Pert, vivacious Gale Storm, movie actress, television star, recording artist, and one of America’s minor heartthrobs in the 1950s and 1960s, was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle on April 5, 1922, in the South Texas town of Bloomington to William Walter Cottle and Minnie Corina Cottle. She lost her father when she was only seventeen months old, and her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet for her five children, of which Storm was the youngest. After several moves in the state, the family finally settled in Houston, where Storm attended Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School and San Jacinto High School. There she excelled at dancing and ice skating and became interested in theater through involvement with the high school dramatic club.
In 1939, at the age of seventeen, she was encouraged by two teachers to enter a local competition for the radio talent contest, “Gateway to Hollywood.” As the female winner, she went to Hollywood to compete for the national title, which she also won and which carried as first prize a one-year contract with a movie studio. It was at this point that “Josephine Owaissa Cottle” (less than marquee-worthy) became “Gale Storm” (the preordained screen name for the contest winner). Signed by RKO, she appeared in only two “B” films, including her debut in Tom Brown’s School Days (1940), before being dropped by the studio, but she was established enough—and willing—to take work at lesser studios, such as Monogram and Universal, which starred her in a series of low-budget teen comedies, Westerns (she starred in three films with Roy Rogers), and films noire. Arguably the best of these are It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), The Dude Goes West (1948), and The Underworld Story (1950).
At this point, television was rapidly becoming the media darling, and Storm readily saw its potential, while other “movie stars” were looking down on the upstart electronic entertainment form. She was first cast in My Little Margie, originally intended as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy but which proved so popular that it was given a time slot in the regular schedule and ran on NBC and CBS for 126 episodes from 1952 to 1955. A stint as hostess of the NBC Comedy Hour in 1956 led to a second sitcom, Oh! Susanna—The Gale Storm Show, which ran for 143 episodes from 1956 to 1960. Storm also made regular guest appearances on other television shows during the 1950s and 1960s.
In the midst of her television activity, Storm moved—or slipped—into yet a third career, as a recording artist. An appearance on NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour brought her to the attention of Randy Wood, president of Dot Records, who called her and immediately offered her a recording contract. Her first release on Dot, “I Hear You Knockin’,” reached Number 2 on Billboard in 1955 and sold more than a million copies, followed by covers of such songs as Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This” and Frankie Lymon’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Storm’s version of “Dark Moon” went to Number 4 in 1957. Her covers often charted higher than the originals. Simultaneously, she developed a dinner theater act, headlining in Las Vegas, and starred in the touring companies of such musicals as South Pacific, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Cactus Flower.
In the 1970s Storm suffered a severe addiction to alcohol but fully recovered and later lectured widely to stress that the condition was not a weakness but a disease. Her work in this area served to remove the stigma of alcoholism, especially where women were its victims. She chronicled her stuggles with the disease in her autobiography I Ain’t Down Yet: The Autobiography of My Little Margie, published in 1981.
She was married and widowed twice. Her first husband was Lee Bonnell (1918–1986), whom she met when they were the male-female co-winners of the “Gateway to Hollywood” contest. They married on September 28, 1941, in Houston. Bonnell’s film career (billing him as “Terry Belmont”) went nowhere, but he became a successful insurance executive and was the father of her four children. After his death in 1986, Storm married Paul Masterson (1917–1996), a former television executive, in 1988; he died in 1996.
During her later years Gale Storm lived alone in Monarch Beach, California, and was active at the South Shores Church. She died in a convalescent home in Danville, California, on June 27, 2009, of natural causes at the age of eighty-seven. She has three stars (for television, radio, and recording) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.