Mourning a passing Starr
Monday was my birthday, and just when I started thinking it was going to be a pretty good day, I got the news. On Sunday, Sally Starr had died.
Our Gal Sal, decked out in her flashy red (or sky-blue) cowgirl regalia that included a fringed silver star-studded skirt and jacket, white hat, boots and two six-shooters (possibly .44-caliber Hubleys), was the longtime host of "Popeye Theater" on what was then WFIL, Channel 6, out of Philadelphia.
As a boy, I watched this show religiously. I think it came on at 5 p.m. or maybe 6, and in addition to Popeye the Sailor cartoons it was my main source of Three Stooges shorts.
Like most boys, I worshipped the Stooges and patterned my life after them. Every boy -- and I was no exception -- wanted to be a Stooge when he grew up, and many of us succeeded.
(Some kids, by which I mean girls, never shared our enthusiasm for the Stooges. They had this absurd idea that pies were meant for eating, not throwing, and they never understood the thrill of eye-poking and head-bonking. Nor did they find humor in the phrase, "Spread out.")
On occasion, Sally had the actual Stooges on her show, live and in person! Be still, my heart.
I had the honor (and extreme thrill) of interviewing Sally in 2000 prior to her appearance at the Allen Theatre in Annville and asked her about the Stooges.
"Moe was all business," she told me. "Larry was funny, and he liked being on my show because he was from Philadelphia. Joe DeRita was more difficult to get to know. He kept to himself."
That's OK. I didn't like Joe anyway. Curly was the only third stooge in my book. (My wife liked Shemp, but she's just wrong.)
In 1965, Sally played Belle Starr in "The Outlaws Is Coming," the Stooges last feature-length comedy. She didn't win an Oscar, proving the Academy's bias against Three Stooges flicks.
To further excite us, her fans, Sally had Chief Halftown drop by on her show from time to time. Wow! Two legends on the same black-and-white screen!
On Saturdays, Sally often showed Western movies and even had, as guests on her show, super Wild West good folks Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
"Actually, I knew them before they were married," Sally told me during the interview. "I met them at a rodeo at the old arena at 46th and Market streets. They've had a remarkable life."
As a kid, I twice met Sally in person. On one of those occasions, Scott Shelley (my buddy and another avid fan) got a kiss on the cheek from Sally when he told her, "I watch you all the time."
"You bum," I thought.
I was ticked off, not at Scott but at myself for not thinking of saying it first. (Now you Ephrata High School football players know what kind of kid your head coach was, upstaging his friends.)
My adoration of Sally wavered once. A cousin who lived in Denver told me she once saw Sally coming out of the Denver House, a local tavern, and that she was tighter than Spandex jockey shorts. Then I realized my cousin was nuts. Our Gal Sal wouldn't drink, and if she did, would she do it in Denver?
"Soitinly not. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk." (Poke! Bonk!)
During the interview, Sally, reflecting on her years spent entertaining runny-nose little kids like me, wistfully said, "All my baby boomers are grown up now."
I know this one is, but I am no less grateful to her for being such a positive influence on my formative years.
So, Sally, I say to you what you said to us at the end of your shows, all those years ago:
May the Good Lord be blessing you and your family. Bye for now!