I Know a Story
Starr-struck: Early on, he took a shine to her By Dennis Denenberg, Special to the Sunday News
Recently, "Our Gal Sal" went to the Great Rodeo in the Sky.
As I am a child of the 1950s, Sally Starr was part of my formative years. Watching her host "Popeye Theater" on a Philadelphia TV station was simply something you did on a daily basis. She was a real star to us. Her beauty and warm, engaging personality reached out from that small black-and-white TV console in our living room.
And the summer when I heard the news that Sally was coming to Manheim, my hometown, I was ecstatic. She was scheduled to perform at the annual Firemen's Carnival in the community park (near the present-day football field).
I had finished first grade at Stiegel Elementary School in Manheim Central School District. (By the way, I was later the principal there!) My family lived on Gramby Street -- just blocks away from the park, so attending the carnival was simple. In those days, going by yourself was no problem if your parents were busy.
The big day arrived, and the excitement was amazing: Sally Starr was coming to Manheim! When she appeared on stage, the crowd went wild. She was radiant. She talked about her TV show and herself, and then she announced she was going to sing. She asked for a volunteer from the crowd, and guess who was picked! I was right down front and started jumping up and down and screaming, and she saw me.
I went up on the stage, and Sally placed me on her lap. She asked me lots of questions: How old are you? (I'm 6 years old.) What grade are you in? (I'll be in second grade.) Do you have a girlfriend? (Yes, Cathy.)
Then, she SANG TO ME: "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me." In between verses, she KISSED ME -- not just once, but at least six times. Read that part again, please: Sally Starr kissed me at least six times!
I left the stage and immediately ran home to tell Mom and Dad. It was incredible. My parents were so excited for me. I said I wanted to return to the carnival, and of course they said, "Go."
I returned only to learn she had asked for me to return to the stage for "an encore." Bummer! But it did not diminish my over-the-top excitement. After she finished, I went backstage. She saw me, gave me an autographed photo (now framed and in my home) and a final kiss.
So in 2000, when Our Gal Sal came to the Allen Theatre in Annville, of course I had to go. I took with me the framed photo of her that she had given me almost 50 years ago. She seemed genuinely thrilled to see the picture and hear my story.
So now I have a photo of myself with Our Gal Sal holding that signed photo of herself in her famous cowgirl outfit.
What a treasure. She certainly made our childhoods more special.
The writer, a Manheim Township resident, is a Millersville University emeritus professor of elementary education.