Thursday, August 30, 2018

An interview with author David C. Tucker - Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record

We continue our look at the new book on Gale Storm this week with an interview with the author, David C. Tucker.  Please see last week's post for our review on Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record.

JTL: You first researched the work of Gale Storm (and interviewed her) for your 2007 book The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. What made you want to take up Gale Storm as a full-length book project?

David Tucker: Before I wrote that first book, I knew less about her than most of the other women I profiled. But as I watched her shows, and researched her career, I was captivated by her charm and talent. Interviewing her only added to that, and kept me thinking about her even after The Women Who Made Television Funny was finished. A full-length book gave me the opportunity to explore her film career in depth, which wasn’t possible the first time. Although she had passed away by the time I began the newer book, I was lucky to be able to speak with her daughter, two of her grandchildren, her stepdaughter, and people like Linda Wood, who as a little girl loved Margie on TV and persuaded her father, a record executive, to offer Gale Storm a recording contract.

JTL: Gale wrote her own autobiography I Ain’t Down Yet, which revealed her battle with alcoholism.  Having read your book, I’d like to read her memoir as well.  Personally, though I enjoy biographies of entertainers, and especially value autobiographies as lending insight into their careers, I am inevitably disappointed that the greater part of these celebrity bios are devoted to little more than a cursory view of their career achievements.  Much of these books dwell on anecdotal material, which though entertaining (and as with Gale’s struggle with her disease, inspiring), is not always very useful to the serious film fan.  I found myself in reading many books on film stars to be annoyed that a film I wanted to know more about was dismissed as “and then he did this.”  Then a full chapter on the next divorce or scandal.  Your book, Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record is a detailed career record fans can turn to for the most meticulous chronicling of her work.  Many serious classic film and television fans are extremely knowledgeable and compile their own informal hobby lists that would be the envy of professional keepers of baseball box scores. What is your opinion and your approach to writing about your film star subjects and Gale Storm in particular?

David Tucker: I wrote Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record with the aim of complementing and supplementing the memoir she wrote. While that book is a great read, it focuses largely on her recovery from alcoholism, which had received much publicity at the time it was published. I wanted to cover her film and television career in more depth, including the B movies, which are often given short shrift in books. So there is an essay on every film she made, with behind-the-scenes details and a critical analysis. Likewise, there’s an extensively researched section on her work in television. Since her own book came out in the early 1980s, there was also a need to explore the last three decades of her life. Those later years included, among other things, her life as a widow after Lee’s death, her second marriage, and her final professional performances. On the personal side, it was exciting to meet and befriend her niece, who shared not only great stories with me about the family, but also rare photos of Gale’s parents and sisters.  

JTL:   I note that you credit in your acknowledgements section a thank you to fans who provided material -- films and memorabilia from their own collections.  When I was writing about Ann Blyth, I found her fans to be invaluable for sources of material that just could not be found elsewhere.  I still hear from fans wanting to share their treasures, and I’ve made a couple wonderful friends among them.  What was your experience in the hunt for film and television video, radio and recordings, lobby cards and various memorabilia and how did private collectors help you?

David Tucker: Gale had a very close, loving relationship with her fans, and they were incredibly helpful in preparing the book. People who didn’t really know me would send me DVDs, tapes, and memorabilia, so that I was able to see as much of her work as possible. Ron Baker, who co-founded her fan club, is a walking encyclopedia of Gale’s life and career, and he couldn’t have been more generous or helpful. Even Gale’s own daughter said he knew far more about her mother’s career than she did. 

JTL:  Also, as regards the challenge of collecting material for research, I’ve read where Boomers were big collectors and the older Boomers are now downsizing, but younger generations are less interested in collectibles (putting a dent in the income of some collectibles dealers).  Do you have an opinion on what will happen to all this material, these posters and 16mm films and such?  Will estate sales draw out other collectors or will they just be a glut on eBay?  Or perish the thought, left in landfills?

