Gale Storm, American Idol

The vivacious Gale Storm won hearts in the 1940s and '50s with her pretty smile and her multifaceted talent. On the fourth anniversary of her death, we look back at the sunny singer and TV star – and the talent competition that started it all.

Television in the 21st century has been dominated by reality TV contests and singing competitions. Shows like "American Idol," "The Voice," and "America’s Got Talent" have taken the song and dance competition to new heights, with millions of fans watching – and voting – to see which small-town son or daughter will be the next big star. But long before Texan Kelly Clarkson became the first American Idol, another teenager from Texas entered a talent competition and took America by storm.

Josephine Owaissa Cottle was born in Bloomington, Texas, in 1922. When she was just a toddler, her father died, leaving her mother struggling to support Josephine and her four older siblings. The family eventually moved to Houston, where Josephine excelled at dancing and ice skating and was a member of her high school drama club. Two of her teachers encouraged her to enter a radio talent contest. "Gateway to Hollywood" (billed as the “program with purpose,” according to featured six aspiring young actors, two of whom, a boy and a girl, would win a Hollywood contract. Seventeen-year-old Josephine and her performing partner, Lee Bonnell, came out on top, each winning a one-year studio contract – and, for Josephine, a new name: Gale Storm.

Storm would star in a string of movies in the 1940s. Here she is in "Swing Parade" of 1946 along with the Three Stooges.



She also launched a successful singing career, delighting fans with her covers of recent hits – often considered better than the originals.





But her greatest success would come with the advent of television, and she became a popular presence on 1950s TV series and variety shows. "My Little Margie" starred Storm as a young woman prone to madcap adventures.



Storm’s personal life was decidedly less sunny than the bright characters she portrayed. For years, she battled with alcoholism, a struggle she detailed in her 1981 autobiography, "I Ain't Down Yet." She credited her husband for supporting her throughout her illness and recovery. After years of failing health, Storm died June 27, 2009 at age 87.

And what of her contest partner back in 1939? Was the competition a gateway to Hollywood fame and fortune for him as well, or did he fade away like so many "American Idol" runners-up? He, too, got a contract and a new name – Terry Belmont – and did make some films, though he never experienced the same wild success as his contest co-winner. He eventually left acting and went into business, and we presume lived vicariously through his famous wife: Gale Storm.

Written by Jessica Campbell