Sally Starr Has Heart Attack

Posted: January 02, 1993

Sally Starr, TV's cowgirl sidekick to a generation of Baby Boomers, suffered a major heart attack while hosting a New Year's Eve party in Northeast Philadelphia.

Starr, cowgirl hostess of a children's cartoon show on Channel 6 for two decades, was brought to Frankford Hospital's Frankford Campus in critical condition by a Fire Department rescue unit at 1:16 a.m. yesterday, a hospital spokesman said.

By later yesterday, Starr had improved to guarded condition, said hospital spokesman Ed Kiernan. Starr, who will turn 69 on Jan. 23, was in intensive care.

Kiernan said Starr had suffered a "massive heart attack," but was "doing fine. She's conscious and alert." He said he did not know if she had previous heart problems.

A Fire Department spokesman said Starr was taken to the hospital from JFM caterers, on Oxford Avenue near Roosevelt Boulevard.

Starr's link to JFM Caterers goes back to 1987, when the firm's Joe McDonald organized a benefit for her after she lost her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and all her possessions, including many of her old spangled cowgirl outfits, in a fire. Starr later was involved in special events for JFM caterers.

Neither McDonald nor members of Starr's family could be reached. Starr, who has no children, is a widow and lives in Sicklerville, N.J.

One of five daughters of a Kansas City, Mo., policeman, Starr got into show business at 13, when her mother entered her in a singing contest and she won. She became a country singer on a circuit of fairs, picnics and socials.

While in her teens, she married singer Jesse Rogers and came with him to Philadelphia where he became "Ranger Joe," host of one of Philadelphia's first TV kid shows on what is now KYW-TV.

She was a country music disc jockey on a Philadelphia radio statio when, in 1950, Channel 6, then WFIL-TV, offered her a job as hostess of "Popeye Theater," an afternoon show of cartoons and western serials. Starr's trademark on the show was her sequined cowgirl suit.

At the height of her popularity, she had an audience of 1.5 million children daily.

She also was known for her annual appearance in the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Her second husband, Channel 6 film editor Mark Gray, also her manager, died in 1968 of a heart attack.

In 1972, "Popeye Theater" was dropped abruptly. She then hosted "The Sally Starr Show," on WTAF-TV, now WTXF-TV (Channel 29), for almost a year before she moved to Florida.

While living in Florida, she worked at various jobs, including bookkeeper, assembly line worker and airport security guard.

She returned to the Philadelphia area after the 1987 fire. Early in 1992, Starr did several broadcasts for WTGI-TV (Channel 61). She also made numerous personal appearances in recent years.

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