David Tucker: Some of it, inevitably, will be lost. But I like to think that my books help to preserve not only information, but also high-quality reproductions of rare lobby cards, film stills, and other memorabilia. My publisher’s books stay in print for long periods of time, and they can be found in the collections of many libraries and archives. Even after the original illustrations deteriorate, hopefully this will allow future generations to see them. I also plan to donate some of these original materials to archives, where they can be professionally preserved, and that’s something fans could consider doing as well.

JTL:  I enjoyed reading your book on Gale Storm very much.  Like most Baby Boomers, I’m familiar with her most from reruns of My Little Margie.  (I seem to remember there was a child character on the 1970s sitcom soap opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman who was addicted to My Little Margie reruns.) While, as a fan of classic films, I was aware of her career, but did not know the wide range of genres in which she performed -- noir, westerns, musicals, and I am delighted to discover her discography in recordings and Soundies. I really knew nothing of her recording career. “I Hear You Knockin’" quite surprised me, and the YouTube video I checked out -- I must say, a knock-out. Do you have a favorite film of Gale’s? A favorite record?

David Tucker: Many people love It Happened on Fifth Avenue, of course, which was also one of her favorite films. I love it too, and recommend it to anyone, especially as a holiday treat. But, as you say, most people don’t know the extent of her film work. Her noir films of the late 1940s and early 1950s (Abandoned, Between Midnight and Dawn) are a revelation if you haven’t seen them. I’m also quite fond of G.I. Honeymoon, a little-known Monogram comedy from 1945 that really gives you an early glimpse at the type of characters she would play in her television series. As for her music, I especially loved her singing on Oh! Susanna, where she did beautifully choreographed musical numbers that really showcased her talent.

JTL:   I’m delighted that you covered her experience in summer theatre, another aspect of an entertainment career that is often neglected in biographies.  There is the usual “Have you retired?” question when a star flies under the radar in the film industry -- but not to fans who loyally flocked to summer theaters to see their favorites.  Interestingly, Gale did not start in theatre, but came to it rather late in her career.  Many studio-trained stars were uneasy, even terrified by going on stage.  How do you think she made the transition, and did she enjoy the challenge of stage work?

David Tucker: Although she had made a few stage appearances earlier, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it really became a major focus of her career. She had some nerves, as anyone would, but it doesn’t seem to have been a difficult transition for her. Gale had acted in front of a camera for so many years, doing shows that were filmed without a studio audience, that she found it exciting to hear live, spontaneous reaction when she performed. She was also heartened to realize that people still remembered and loved her, and would eagerly buy tickets to see her on stage. 

JTL: Radio, too, often goes unmentioned, but since Old Time Radio (OTR) is so much more easily discovered and shared in our Internet era, it is easier for a film star biographer to hear these shows to write about them. Gale’s career as you note, as did so many others, actually began on a radio contest, which sent her to Hollywood. What is your opinion on her versatility? Did you start writing about Gale as a fan, or did you become a fan through writing about her?

David Tucker:  Although it certainly wasn’t funny at the time, in later years she could laugh at the fact that her RKO contract, which was the grand prize in the radio contest, petered out so quickly. An executive there told her that she didn’t have what it took to become a star. Gale had more determination than people realize, and she proved him wrong, as he himself later admitted. I originally saw and admired her work on My Little Margie, but there is much more to her career. Researching this book really showed me that, along with being a talented comedienne, she was a fine dramatic actress, and is underrated as a singer. 

JTL:  A large section of your book is devoted to detailing episodes of My Little Margie and her second successful series, The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna. You mentioned that Oh! Susanna never made it to DVD (I believe at least the first season of My Little Margie is on DVD) and, except for some episodes shared by collectors, there are only a few up on YouTube to give us a taste of what that show was like -- an early Love Boat, with Gale as a cruise director and the wonderful ZaSu Pitts as her buddy.  How do you think these two different series compare in illustrating her many talents?

David Tucker:  have a special fondness for My Little Margie, because to me it represents pure, unadulterated fun -- no messages or underlying meanings, just the biggest laughs possible. Margie is a great character who enjoys life thoroughly, and reminds us to do the same. When she did The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna, there was an effort by producers and writers to let her character mature a bit, although she was still quite the schemer. I think both series show that she had comic abilities that were largely overlooked in her film career, and the second show has the marvelous bonus of integrating her singing talent. 

