By BOB THOMAS
Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Gale Storm, whose wholesome appearance and perky personality made her one of early television's biggest stars on "My Little Margie" and "The Gale Storm Show," has died at age 87.
Storm, who had been in failing health in recent years, died Saturday at a convalescent hospital in Danville, said her son, Peter Bonnell.
Before landing the starring role in "My Little Margie" in 1952, Storm appeared in numerous B movies opposite such stars as Roy Rogers, Eddie Albert and Jackie Cooper. After her last TV series, "The Gale Storm Show," ended in 1960 she went on to a successful singing career while continuing to make occasional TV appearances.
Storm was a Texas high schooler named Josephine Owaissa Cottle when she entered a talent contest for a radio show called "Gateway to Hollywood" in 1940. She was brought to Los Angeles for the finals, where her wholesome vivacity won over the radio audience and she was awarded a movie contract.
The contest's male winner was a lanky would-be actor named Lee Bonnell, who would later become her husband.
Given the quirky name Gale Storm, she went from contracts with RKO to Monogram to Universal, appearing in such low-budget films as "Where Are Your Children?" with Cooper and "Tom Brown's School Days" with Freddie Bartholomew.
She was often cast in westerns as the girl the cowboy left behind, and appeared in such B-movie oaters as "The Dude Goes West" with Albert, "The Kid from Texas" with Audie Murphy and "The Texas Rangers" with George Montgomery.
"I was really scared of horses," she admitted in 2000. "I only rode them because that's what you had to do."
She appeared in three Republic westerns with Rogers and recalled that his horse Trigger did what he could to cause her trouble. As she would smile and ride alongside Rogers while the king of the cowboys crooned a song, Trigger (out of camera range) would lean over and bite her horse's neck.
With her movie roles diminishing in the early 1950s, Storm followed the path of many fading movie stars of the day and moved on to television.
"My Little Margie" debuted on CBS as a summer replacement for "I Love Lucy" in 1952. It quickly became an audience favorite and moved to its own slot on NBC that fall.
The premise was standard sitcom fare: Charles Farrell was a business executive and eligible widower, Storm was his busybody daughter who protected him from predatory women.
The year after "My Little Margie" ended its 126-episode run in 1955, she moved on to "The Gale Storm Show" (also known as "Oh! Susanna") which lasted until 1960. This time she played Susanna Pomeroy, a trouble-making social director on a luxury liner.
Storm, who had taken vocal lessons, sang on her second series, and three of her records became best sellers: "I Hear You Knocking," "Teenage Prayer" and "Dark Moon."
She appeared only sporadically on TV after "The Gale Storm Show," guest starring on such programs as "Burke's Law," "The Love Boat" and "Murder, She Wrote."
She appeared in numerous musicals, however, including Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Old Maid and the Thief" at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. Other stage credits included "Unsinkable Molly Brown" (as the title character), "South Pacific" and "Finian's Rainbow."
Although Storm had not acted in recent years, Peter Bonnell said his mother enjoyed keeping in touch with fans and had known many of them for years.
Her fans were surprised to read in her 1980 autobiography, "I Ain't Down Yet," that she was an alcoholic.
"I had hidden it socially, never drank before a performance," she said. After being treated in three hospitals, she found one that helped her break the habit. On her Web site, she credited Bonnell, her husband of 45 years, with helping her survive that dark period.
Born April 5, 1922, in Bloomington, Texas, Storm was only 13 months old when her father died. Her mother supported five children by taking in sewing.
Storm's first husband died in 1987, and the following year she married former TV executive Paul Masterson. He died in 1996.
Storm and Bonnell had three sons, Phillip, Peter and Paul, and a daughter, Susanna. Storm is survived by her children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.