Batten Down the Hatches: It’s Gale Storm!

April 5 is the natal day of Gale Storm (Josephine Cottle, 1922-2009). Storm was a major movie star in the 1940s and a major television star in the 1950s, but the break that led to both was achieved on radio.

Storm (Cottle) was a 17 year old Texas high school student when she was encouraged by her teachers to compete on the radio talent show Gateway to Hollywood, hosted by film producer Jesse Lasky. A gifted actress, singer and dancer in school theatricals, she won first place in the national contest, which was a one year movie contract. This was unbelievably good fortune for the youngest of five children, raised by a widowed seamstress.

Storm’s first movie was RKO’s adaptation of Tom Brown’s School Days, with Cedric Hardwicke, Freddie Bartholomew, Jimmy Lydon, Polly Moran, and Billy Halop from the Dead End Kids. Storm made one more picture at RKO that year, One Crowded Night before the contract ran out. She next spent several years making B movies (many of them westerns) at Monogram. She’s in Smart Alecks (1942) with the East Side Kids; Cosmo Jones in the Crime Smasher (1943) with Edgar Kennedy; Revenge of the Zombies (1943) with John Carradine and Mantan Moreland; and Swing Parade of 1946 with the Three Stooges. In 1947, she appeared in the Roy Del Ruth classic It Happened on Fifth Avenue with Victor Moore and Charlie Ruggles, the first movie produced by Allied Pictures, Mongram’s “A” picture division. Next came the comedy western The Dude Goes West (1948) with Eddie Albert and James Gleason. Several more films, mostly westerns, followed into the early 1950s.

Meanwhile she’d also gotten her feet wet in television, singing on variety shows. This led to Storm’s first starring broadcast vehicle My Little Margie 1952-55. I say “broadcast” because it wasn’t just a tv show; radio and tv versions were produced concurrently. Produced by Hal Roach, it aired on CBS the first season, NBC for the remainder. In My Little Margie, Storm played the trouble prone young adult daughter of a widowed New York business executive portrayed by Hollywood veteran Charles Farrell. The cast of regulars included Zasu Pitts, Clarence Kolb, Willie Best, and Hillary Brooke (who was also a regular on The Abbott and Costello Show. )

Most actors would be lucky to star in even one hit tv show. After My Little Margie went off the air, Storm stepped immediately into another. Her second sitcom, The Gale Storm Show (1956-1960), known as Oh, Susanna in syndication, cast a slightly more mature Storm as a cruise director on an ocean liner. Comedy veteran Pitts was also a regular on this program, which was also produced by Hal Roach. The setting was unusual for a sitcom of its time. Modern viewers will find it uncannily similar to the later The Love Boat. At any rate, there’s something most apt about an actress named Gale Storm starring on a show set on shipboard.

During these same years, Storm was also recording hit records, performing on variety shows and singing in live performance After her second sitcom ceased production she continued to appear sporadically on television. In fact, you can see her in two episodes of The Love Boat!