This is a sad time for any Baby Boomer who grew up in the Delaware Valley in the 1950’s and 1960’s – Sally Starr has died.
For anybody who never heard of Sally Starr or anybody who thinks she was just another host of a television kiddie show, well, you just don’t know. Sally Starr (I always think of her that way – never just Sally or Starr) was the big star of kiddie shows in an era when local television from Philadelphia was filled with them, including Gene London, Pixanne, Chief Halftown, Pete’s Gang and, perhaps the oddest of them all, Bertie the Bunyip.
Those were great shows, too. Gene London and Pete Boyle were both accomplished artists who would draw on a big artist’s sketch pad as they told stories and Pete Boyle – the father of Peter Boyle of “Young Frankenstein’’ and “Everybody Loves Raymond’’ fame – introduced a new generation to the Our Gang comedy shorts starring Alfalfa, Spanky, Darla and, of course, Buckwheat.
Chief Halftown was a full-blooded Seneca who wore Native American garb on his show, including a full-feathered headpiece. He taught valuable life lessons and would educate the kids about different cultures. He also liked to march around the room a lot and he did it longer than anyone – his show was on the air in Philadelphia for 48 years, a record.
Then there was Pixanne, a cute young woman who dressed like Errol Flynn from “The Adventures of Robin Hood,’’ with the green tights and the feather in the cap. Pixanne lived in a forest somewhere and she also showed cartoons. But the big attraction on her show, at least to me, was the weekly episodes of “Diver Dan,’’ who was some nameless and faceless actor dressed in an old-time diving suit, complete with big helmet, weighted shoes and a hose leading to the surface. And talk about low tech – they shot the series through an aquarium to give it that underwater look. Each week, Dan would interact with a bunch of fish that were really marionettes, including the obligatory villain, Baron Barracuda, who wore a monocle and had a sidekick fish, Trigger, who chain-smoked underwater. There was also a beautiful mermaid in Diver Dan’s world named Minerva, and even though the two always managed to just miss each other, you knew there was romance in the air, or at least under the water.
But Sally Starr was the undisputed queen. For one thing, she was a part of our daily lives. While those other kiddie shows were on Saturday or Sunday mornings, Sally Starr was on the air for two hours, Monday through Friday afternoons, right before the 6 p.m. local news.
For some reason, Sally Starr, a good-looking blonde, dressed up like a cowgirl, complete with six-shooters and a trademark cowboy hat. Something else you couldn’t help noticing, at least if you were a pre-teen boy — the fringe on the front of her cowgirl shirt was closer to the camera than the rest of her outfit, if you catch our drift. Needless to say, thousands of those pre-teens in the Delaware Valley had a crush on Our Gal Sal, or at least had their first impure thoughts about her. Sometimes I still dream about that fringe.
Her show was called Sally Starr’s Popeye Theater and it featured those great old 1930s Popeye cartoons by Max Fleischer. But the real stars of her show, and the real reason I watched it (other than that fringe, of course) was the fact that she also showed the Three Stooges. Just like Pete Boyle introduced the new generation to the Our Gang shorts, Sally Starr introduced us to Moe, Larry and Curley (and sometimes, to our disappointment, Shemp, or, worse, Curley Joe).
To this day, you can go up to any Baby Boomer in the Delaware Valley and say the words “Sally Starr’’ and the reaction will be the same — they’ll break into a big smile as they remember one of the very best parts of their childhood.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.