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Gloria Winters, as Penny from the 1950s television program “Sky King.” Photo courtesy Vista Historical Society
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Vista resident recalls meeting Gloria Winters star of 1950s TV series ‘Sky King’

VISTA — When longtime Vista resident Sharon Larimer went to an estate sale in Vista a few years ago, little did she know it was at the home of a TV star she had met decades earlier.

Larimer and her husband, Jack, were not only sifting through personal items in the home of Gloria Winters who starred in the 1950s series “Sky King,” they ended up purchasing quite a bit of the star’s memorabilia.

For instance, they bought numerous glossy photos of the star, videos, glassware and paintings once owned by Winters and her husband, Dean Stevens Vernon. Born in 1926, he was a well-known sound engineer who worked on such TV series as Winters’ “Sky King,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Hillstreet Blues” and “St. Elsewhere,” to name a few.

“I had met Gloria and Dean when I was younger and had attended a dinner at a neighbor’s house sometime in the 1980s,” Sharon Larimer recalled. “My mom was friends with someone who lived in Vista along Alta Vista Drive and above Gloria’s house. We went on New Year’s Day; I remember she prepared black eyed peas. Gloria was there with Dean, but I had no idea until later who she was.

“There was also some great furniture, but I just didn’t have the room for it,” Larimer continued. “There were lots of wonderful items.”

More on Winters

Winters was born in 1931 in the San Fernando Valley and later moved to Hollywood with her family where she debuted as a child actress, she said in a mid-2000s radio interview, “when I was about 5,” with a small role in a Shirley Temple movie. “I came running out to Shirley Temple, and she was supposed to help me, like I had just gone to the little girls’ room.”

She continued on to a Pete Smith movie short, in a scene of her coming down a slide to the grass, where a black Scottie dog licked her face. She also appeared in an “Our Gang feature. In the late 1940s and early 1950s she was first cast in Western films including “Driftwood (1947) and “El Paso (1949), and in such television series as “The Lone Ranger and “The Range Rider.” Her 20 or so films, mostly Westerns, include “The Lawless(1950) and “Gambling House (1950).

Winters also portrayed daughter Babs Riley in the first season of the NBC sitcom “The Life of Riley (1949 to 1950), starring Jackie Gleason and Rosemary DeCamp.

Winters appeared, too, in a recurring role as Ruth Farley in the 1953 to 1955 ABC sitcom with a variety show theme, “Where’s Raymond?” renamed “The Ray Bolger Show.” 

‘Sky King’ fame

However, Winters’ signature role was in the television drama “Sky King,” starring Kirby Grant as rancher and pilot Schuyler “Sky” King in Arizona of the 1950s. Winters played the blonde, baby-faced, perky but earnest and helpful teenaged niece Penny King, who lived with her uncle at the Flying Crown Ranch and often became involved in his varied adventures. She played the role in 72 episodes from 1952 to 1959.

During the run of “Sky King,” Winters and Kirby Grant also performed as a song-and-dance team as headliners on the state fair circuit. Winters later married Vernon and gave up acting following a 1960 appearance on Hugh O’Brian‘s ABC western series, “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.”

During her later years, Winters had guest roles in series, including the anthology “Death Valley Days,” “The Jack Benny Program,” “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”; “Racket Squad; “The Gene Autry Show,” in which she made her singing debut in the 1951 episode “Warning! Danger!,” “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok,” “Brave Eagle,” “Four Star Playhouse,” “General Electric Theater,” and “Frontier Doctor.”

In 1964, Winters wrote “Penny’s Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity” (Prentice Hall), an etiquette book for young girls, which inspired the alternative rock band Nada Surf‘s 1996 song and video “Popular.”  

In 2002, Winters was awarded the Motion Picture & Television Fund‘s Golden Boot Award for her work in Western films and television programs.

When her husband retired, the two moved to Vista, where he died in 2001. At the age of 78 in 2010, Winters died of complications from pneumonia at the Vista home. She is buried alongside her husband at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Vista historians suggest the Winters/Vernon home was once owned and lived in by another TV actor, Ward Bond, star of such shows as “Wagon Train,” but that’s another story.

The Coast News is looking for more ‘Famous Neighbors’ from our readership area for future editions. Do you know of someone from the past or present who fits the bill? Drop us a line at 760-436-9737. Thanks!