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Sally Flowers
Written June 11, 2017

 

She was born on April 26, 1907, in Tallula, a little farming town in central Illinois.  Her real name was Lillian Bernice Rogers.  However, people knew her as “Sally Flowers” for so many years that she found it hard to answer to anything else.

For five months, I was the director of her TV show in Marion, Ohio.  Years later, Scott Spears interviewed me on WMRN radio about that experience.   I’m afraid I didn’t have much to tell him.

Recently, however, I’ve rechecked my archives and researched the Internet.  Here’s some of what I’ve belatedly learned about this entertainer.


There were only three TV stations in Columbus, and two had been on the air less than a year.  And only one home in ten had a television set.

Nevertheless, Sally Flowers was already a TV star in central Ohio.  Now she was coming to Marysville’s “Appreciation Days” on August 18, 1950.

Promoting the event, on August 7 the Marysville Evening Tribune noted that she had made her first stage appearance at the age of 16 as a pianist. 

The newspaper continued, “For many years she worked in vaudeville.  When radio came along, she was in Ezra Martin's Pleasant Valley troupe as one of the trio called the ‘Three Belles of the Gay Nineties,’ who were billed as the Flowers family.  She was designated as Sally, and the name has stuck with her.”

She had been a regular performer at the Ohio State Fair since 1933.  In the 1940s she hosted her own radio program on WBNS, the CBS affiliate in Columbus.  It was called Sally’s Sittin’ Room.

Sally also appeared on Midwestern Hayride on Cincinnati's WLW.  The promotional iced-tea glasses shown below featured her in costume.  I'm guessing she was sort of a Minnie Pearl, telling down-home stories but with old-timey sentimentality instead of comedy.

Moving to TV

Television arrived in central Ohio in the spring of 1949, when WLW established two new outlets:  WLW-D in Dayton and WLW-C in Columbus.  These stations were connected by microwave to the mother station in Cincinnati so they could carry some WLW-T programs, including the Hayride and Ruth Lyons with her 50-50 Club.

That fall, WLW-C moved into studios on Olentangy River Road, and Sally Flowers and Billy Scott launched a variety-talk show called Meetin' Time at Moore’s.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were among the guests.

The sponsor was Moore’s Stores.  That chain of over 100 general stores named Sally its “director of radio and television.” 

The show aired live before a studio audience.  “You either did it live,” said Mervin Durea, a former program director at WLW-C, “or you didn't do it at all.   And Sally shined as an entertainer.  There was a time when she was as popular in Columbus as Ruth Lyons was.”

A former personality on another station, Joe Holbrook of WBNS-TV, remembered that “Sally was really the toast of the town in Columbus.  She had the most popular variety show of her day, and we at the competing stations were aware of her.”  Hugh DeMoss, a former news anchor at WLW-C, added, “She was a real salty dog, a nice lady and a good performer.”

In 1950, Billboard Magazine reported that “Billy Scott and Sally Flowers took over Buckeye Lake Park September 2 for a picnic, with various artists, including Kenny Roberts, providing the entertainment.” 

In 1951, the Marysville paper (now the Journal-Tribune) ran an update on August 6:  “Sally is also a farm wife and mother.  She commutes each day to the WLW-C studio.  With her husband, D. T. Wood, a 14-year-old daughter, Daveen, and a 10-year-old son, David, she makes her home on a 61-acre farm on the Berlin Station-Alum Creek Road near Delaware.”  That’s about 18 miles east of Marysville and 18 miles north of Columbus.

TV schedules for 1953 tell us that Meetin’ Time at Moore’s aired in the early evenings Monday through Friday, from 6:30 to 7:00.

It was also on the air in Dayton, where it drew about a 19 rating.  Mike Snyder grew up in that city and remembered it as a “very pleasant show, and you felt you might know Ms. Flowers personally.”

By August 9, 1958, Sally had moved to 6:00 on Saturday.  That’s according to a Channel 4 program schedule.  She was followed by Hayride, then Art Linkletter's People Are Funny at 7:30.

Lynne Glass Ledley, a classmate of mine from Richwood, Ohio, went to Columbus as part of a Girl Scout group to be in the audience for the live show.  “Sally’s favorite color was purple,” Lynn recalls, “and I remember wearing a lavender dress.”

The show had been on for more than nine years.  At the end of 1958, it was time to wrap it up.

Time to Give Away Some Dollars

In the 1960s, Sally found herself at another Columbus station, co-hosting Dialing for Dollars on Channel 6.  She and Gene Fullen interviewed guests and chatted with viewers on the telephone.

Sally and Gene also teamed up with Dick Schorr for Bowling for Dollars, weeknights at 7:00 from the station’s two bowling lanes.

I was mostly unaware of this at the time.  One of the few local TV programs I remember in the 7:00 hour was Traffic Court, a very-low-budget courtroom “reality drama” on Channel 10.  As I recall, actual policemen testified before a real judge, while actors portrayed the ticketed drivers.

