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Gale Storm, whose wholesome appearance and perky personality made her one of early television's biggest stars on "My Little Margie" and "The Gale Storm Show," has died at age 87.
updated 7/1/2009 10:52:05 AM ET 2009-07-01T14:52:05

Gale Storm, whose wholesome appearance and perky personality made her one of early television's biggest stars on "My Little Margie" and "The Gale Storm Show," has died at age 87.

Storm, who had been in failing health in recent years, died Saturday at a convalescent hospital in Danville, said her son, Peter Bonnell.

Before landing the starring role in "My Little Margie" in 1952, Storm starred in numerous B movies opposite such stars as Roy Rogers, Eddie Albert and Jackie Cooper. After her last TV series, "The Gale Storm Show," ended in 1960 she went on to a successful singing career while continuing to make occasional TV appearances.

Storm was a Texas high schooler named Josephine Owaissa Cottle when she entered a talent contest for a radio show called "Gateway to Hollywood" in 1940. She was brought to Los Angeles for the finals, where her wholesome vivacity won over the radio audience and she was awarded a movie contract.

The contest's male winner was a lanky would-be actor named Lee Bonnell, who would later become her husband.

Given the quirky name Gale Storm, she went from contracts with RKO to Monogram to Universal, appearing in such low-budget films as "Where Are Your Children?" with Cooper and "Tom Brown's School Days" with Freddie Bartholomew.

She was often cast in westerns as the girl the cowboy left behind, and appeared in such B-movie oaters as "The Dude Goes West" with Albert, "The Kid from Texas" with Audie Murphy and "The Texas Rangers" with George Montgomery.

"I was really scared of horses," she admitted in 2000. "I only rode them because that's what you had to do."

She appeared in three Republic westerns with Rogers and recalled that his horse Trigger did what he could to cause her trouble. As she would smile and ride alongside Rogers while the king of the cowboys crooned a song, Trigger (out of camera range) would lean over and bite her horse's neck.

Alcoholism surprised many
With her movie roles diminishing in the early 1950s, Storm followed the path of many fading movie stars of the day and moved on to television.

"My Little Margie" debuted on CBS as a summer replacement for "I Love Lucy" in 1952. It quickly became an audience favorite and moved to its own slot on NBC that fall.

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The premise was standard sitcom fare: Charles Farrell was a business executive and eligible widower, Storm was his busybody daughter who protected him from predatory women.

The year after "My Little Margie" ended its 126-episode run in 1955, she moved on to "The Gale Storm Show," which lasted until 1960. This time she played Susanna Pomeroy, a trouble-making social director on a luxury liner.

Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Storm, who had taken vocal lessons, sang on her second series, and three of her records became best sellers: "I Hear You Knocking," "Teenage Prayer" and "Dark Moon."

She appeared only sporadically on TV after "The Gale Storm Show," guest starring on such programs as "Burke's Law," "The Love Boat" and "Murder, She Wrote."

Her fans were surprised to read in her 1980 autobiography, "I Ain't Down Yet," that she was an alcoholic.

"I had hidden it socially, never drank before a performance," she said. After being treated in three hospitals, she found one that helped her break the habit.

Born April 5, 1922, in Bloomington, Texas, Storm was only 13 months old when her father died. Her mother supported five children by taking in sewing.

Storm and Bonnell had three sons, Phillip, Peter and Paul, and a daughter, Susanna.

Bonnell died in 1987, and in 1988 Storm married former TV executive Paul Masterson. He died in 1996.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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