Sally Starr Hits Radio-show Host With Lawsuit For `Lesbian' Remarks

Posted: October 28, 1998

Radio and television personality Sally Starr, known to many baby boomers as ``Our Gal Sal,'' filed a $5 million defamation-of-character lawsuit Monday against a Trenton radio talk-show host who referred to her as a ``lesbian cowgirl'' on the air.

Starr said she was suing disc jockey Jeff Deminski, the station, WKXW-FM (101.5) and its parent company, Press Communications, because the statement was false, not because Deminski called her a lesbian.

``If I was a lesbian, I'd say so because that's no big deal,'' Starr said in a news conference yesterday at Ponzio's in Cherry Hill. ``But to me it was an out-and-out lie - a way to boost his ratings.

``I could handle it better if he called me a bitch,'' she continued, ``because it's true that sometimes I am a bitch.''

Starr, 75, who hosted the popular children's cartoon program Popeye Theater from 1950 to 1972 on WPVI-TV, still hosts a weekly country music radio program on WVLT-FM (92.1) in Vineland. She also participates in many local charities that benefit the gay and straight communities.

Starr's lawyer, Adam Sagan, a member of GALLOP (Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia) and the cochairman of the Philadelphia Bar Association's Committee on the Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men, said Deminski's ``homophobic comments . . . cannot go unnoticed and unresponded to.''

``I've had people ask me how I could be offended by someone calling someone a lesbian, but that is not the issue here,'' Sagan said. ``The issue here is [the comments] were untrue and made with malice.''

Starr said she has had to start seeing a therapist to help her deal with the ``mental, emotional, and physical distress'' she has experienced since Deminski made the comment, which her suit says occurred on July 24.

Starr said she feared for her safety - though she has not received any threats - because some of her former fans may have heard the false statement about her sexuality and feel betrayed.

``I've become very paranoid,'' she said. ``Now I lock my car doors. I won't roll down my window and wave to the people who have been good to me all these years.

``I feel that Jeff has put me directly in harm's way.''

Leigh Jacobs, program director of the afternoon radio call-in show, said Deminski and cohost Bill Doyle ``talk about whatever is going on in New Jersey or is affecting the lives of people in New Jersey.''

Jacobs said that during the show in question, which he says was on July 23, Deminski and Doyle were talking about former children's TV show hosts. When a caller phoned in and asked about Starr, Deminski identified her as a ``lesbian cowgirl.''

The complaint, filed in Camden County Superior Court, alleges Deminski made the comment a second time later in the show. And Starr said that after she called and requested a retraction, Deminski went on the air the next day and mocked her.

``If [the apology] was done with dignity, that would be a completely different story,'' Starr said. ``But it was a joke. It was like a Three Stooges cartoon.''

Jacobs said Deminski made the comments and a retraction on the same day. He said the apology was genuine.

``I don't know the quote off the top of my head,'' he said, ``but the basic tenet was, `Gee, we found out we were wrong. Let's set this straight.' ''

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