Our Gal Sal will always be Philadelphia’s immortal cowgirl.
“Then, in the last years of her show, we’d heard she’d lost it all.”
Not long into the ‘70’s, explains Sally, “the damn station fired me.”
Capital Cities bought Channel 6 in ’71, displacing the station’s old-time honchos—Walter Annenberg among them—and the new management “just didn’t understand. I had a million and a half viewers. I was making them tons of money.”
Channel 6 tried to renege on the year that remained of Starr’s contract and made her do a final show—with the stipulation that she not tell any of her kiddie viewers she was leaving.
“I tried to hint about it at the end,” she explains, by changing her familiar lip-smacking goodbye (which included her trademark sweeping smoocheroo—like the kind later favored on the Dating Game) from the time-honored, “Bye for now,” to “I’ll be seein’ ya… somewhere, sometime.”
“They made me do it again.”
Broken-hearted after losing both her show and he beloved second husband, Mark (who died of a heart attack in 1968), Sally went to live for a short time with friends in Reading, later taking off for Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where she and Mark purchased a retirement home.
But the house was too big and expensive to maintain, so Sally sold it and bought a smaller house for her and Terry, Our Gal’s “longest and dearest friend.” Terry was just a little Camden girl who moved in to keep Starr company while husband Jesse was on tour. That way, the two-timing train-whistler could feel better about leaving his young wife alone while he shacked up secretly with willing groupies on the road.
Starr had never been good with money. Though she made a good deal of it during her high-flying TV years, she says she “loaned a lot of it out to people” who apparently lacked much inclination to return it. Beyond that, though, at the peak of Starr ‘s career, she lived pretty high on the log.
“I had a Cadillac limousine, a Cadillac El Dorado—maroon color—I had a turquoise Cadillac convertible and a Corvette. I had an in-the-ground swimmin’ pool. I had three horses, but I was puttin’ on the dog because it was all comin’ outta my bank account.
“Fabian, myself, Dick Lee, we three used to live in Green Haven Estates.” Even “Cassius Clay” was a Cherry Hill neighbor.
While in Florida, Sally says she got a chance to practice some long-unused job skills. For four years, she worked as an inspector in a factory that made electrical connectors. Though the work was hard, she says she was “elated” because she’d “gone from high school to marriage to showbiz,” never once getting the opportunity to live an independent life.
And though the independence was new, the factory work wasn’t. During World War II, the pre-presidential Harry Truman signed Sally’s employment paperwork, making her the first girl to ever handle live ammunition in a factory.
After her tenure in the electrical connector factory, Starr became a bookkeeper for a Florida pizza chain. Bookkeeping, she says, is the field she was trained for.
“Then one day,” she says, she asked the owner to show her how to use the pizza oven. “I love to learn,” she explains.
Soon, Starr was making pizzas and managing three stores not far from the University of Florida. Sometimes, she says, college students from the Philadelphia area would come into the restaurant, and though they wouldn’t recognize Sally in her pizza apron, they knew her voice. Most never figured out her identity, but those who did went ballistic. They’d introduce themselves to Sally, then they’d bring their parents in to see here when they visited from Philly.
“I’ve never been ashamed of a job I did,” says Starr, perpetually upbeat about circumstances sure to drive lesser mortals into inconsolable depressions. “I was happier than a dead pig in sunshine,” she says of her Florida years, swearing that’s a good thing.
Then in 1987, disaster struck. Starr’s Florida home burned down. “I had just left in my van for a personal appearance up north,” say says, “I was at the gas station, filling up, when I see the fire engines go by… ‘The bad luck bird is sittin’ on someone’s shoulder,’ I thought.” Then she saw the engines heading toward her neighborhood. “I was gonna go back,” she says, “but I was already running late. Turns out the state police had an APB out for me…”
In Memoriam: David Brenner