade:

It's hard to think, now, what a place in people's imaginations these local celebrities had - one-offs like Sally, but also all the local Bozos the Clown, all the Miss Jeans and Miss Janes and Miss Ellens on your station's iteration of "Romper Room," all the chat-show hostesses and movie introducers.

At least there's a fair amount of appreciation online. You may, if you like, hear Sally sing (is it one of the tracks she recorded with Bill Haley?) on her own site (and although her personal appearances calendar ends last fall, perhaps she'll turn up if you visit her eponymous pizza joint in Atco, NJ). There's also some very warm fan apprecation at TV Party.

I can think of no finer ending than Sal's own sendoff, beamed out to households across the Delaware Valley, her smiling face shimmering from a vast fruitwood Mediterranen console in rumpus rooms and dens from Conshohocken to Cherry Hill and from Swampoodle to Phoenixville: "May the Good Lord be blessing you and your family - 'bye for now!"


  1. I think Sally Starr was the long lost sister of Eva Perrone.

  2. Darling, you were the guest talent on Miss Starr's cowboy show? Did you do rope tricks, by any chance?

  3. Bravo, ed! That was exactly what I was thinking, which is why, when I stol... borrowed the image, I retitled it "sallyevita."

    The resemblence is startling, but it pretty much ends there - truly I can't think of a less ruthless woman than Our Gal Sal.

    And Peenee - you know I'll never tell. But it really was kind of a hoot!

  4. Darling, a lovely tribute to a lovely gal. And I can die peacefully now, knowing that my obituary can carry "Demented Genius" as my description.

  5. This is one of the great blogs of all time.

  6. Sweetie, you are as demented a genius as the world has ever seen. Love ya!!!

  7. You speak actor. Amazing.

    What don't you know? I have been reading your blog trying to figure you out...and every time I stop by I am stunned with some new morsel of information that you provide and am confounded even more.

    You are a really fantastic mystery to me.

  8. Always a learning experience - I envy how you find the time.

    I wonder who the bunny was...?