Reading the sad news that Sally Starr has passed away at the age of 90 reminded me that I have a Sally Starr story that I’ve never written about.
One of the great things about growing up in Richland, PA, in the 1950s and 60s was the Richland Carnival: five Saturday nights during the month of July every year.
One year, I’m guessing it must have been 1959, soitainly no later than 1960, Sally Starr was the featured performer. Her “Popeye Theater” TV program on WFIL was a huge hit with us kids in those days, and besides showcasing Popeye cartoons, she also featured movie shorts by The Three Stooges, who were just being rediscovered by the television generation. [My recollection, which is not always accurate, is that at the height of her popularity her show ran from 5pm to 7pm on weekdays, although later on her time was cut back.]
She appeared on the carnival band shell dressed in her trademark cowgirl suit. I don’t remember much about her performance, but at one point she took questions from the audience and I dutifully raised my hand, along with just about every other kid out there. I was ten.
As I said, I was ten, and I was just raising my hand because everyone else was, and in any case there was absolutely no chance that she’d ever call on me, so I just raised my hand. Probably waved it pretty hard. I was having a ball.
Then she called on me.
And I realized I didn’t have a question.
I froze, and she pointed towards me again.
So I came up with probably the lamest question anyone has ever asked a celebrity.
“Why is Moe always hitting Larry and Curly?” I heard myself ask, realizing just how lame it was even as the words were pouring out of my mouth.
She was very gracious, and instead of embarrassing me, she did the smart thing.
“Oh, that reminds me,” she said. “Everybody raise your hand and take the pledge”
And she proceeded to have us swear that we would never hit our playmates under any circumstances, etc., etc.
Later on, after her performance I found myself standing with a couple other kids at the stage door behind the band shell with an 8 by 12 black and white glossy photograph of Sally Starr in my hand. Where I got the photo or why I was there, I no longer recall.
In any case, after a short wait the door opened and there was Sally Starr standing right in front of me! She had changed into a lovely white evening gown, so she no longer looked like Sally Starr, but it was her all right.
I handed her the photo and she signed it. My first celebrity autograph. Practically my only celebrity autograph.
Anyway, later on when I related the story to my parents I mentioned that Sally had appeared at the stage door wearing a night gown. Never did hear the end of that.
As far as I know, I no longer have that autographed photo of Sally Starr, which is a shame, but I do have fond memories of our gal Sal.