There was a time in television history when the audience was so well behaved and so intelligent that when situation comedy writers delivered a script, it was funny. No morality play, no political or sociological attack, and no lesson for the viewer at the end. The worst thing a character would do is tell a white lie, usually to hilarious consequences. Choices had the gravity of “should I tell her that hat looks silly?” and there were no heavy conflicts. Those were the days of I Love Lucy and My Little Margie. What the writers did was put their characters in the middle of a comedic situation; get it?
In my mind, Gale Storm will always be My Little Margie. The new DVD collection, America’s Sweetheart: Gale Storm comprises three dual-layered disks which include eight films in which Gale Storm appeared (all made between 1940 and 1942), three episodes of My Little Margie and two episodes of The Gale Storm Show (retitled Oh! Susanna in syndication). Gale Storm appeared in scores of films, had two successful television series, was a popular recording artist, and most importantly, was my babysitter. On long summer mornings, I would park my little self and my little bowl of cereal in front of the television and watch My Little Margie, I Love Lucy, and Our Miss Brooks until noon when I was allowed outside to play. Having three strong, female role models explains a lot about who I am today.
Gale Storm died last year, and Infinity Entertainment Group celebrates her life and work with the release of America’s Sweetheart: Gale Storm. With the exception of Tom Brown’s School Days, Storm’s debut, the included movies were “second features,” those low-budget films that were shown with the “major vehicle,” newsreels, cartoons, and shorts giving the audience a lot more for their 35 cents than commercials and a feature. Ah, progress.
Six disks of Storm’s television shows would have been wonderful and would certainly satisfy, but this retrospective is a treasure trove. The movies selected are classic examples of the period in which they were made. Comedies like Uncle Joe (1941) are populated with parents who protect their mildly rebellious children, various eccentric characters, and a perky heroine who faces an assortment of complications seem united in presenting one message — life is good. With such outstanding character actors as Slim Sommerville and Zasu Pitts, the audience was given enough silliness, music, and story to fill 51 minutes with a simple tale punctuated by laughs. Modern viewers will smile at the innocent unpretentiousness as the star and her gang make a small corner of the world a better place.