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. Im afraid I didnt have much to tell him.
Recently, however, Ive rechecked my archives and researched the Internet. Heres some of what Ive 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 Marysvilles 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.
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.
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 WLW-C news anchor, 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.
The Marysville paper (now the Journal-Tribune) ran an update on August 6, 1951: 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. Thats about 18 miles east of Marysville and 18 miles north of Columbus.
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. Sallys 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 stations 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 wasnt privy to the negotiations because I wasnt 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 Sallys 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 dont 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.
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 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 familys traditional opening of presents.
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 CATVs 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, Sallys 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.