Wow, what a crazy summer so far! Where do I begin? Well, let’s start with a thief. Madoff, the investment crook, got 150 years in the slammer—his defense team was hoping for about 10. Considering that the guy should literally be hung, I think 150 years in prison for him is probably getting off rather light. The feds are grabbing all the houses they own along with the wife’s fir coats, bed linen, silverware and other valuables. Very good but don’t forget the sons, brother and any other family members that were in on the scams all these years—they need to be locked up too, along with all the other crooks who worked for him. The Madoff business is officially dead.
And speaking of dead. Lots of dying going on around here over the last month or so. Famous people dying I mean. Wallowing over the famous people that have died is one of those favorite pastimes for the media, along with blasting Sarah Palin, worshiping Barrack Obama and finding poison in almost everything we eat or breathe.
By last count, the celebrities that clocked out recently include: Karl Malden, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays, Michael Jackson, Fred Travalina, Gale Storm, Ed McMahon, Sam Butera and David Carradine. The Jackson and Carradine weirdness got all the media attention but I’d like to mention a couple of the others who deserve remembering.
Gale Storm is one of those people in my earliest memory bank. I was a child of early 50’s television, and My Little Margie was one of my favorites. I loved those funny ladies—Lucille Ball, Joan Davis and Gale Storm. They made funny faces and silly noises, mugged a lot, and basically did everything that a three- or four-year old finds high humor in.
She was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle on April 5, 1922 in Bloomington, Texas. When she was 17, she won a talent contest and a one-year contract with movie studio RKO. She made several pictures for the studio, working steadily throughout the early forties, and then moving to Monogram Pictures for the rest of the decade. The variety of roles she played there gave her a solid grounding in comedy, which she would put to good use in TV.
Miss Storm’s first television hit was her starring role in My Little Margie from 1952-55. The series, which co-starred former leading man Charles Farrell as her father, was originally a summer replacement for I Love Lucy on CBS. The show ran for 126 episodes on NBC and CBS. The series was also broadcast on CBS Radio from December 1952 to August 1955 with the same lead actors. Only 23 episodes of the radio show are known to survive.
In the fall of 1956, Gale Storm again starred in another situation comedy, The Gale Storm Show (aka Oh! Susanna), featuring character actress, ZaSu Pitts. This show ran for 143 episodes between 1956-60. Miss Storm appeared regularly on other television programs in the 1950’s and 1960’s as well, such as panelist and a “mystery guest” on What’s My Line?
She was married and widowed twice, and had four children with her first husband. In later years, she made the rounds as guest star on shows like Love Boat, Burke’s Law and Murder She Wrote. She published her autobiography in 1981. She was 87 when she died this year (June 27) but, for me, I’ll always remember her as that cute, funny little girl on My Little Margie. RIP.
Sam Butera was best known, of course, as Louie Prima’s sidekick, the saxophone player who played straight man for Prima’s craziness. It was Louie Prima, Keely Smith and Sam Butera (and The Witnesses) who made up what was undoubtedly the greatest lounge act in Las Vegas history.
Butera was born and raised in New Orleans where his father, Joe, ran a butcher shop and played guitar in his spare time. He heard the saxophone for the first time at a wedding when he was seven-years old, and, with his father’s encouragement, he began to play. When he finished high school, he got a job with a big band, and soon after was named by Look Magazine as one of America’s top upcoming jazzmen.
He played with Tommy Dorsey, Joe Reichman and Paul Gayten during that Big Band Era. As the Big Band Era wound down and heavy touring became less common among jazz musicians, Butera re-settled in New Orleans where he played regularly at the 500 Club for four years. The 500 Club was owned by Louis Prima’s brother, Leon, and it was these connections that lead him to his much-heralded Vegas-based collaborations with Prima and Smith.
He started his famous collaboration with Prima in 1956 at the Sahara Hotel. Butera remained the bandleader of The Witnesses for the better part of the next twenty years. Until very recently he was still performing, sometimes even with Keely Smith. I’m sorry I didn’t see them; it must have been a blast. Sam Butera died, appropriately, in Las Vegas at 81-years old. He was a true swingin’ cat, and a hell of a sax player. RIP.