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Philadelphia "Popeye" host Sally Starr dead at 90

Discussion in 'Cartoon News' started by eminovitz, Oct 30, 2013.

  1. eminovitz

    eminovitz Research Guru / Moderator Emeritus

    Oct 30, 2013
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    Philadelphia broadcast legend legend Sally Starr, the blonde cowgirl host of Sally Starr's Popeye Theater from 1957 to 1971, died Sunday morning, just two days after her 90th birthday.

    She died peacefully in a South Jersey nursing home just after 6 a.m., said close friend Michael Yip. She had been in poor health for years from natural causes, as well as the effects of a 2005 car crash.

    For nearly 20 years, starting in the 1950s, her shows were seen on Philadelphia's WPVI-TV 6. She was nicknamed Our Gal Sal.

    Characters in cartoons that aired on her two-hour Popeye Theater included not just Popeye, but Bugs Bunny and Barney Google. The program also showed Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus, Yogi Bear and Woody Woodpeacker -- each on different nights.

    On one year in the 1960s, 78.8% of all area children watching TV watched Starr, and 43.1% of area homes in her time slot were tuned to Channel 6. That was an average of 428,000 children and 252,000 homes -- every weekday of the year.

    Guests on her program included athletes, firemen and paratroopers.

    A soft-drink sweepstakes on the show netted 40,000 proof-of-purchase entries in 10 weeks; a similar dessert promotion drew 43,000 in only eight.

    Aileen Mae Beller was born in Kansas City, Missouri on January 25, 1923. In the late 1940s, she moved to Philadelphia to host a country-Western music program on radio's WJJM.

    Popeye Theater aired at 6 p.m., first appearing on Monday, July 29, 1957 on what was then WFIL-TV. Wearing her signature spangled cowgirl outfit, she showed cartoons and Three Stooges shorts and welcomed celebrity guests to her live shows.

    Starr wondered if the violent cartoons that aired on such shows as hers may have contributed to child abuse. "Most of the parents who are abusing their kids are baby boomers," she said in a 1990 interview.

    She was also unhappy with Channel 6. According to Starr, then-owner Walter Annenberg demanded that all of her shows air live, which is why none exists on tape.

    In 1971, she lost her program on WPVI when the station was bought by Capital Cities. The new owner fired her although she was number one in her 8:30 a.m. time slot.

    "I was doing the Reading Fair. I was told to come in, that it was an emergency. My program director couldn't even tell me. He started crying like crazy. They said they were phasing out the program. I said, 'What are you trying to do? Phase out kids, too?'"

    Viewers in the Delaware Valley launched the largest mail protest in the station's history.

    Starr made occasional film appearances. She had a feature role as Belle Starr in The Outlaws Is Coming (1965) with the Three Stooges. It was the last feature film to be made by the Stooges at Columbia Pictures in Hollywood.

    She portrayed herself on The In Crowd (1988), with Joe Pantoliano and Peter Boyle, and the 2008 documentary The Wages of Spin. Other appearances were in Mannequin on the Move and Holiday Journey.

    Starr was a member of the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.

    Upon her retirement, she moved to Florida, where a 1987 fire destroyed her home and her broadcast memorabilia.

    Twenty years ago, she moved back to New Jersey's Delaware Valley, hosting a radio show at a Vineland station before moving into a Berlin convalescent home.

    She wrote an autobiography, Me, Thee & TV.

    Starr's first marriage, at age 16 to radio star Jesse Rogers, ended in divorce. Her second husband, Channel 6 cameraman Mark Gray, died in 1968.

    She is survived by a sister.

    In 1984, she told Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky why she had no children, though she loved them so much.

    "Unfortunately, I had polio, and it affected me in ways that prevented me from having children. I never met a child that I couldn't make up with or that I couldn't have a decent conversation with, couldn't laugh with, couldn't have fun with.

    "Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like. I never met a child I didn't like. I met some who were ornerier than others. It's just a solid fact that I love children. I love people, and I guess it comes out. It stems from my early days, I guess, of coming from a large family."

    Funeral services for Sally Starr will be private.


    (Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia)

    [Via WPVI-TV 6 -- abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/entertainment&id=8970011, Philadelphia Inquirer -- www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/Philadelphia_TV_legend_Sally_Starr_dies_at_90_.html, Allentown Morning Call --
    articles.mcall.com/1990-11-22/features/2769834_1_starr-drinking-problem-rumors, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia -- www.broadcastpioneers.com/sallystarr.html]

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