1970 Brings Changes

By the end of the 1960s, Sally and her second husband, Oakley Nixon, had moved away from Columbus.  They settled more than 50 miles south in the Paint Creek valley, near Bainbridge, Ohio.  “Bill” Nixon had married her in 1951.  But he died on June 27, 1970.  He was 53 years old; she was 63.

What was the widow to do?  Perhaps she could stay with her 34-year-old daughter Daveen, now Mrs. Daveen Beatty of Marion, Ohio.

Marion was only 15 miles from the town where I grew up.  That very month, its cable TV system had begun producing its own regular local programs, and I had inquired about a job.  (Other articles on this website describe Marion CATV and Those ’70s Shows.

I wasn’t privy to the negotiations because I wasn’t actually hired until August, but somehow our manager arranged for Sally to host a daily show from our little TV-3 studio right there in downtown Marion.  Starting on September 14, 1970, it aired at 9:00 weekday mornings.  At first it was an hour long, but that was soon extended to an hour and a half.

At the time, my TV-3 duties included presenting a newscast and, yes, hosting a local Bowling for Dollars.  (Lacking actual lanes, we showed film clips of a bowler.)  And I was tabbed to be the director for Sally’s new program.  I was only dimly aware of her career and her routine, but all I had to do was arrive at 8:30 and turn on the equipment.

A local advertising agency had prepared a title card with a drawing of a flower and the words “The Sally Flowers Show.”  We arranged to borrow a piano in exchange for on-air mentions. 

As I recall, Sally opened the show behind the piano, facing the cameras.  When I put the title card on the air at 9:00 and gave the signal, she started her first song.  The she began speaking sincerely and directly to the viewers at home.  She offered folksy talk and inspirational poems and more music and I don’t remember what all.  She also ad-libbed live commercials, which I illustrated with a few still pictures of the sponsors’ stores. 

There were occasional guests in the studio, but the only ones I recall were there to receive some sort of cable-TV prize from Sally.  I taped that bit and showed it again that evening on my newscast.

Sally also dialed for dollars.  By that, I mean she phoned Marionites and asked whether they knew how much a local bank had deposited in the jackpot.

In the first 12 weeks she found five winners, which I extrapolated to a rating of 4.4% and a share of roughly 25% of the local homes using television.  Accounting for sampling error, I estimated that “at any given moment, between 200 and 400 homes are watching The Sally Flowers Show.

How many ever watched?  A separate phone poll projected that 40% of our cable subscribers, or more than 2,800 homes, tuned in at one time or another during the week.

The Holidays

That December, the company Christmas party was held at the Brown House south of the city.

Somewhat to my surprise, our star attended and signed autographs.  That’s Sally on the left, a cable guy in the middle, and me on the right.


The Christmas party was a nice perk, but on the other hand, the boss refused to give us Christmas off.  Sally and I had to report for work as usual on Friday morning, December 25.  But we were troupers.  We put on a show for the few who might have been watching.  Then I went home for my family’s traditional opening of presents.

Transition

Sadly, The Sally Flowers Show lasted only 20 weeks.  The 100th and final program on TV-3 was Friday, January 29, 1971.  “Jack P. Rubins, general manager, expressed regret at the veteran entertainer's resignation brought about by health problems.  She will enter a Columbus hospital soon for a physical examination followed by rest and recuperation in her Bainbridge home.”

Was that the whole story?  I was never sure.  Maybe she was just homesick.

Nevertheless, Marion CATV’s viewers had learned to tune in each morning, and we kept the show going.  The new name was Marion Today, and the performers were home-grown:  hostess DaLee Mounts, organist Judy Dendinger, and me.  We stars were replaced over time by other local talent, and within a year our rating (using the jackpot method) had actually increased to 7%.

The Purty Old Gal of Bainbridge

Sally had not fully retired.  Performing was in her blood.  Soon she was on the radio in Chillicothe.  Tom Daily grew up there, 20 miles east of Bainbridge, and remembered Over the Back Fence on WCHI in the 1970s.  “She always started her show saying ‘All you purty old gals and purty old boys, come on down, and we'll talk over the back fence.’”  A scrapbooker added, “This was in her later years, long after the days of Bowling for Dollars and so forth.  I even got to meet her a few times, although I wasn't completely aware of her legendary status.”

In the 1980s, Sally’s health finally did fail, and she retired for good.  She died on February 13, 1989.  The obituaries gave her age as 81.  However, perhaps because she had been in show business, the gravestone fudged her 1907 birthdate.

The name of Sally Flowers will be remembered a long long time by those who grew up in central Ohio.

Here she is singing a song that was written way back in 1923, the year she first appeared on the stage.  It's called “A Smile Will Go a Long Long Way.”


“Now listen to me&ldots;.”    .

 

TBT

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