“My successes have certainly not been without problems.” –Gale Storm
Gale Storm was an actress and singer who found herself starring in two popular television shows of the 1950s. Several of her songs were top ten hits, with “I Hear You Knockin'” being one of the many favorites enjoyed by fans. While cast in many B movies, Storm nonetheless stands out as a noticeable talent.
Josephine Owaissa Cottle was born in Bloomington, Texas, on April 5, 1922. She was the youngest of five children (Lois, Wilbur, Marjorie, and Brackston), with two brothers and two sisters. Her middle name, “Owaissa,” is an Indian word meaning “bluebird” and was given to her by an older sister, Lois. Josephine’s father, William Walter Cottle, worked as the manager of a lumber yard, while her mother, Minnie Corina Cottle, was a housewife. Sadly, William died after a year-long illness when Josephine was just 17 months of age.
In response to William’s passing, Minnie took in sewing and opened a millinery shop in McDade, Texas. The business failed and the family instead moved to Houston. There, Josephine took dance lessons and ice-skating lessons at Houston’s Polar Palace. She also developed an interest in acting and became an active member of the drama club at Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School and San Jacinto High School.
At the age of 17, two of Josephine’s teachers encouraged her to enter a contest called Gateway to Hollywood via CBS Radio studios in Hollywood. The old time radio talent show sought to turn relatively unknown people into celebrities, with the first prize being a one-year contract with a movie studio. Josephine won and was immediately given the stage name Gale Storm.
Her performing partner, Lee Bonnell, from South Bend, Indiana, won the male counterpart of the award and took on the name of Terry Belmont. The two would marry in 1941 and went on to have four children: Peter, Phillip, Paul, and Susanna. They remained married until his passing in 1986.
Upon winning the contest, Storm had a radio role in Big Town and made several films for RKO Pictures. Her first film was Tom Brown’s School Days (1940), followed by other low-budget films. She also appeared in several soundies or three-minute musicals made specifically for movie jukeboxes.
Storm went on to Monogram Pictures and played a variety of ingenue roles alongside the likes of the East Side Kids, Edgar Kennedy, and the Tree Stooges. Storm became Monogram’s key star, with the actress playing in musical and dramatic roles. Moreover, she also appeared in romantic comedies, including G.I. Honeymoon and It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)–the only film in which her singing voice was dubbed.
By the 1950s, Storm was appearing in film noirs, including Underworld Story (1950) and Between Midnight and Dawn (1950). She also appeared regularly as a guest performer for many television shows, making her television debut in Hollywood Premiere Theatre in 1950.
From 1952-1955, Storm starred in My Little Margie with Charles Farrell. The series functioned as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy. In 1956, she starred in The Gale Storm Show alongside ZaSu Pitts.
In the mid-1950s, Storm was enjoying a successful recording career. Storm recorded several hits and headlined in Las Vegas. In addition, she appeared in several stage plays. However, she ceased recording after about two years because it the newfound success was calling for more time away from her family.
In the 1970s, Storm struggled with alcoholism. She credited her husband as being supportive of her during the hardships she was facing and ultimately felt grateful that she could share her story with others who were also dealing with alcoholism. Storm noticed a stigma for women who were facing alcoholism and eventually found hope in her situation. In an interview during her later hears, she said, “During my struggle, I had no idea of the blessing my experience could turn out to be! I’ve had the opportunity to share with others suffering with alcoholism the knowledge that there is help, hope, and an alcohol-free life awaiting them.” Storm also found additional support by devoting herself to her religion and became an active member of South Shores Church.
As the years went on, Storm published an autobiography called I Ain’t Down Yet, which related her struggle with alcoholism. At the same time, Storm continued to make television appearances and also frequented a variety of film festivals, including the Memphis Film Festival, Cinecon, and the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. In 1988, she married to Paul Matteson and remained married to him until his passing in 1996.
Storm passed away at the age of 87 on June 27, 2009, at a convalescent home in Danville, California, residing close to two of her sons.
Today, there are some places of relevance to Storm that exist in her native Texas.
San Jacinto High School is now the San Jacinto Memorial Building, which is part of Houston Community College. It stands at 1300 Holman St. in Houston.
Her family’s 1930 home at 2611 1/2 Caroline St. in Houston no longer stands. Here is the property today:
Storm has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to television, recordings, and radio.
While Storm enjoyed success on a variety of mediums, her stories and talent are well preserved through her filmography and autobiography.