JTL:   Gale worked for many of the smaller studios in Hollywood.  I expect if that radio contest had sent her to MGM instead, she’d have been plunked into musicals for probably her entire career and not done the wider range of work she experienced. What do you think were her greatest strengths as an entertainer, and how do you think working at the smaller studios served her?

David Tucker: I think she has innate charm and likability that come out very clearly in her performances. Although she could, and did, play some fine dramatic roles (such as Abandoned), her sense of fun is a major factor in her success. Being at the Monogram studios meant she was a big fish in a very small pond. While there wasn’t much star treatment at a Poverty Row studio, she had the chance to play a variety of roles. She also demonstrated that she could do good work on a tight schedule, which made her a natural to transition into a weekly TV series. 

My thanks to David C. Tucker for joining us today, and I hope you visit his interesting blog and read his new book, Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record (McFarland, 2018).

Sam H.!

Congratulations, Sam!  And thank you to everyone who entered the contest.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Review of Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record by David C. Tucker

Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record by David C. Tucker is a pleasant career review of a charming lady whom most readers will remember as an icon of television’s Golden Age, but whose films remain little discovered by even many classic film fans.

This is the latest in a collection of books about classic TV and film figures by Mr. Tucker. He was fortunate to interview Gale Storm for a chapter in an earlier book – The Women Who Made Television Funny (2007). Expanding on her life and career for this book, Tucker gives us a detailed chronicle of her work. Her film career took her to various studios where she appeared in many genres. (Her strikingly meteorological name was bestowed on her, along with a studio contract, as a radio talent show contest prize.) I would guess classic film fans may remember her most from the Christmas favorite It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947).

What her film work in westerns, noir, and dramas may have lacked in terms of opportunities to do comedy or musicals (she had a terrific singing voice), television provided ample opportunities for both. Her first series, My Little Margie (1952-1955) allowed her to cut up splendidly, and her second comedy series The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna (1956-1960) – allowed her to sing as well. Both series episodes are detailed in the book.

Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record is published by McFarland. It is thorough and interesting and includes interviews and many photos.  It is a fine tribute to an actress whose range of accomplishments may surprise you. Next week we’ll have an interview with author David C. Tucker about his book.

Speaking of singing, have a look below at Gale Storm’s live TV performance of her song “I Hear You Knockin’” – that earned her a gold record.

For more on Tucker’s books, please see his blog here.

The author provided a review copy for purposes of this review post.

To continue our celebration of Ann Blyth's 90th birthday, I'm giving away a present to one lucky winner: Your choice of either a paperback version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. (mailed to you), or the audiobook version narrated by actress Toni Lewis (sent directly to your email for download to your computer, iPad, or phone). Just send me an email saying you want to enter the contest. I'll draw the name of the winner out of a hat next week on Wednesday, August 29th.

Good luck! 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Ann Blyth's 90th Birthday - and a giveaway!

Ann Blyth is 90 years old today.  This in itself is an achievement, and her family and friends who will surely celebrate the milestone are not the only beneficiaries of Miss Blyth's -- or in private life, Mrs. McNulty's -- good health and longevity; her fans around the world will smile today and wish her a very happy 90th birthday.  

When she was a small child raised by a single mother in Depression-era New York City, standing on a box to reach a microphone at her first gig that would help support her struggling family -- for a  few bucks a week -- I guess she probably would not have imagined a day, when after decades of career and personal adventures, so many strangers would be vicariously attending her 90th birthday party.  

They will do so by watching a favorite Ann Blyth film on their televisions or their computers or their iPads, and skim through several congratulatory posts and messages on Facebook and Twitter, maybe "liking" something they read.

It's a long way from the box and the microphone and rushing home from school to run to rehearsal.

