It has been a sad week here in the Philadelphia area. Sally Starr, the legendary queen of local children’s television for the baby boom generation died two days after her 90th birthday. News of her death conjured forth a flood of childhood memories for anyone who was lucky enough to be entertained daily by her show during its 21-year run as she hosted Popeye Theater featuring cartoons of our favorite one-eyed sailor, Three Stooges shorts, cowboy films and other great cartoons like the quirky Clutch Cargo.
Sally Starr could not avoid being a legend. She possessed all of the ingredients necessary to be adored by every kid that sat transfixed in front of their television from 1950 to 1971. Sally Starr was a tiny platinum -blonde, pony-tailed, curvy cowgirl peppered with fringes and rhinestones from the tips of her pointy boots to the top of her wide brimmed hat. Every girl wanted to be her and every boy had a prepubescent infatuation for “Our Gal Sal.”
I met her one time while we were both performing in the Woodstown, NJ Independence Day Parade. She was 82 at the time, 38 years my senior and I told her she was the first woman I remember ever having a crush on. She looked me up and down (I was eight feet tall on stilts), peering from beneath her signature bejeweled Stetson and retorted contemplatively, “You’re sick.”
That was Sally, bold, beautiful and bawdy with a heart the size of Texas. She loved the kids that were her audience. Her broadcasts were never scripted and she spoke to the viewers in a way that was honest and natural, establishing a relationship of mutual respect that earned her the moniker “Aunt Sally.”
Sally Starr could be regularly seen visiting children at hospitals, working charity events and riding her trusty horse, Pal, at public appearances and in parades throughout every corner of the Delaware Valley.
Sally Starr was a character.
That’s the most amazing thing. Sally Star WAS a character. She was just as much a character as the Lone Ranger, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or the Incredible Hulk with one exception.
She was REAL!
Not real like Santa Claus, mind you, in that mythical kind of way. Sally Star was the one-and-only, authentic, Sally Starr! You could meet her, touch her, talk to her and she was the same exact cowgirl that you watched on television every day. Not just someone with an alter ego. Not just someone in a costume.
Sally’s passing got me thinking about that magical transition when performers become one with their character, especially ones with a definitive costume. Some people refer to this phenomenon with the derogatory term, typecasting. Some performers view typecasting as a curse while others come to embrace it. Most discover that to be recognized synonymously with a beloved character is an honor that needs to be earned.
We were lucky in the Philadelphia area to have many great kid show hosts that earned this distinction. Chief Halftown, Pixanne, Wee Willie Weber, Captain Noah, Doctor Shock, Gene London and, of course, Sally Starr would have been standouts in any television market. Highlights of their careers can be seen on this hour long local public television documentary “Philly’s Favorite Kids Show Hosts.”
Those of us that enjoy our superheroes are well aware of actors that have legendary, synonymous attachments to the characters they portrayed.
Both George Reeve and Christopher Reeves defined Superman in a way that is unmatched.
Adam West and Burt Ward are Batman and Robin to a generation of adoring fans. Even the Batmobile they drove in their 1960′s series is described as “definitive,” recently fetching 4.2 million dollars at auction!
Who else could fill the one piece Amazonian costume of Wonder Woman but Linda Carter.
It took digital animation to create an Incredible Hulk that was more convincing than the muscle bound version brought to us by Lou Ferrigno.
These actors not only pioneered a unique perception of the characters, they pioneered the superhero genre for television which is beautifully documented in this PBS production Pioneers of Television Superheroes.
If Sally Star was the iconic cowgirl, then The Lone Ranger had to be the iconic cowboy hero.
Clayton Moore was The Lone Ranger and took to the character so steadfastly that he continued to make appearances as the Masked Man long after the show was canceled. The owner of The Lone Ranger finally took legal action against Moore to prevent him from making those personal appearances, an action which brought countersuit by Moore who eventually won and continued to don the mask until shortly before his death.
A tremendous story about one of those Lone Ranger appearances as told by Jay Thomas to Dave Letterman is a hysterical must see here.
The William Tell Overture just ran through that man’s veins!
Thank you to those that have brought our favorite characters to life and have allowed us to embrace them as our ideal.
Thanks to all those kid show characters that fertilized our imaginations and taught us that we could be whoever or whatever we wanted to be.
Thank you Sally Star for being Our Gal Sal. May your sparkly rhinestones forever be the stars in the sky that continue to put a wondrous smile on a child’s face.
Making Comics Because We Want to,
Tags: Adam West, Batman, Batmobile, Burt Ward, Captain Noah, Christopher Reeves, Clayton Moore, Clutch Cargo, Dave Letterman, Doctor Shock, Gene London, George Reeve, Happy the Clown, Incredible Hulk, Jay Thomas, Linda Carter, Lone Ranger, Lou Ferrigno, Masked Man, Our Gal Sal, Philadelphia, Pioneers of Television Superheroes, Pixanne, Popeye, Popeye Theater, Robin, Sally Starr, Santa Claus, Superheroes, Superman, The Lone Ranger, Three Stooges, Wee Willie Weber, William Tell Overture, Wonder Woman