The actress known as Gale Storm was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle in Bloomington, Texas on April 5, 1922. Her middle name was not an ancestral name. The family legend is that it was an Indian word suggested by an older sister and that it meant “blue bird.” Her parents were Walter William Cottle (1886 – 1923) and Minnie Lee Greenhaw Cottle (1887 – 1978).
Gale had a twenty-plus year career in film and television and is probably best known for her lead role in the early television series “My Little Margie” that ran for about four years and aired 126 episodes. (Image credit: Daily Motion Video.)
In this comedy series which began as a summer replacement for “I Love Lucy,” she played the daughter of character Vern Albright who was played by Charles Ferrell. Gale and Charles appeared in all 126 episodes. In addition to them, a small cast of about four other continuing characters carried off most of the plots. It was a very popular daytime show in its day and Vern’s/Charles’ signature line was “Well, that’s my little Margie!”
Gale followed this show with another long running series called “The Gale Storm Show – Oh! Susannah” which was also a comedy. She and veteran actress Zazu Pitts each appeared in 126 episodes of this series that ran about five years from 1956 to 1960. In this show, the plot was built around her role as cruise director for an ocean going passenger ship. The series was cancelled in 1960. In contrast, the popular situation comedy “”I Love Lucy” had a run of six years and aired 180 episodes. After “Oh! Susannah” ended, Gale essentially retired from Hollywood, although she appeared in a small number of selected television series over the next twenty to thirty years.
Prior to her television success, Gale had roughly a ten year film career, primarily during the 1940s. In about four dozen films, many of them westerns, she co-starred with numerous actors including Dan Duryea, Roy Rogers, Rod Cameron, George Montgomery, Donald O’Connor, Audie Murphy and others. Though likely none of the films would likely be considered blockbusters, it was a strong film career over this relatively short period of time.
What some people might not have known is that she was the third generation of her family, the Cottles, to be born in Texas. Her paternal grandparents were William Zebulon Cottle and Josephine Alsup Cottle; William Zebulon Cottle’s parents were Zebulon Pike Cottle (1825 – 1902) and Lydia Dancer Cottle (1831 – 1893) and Zebulon Pike’s parents were Stephen Aschel Cottle (1785 – 1830) and Sarah Turner Cottle (1766 – 1842). As an aside, this branch of the Cottle family has common ancestors with another branch of the family that included George Washington Cottle who died at the Alamo.
Stephen A. Cottle and Sarah Turner Cottle came to Texas in 1828. Only a few years before the Texas Revolution, this was a time of uneasiness in the area with threats from the native tribes and also tension between settlers and the Mexican government. The family moved into a little community outside Bastrop calling it Cottletown. There is still a Cottletown Road near Smithville. Stephen died two years later a Sarah followed him in death twelve years after Stephen. Their two youngest children were Sylvanus (born in 1820) and Zebulon Pike Cottle. After their mother died, Zebulon Pike chose his older brother Sylvanus as his guardian. Zebulon Pike married Lydia in 1847 and they began to raise their own family. The couple had fifteen children between 1848 and 1873. William Zebulon Cottle was their fourth child. William and Josephine married in 1876 and had at least eight children that lived to adulthood with Walter William Cottle being the fifth child.
Walter William Cottle married Minnie Lee Greenhaw in 1908. Josephine (Gale Storm) was the third of four children. Josephine’s father died in 1923 at the age of thirty-six when she was still an infant. Minnie Lee remarried about five years later. When Josephine was still a Houston teenager, she was encouraged by two of her high school teachers to enter a 1939 talent search known as “Gateway to Hollywood” sponsored by RKO Studios and Wrigley Chewing Gum. The contest was carried over the radio over about thirteen weeks and Josephine won the top female slot. She and the male winner both received contracts with RKO Studios and a guaranteed role in an upcoming film.
Her stage name of Gale Storm came from this contest. The male winner was Lee Bonnell of Indiana who was given the stage name of Terry Belmont. Bonnell and Josephine (Gale) began to develop a relationship and were married about two years later. Bonnell did not remain in the entertainment business and enjoyed another career other outside of entertainment, but Gale remained in the business, though she was dropped by RKO after only a couple of films. She kept at it and for about the next twenty years, Gale was active in entertainment with the decade of the 1940s being devoted mainly to film. Eventually that part of her career began to wane but only after she had appeared in about fifty films. Gale then transitioned into the still-new television industry in the 1950s and kept up a busy television schedule until her second television series was finally cancelled. She also recorded some charted songs. She won a gold record for “I Hear You Knockin’ ” and had several other successful recordings including “Teenage Prayer,” “Tell Me Why” and “Dark Moon.”
After these years, she essentially retired to raise their four children and enjoy her marriage to Lee. For some people, it might have been hard to walk away from the thrills of success in the entertainment business but after about 1960 she only took part in a few scattered television appearances though she continued to participate in theatrical productions. Along the way, she developed an addiction to alcohol and struggled with it for a number of years in the 1970s. She did not hide this issue and after her recovery she credited her Christian faith and finding the right treatment facility, Raleigh Hill Hospitals, for overcoming the addiction. She was quoted in an interview as saying “It was just like God turned it off. That was it! And it was heaven.” With the support of her husband and family, she said she never took a drink again.
Her happy forty-four year marriage to Lee ended with his death in 1986. She remained single for several years until she married widower Paul Masterson. She and Paul remained married for about eight years until his death in 1996. Gale continued to live in California until her death at the age of eighty-seven in 2009.
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