Five years ago I was mulling over a new topic for this blog and I decided to post about a couple Ann Blyth films.  It was pure serendipity, or a blessing, that I stumbled upon a journey of discovery that fascinated, and moved me, and enriched my small personal world to the point where I find myself grateful not only to an actress from the glory days of Hollywood's celebrated studio system, but to her fans who've shared so much with me in terms of their memorabilia, their memories, and their enthusiasm.  I posted weekly on her career in 2014, The Year of Ann Blyth, which begins with this intro post here.

What I've found most appealing about Ann Blyth is more than her obvious talent; it is her work ethic, her decency, and kindliness.

But my exploration into her career with weekly blog posts, that developed into a book, (which, by the way, is reviewed today on author David C. Tucker's blog here) was more than just an exercise in fandom. It was an investigation and analysis of twentieth-century popular entertainment told through the career trajectory of one actress.

From that post:

Movies, radio, television—our entertainment industry became America’s greatest export to the world, for better and for worse. I want to examine this watershed century in the acting profession and the media through the career of one actress, and am particularly drawn to Ann Blyth for different reasons; including that she moved comfortably between the different media and excelled at each, and because long after she performed in her last movie she continued to work when it suited her, on television and most especially, the stage, including plays, musicals, concerts, night clubs and cabaret. Throw in a few TV commercials, and you can see she tagged all the bases.

And something else...something intangible and perhaps only evident when you stack her performances on a timeline: if you know Ann Blyth only through her frothy MGM musicals, you don't know Ann Blyth.

In dramas she has morphed into the epitome of hateful, sensual, heartbroken, and shamed. If you know her only as the demon teen Veda in
Mildred Pierce, you don't know Ann Blyth. The same colossal greedy train wreck of a girl who spit invective at Joan Crawford and smacked her in the jaw also performed a night club act to enthusiastic crowds in Las Vegas, bringing them to tears with the sentimental "Auld Lang Syne" and sang at the California state fair. If you only know her from The Helen Morgan Story or melodramas, you are missing her genuine gift for screwball comedy. Sinking herself intellectually, just as much as emotionally into these roles, she swims against the powerful and unrelenting current of studio typecasting... 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

To continue our celebration of Ann's birthday, I'm giving away a present to one lucky winner: Your choice of either a paperback version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. (mailed to you), or the audiobook version narrated by actress Toni Lewis (sent directly to your email for download to your computer, iPad, or phone). Just send me an email saying you want to enter the contest. I'll draw the name of the winner out of a hat in two weeks on Wednesday, August 29th.

Good luck!

And Happy Birthday, Mrs. McNulty!


For the entire month of August, the eBook version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be reduced by 70% to $2.99. This special sale continues only this month, and only for the eBook version.

You can get your copy here at these online retailers:


Barnes & Noble


Apple iBooks

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Katie Did It - and a sale!

Ann Blyth will be 90 years old next Thursday on August 16th. I posted a Universal publicity photo last week that was taken just before Katie Did It (1951) when Ann was about 22 years old. In the YouTube video above, you can watch the entire movie. When I was gathering films and research material for my book on Ann Blyth's career, Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., Katie was the most elusive; it was the last movie I was able to obtain after more than a year of searching. It cracks me up that it's now available in public domain on the Internet Archive site and in the above video from YouTube.

We'll celebrate her 90th birthday next week with another post, and a giveaway.

Also, for the entire month of August, the eBook version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be reduced by 70% to $2.99. This special sale continues only this month, and only for the eBook version.

You can get your copy here at these online retailers:


Barnes & Noble


Apple iBooks

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Ann Blyth's birthday milestone - and a celebration sale!

Ann Blyth will reach a milestone birthday this month - she will be 90 years old on August 16th.  The Universal publicity photo above was taken just before Katie Did It (1951) when Ann was about 22 years old.

We'll celebrate her upcoming birthday the next few weeks with a few special posts.

Also, for the entire month of August, the eBook version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be reduced by 70% to $2.99.  This special sale continues only this month, and only for the eBook version. This book grew from my year-long weekly posts on her career in the 2014 series I called The Year of Ann Blyth, starting with this one.

You can get your copy of the eBook here at these online retailers:

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