Imagine my delight the other day when, after a brief confusion, I learned that there were not one but two 20th century performers named Sally Starr, both of whom worked with great comedians. Since one (the first) has a birthday of January 23 and the other (the second) has a birthday of January 25, it seemed silly to give them separate posts two days apart. So here they are in a shared one. (NB: I think there may actually be a third Sally Starr. IMDB attributes several silent films 1917-1918, to our first one, but these were all shot on the west coast before our one was “discovered” and was still a girl of 8 or 9 — I strongly believe those credits belong to someone else.)
Sally Starr #1 (1909-1996) was from Pittsburgh and started out as teenage chorus girl in Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolics in Ted Lewis’s act. Then came George White’s Scandals of 1924, Rufus Lemaire’s Affairs (1927) and The Optimists (1930, with Eleanor Powell). Gus Edwards is said to have spotted her on stage and brought her to the attention of Sam Wood who began to cast her in films. Her first movie was So This is College (1929) opposite Robert Montgomery. Next came a short with Cliff Edwards, The Flower Garden (1930). She proceeded to appear in a dozen more films through the Pre-Code era, starring in several of them, such as Personality (1930) and Pardon My Gun (1930). From 1932 through 1935 she returned to Broadway, appearing in four additional Broadway shows Angels Don’t Kiss (1932), One More Honeymoon (1934), Broadway Interlude (1934), and Revenge with Music (1935). She returned to Hollywood in 1936, but not as a star of features. Through 1938 she appeared in a series of Educational comedy shorts opposite the likes of Bert Lahr, Pat Rooney Jr, and Tim Herbert. Her last film was Money On Your Life (1938) with a very young Danny Kaye. If she continued on in show business after this point at some lower profile I haven’t yet ascertained. Not-quite-30 is an awfully young age at which to retire. But very shortly, another young woman would begin using her moniker professionally.
Sally Starr #2 (1923-2013) was born Alleen Mae Beller on Kansas City, Missouri. Her show business career began in 1935 in an act with her sister Mildred called the Little Missouri Maids, making live appearances and performing on radio. She changed her professional name to Sally Starr in 1941. A decade later she made her mark as a popular local children’s television program at WFIL TV in Philadelphia. Dressed in full western cowgirl regalia, she sang songs and showed Popeye cartoons and Three Stooges shorts. Later, the Stooges paid her back by putting her in their late feature The Outlaws is Coming (1965). As a performer, she also collaborated with Bill Haley and the Comets. She recorded the album Our Gal Sal in 1958 with the Comets as her backing group. Haley wrote her a couple of songs, entitled “A.B.C. Rock” and “Rocky the Rockin’ Rabbit”, obviously in support of her kid’s show. Her TV show went off the air in 1971; she continued to be a local radio personality in New Jersey for another quarter century.
To find out more about the history of show business please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.