(November 28, 1931 or 1932 [sources differ], Los Angeles, California – August 14, 2010, Vista, California)
Early life and careerGloria Winters grew up in California's San Fernando Valley, in the Los Angeles area, but later moved to Hollywood with her family. A child actor, she made her debut, 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." (Once source says she had appeared as a baby in the 1932 Carole Lombard film Virtue.)
Winters went 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, and she also appeared in an Our Gang feature. She performed onstage, and took tap dance classes, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s began being cast in Western films such as Driftwood (1947) and El Paso (1949), and in such TV series as The Lone Ranger and The Range Rider. Her roughly 20 movies. mostly Westerns, include The Lawless (1950) and Gambling House (1950).
She broke into television playing daughter Babs Riley in the first season of the sitcom The Life of Riley (1949 to 1950), starring Jackie Gleason and Rosemary DeCamp. The show then switched networks and was recast.
Sky KingWinters' signature role was in the children's television series Sky King, starring Kirby Grant as rancher and pilot Schuyler "Sky" King in contemporary Arizona. Winters played the blond, baby-faced, perky but earnest and helpful teenage niece, Penny King, who lived with him at the Flying Crown Ranch and often became involved in her uncle's adventures. She played the role in 72 episodes from 1952 to 1959. Ron Hagerthy, who is the same age as Winters, appeared in 19 episodes during 1952 as Sky King's nephew, Clipper King. Sky King, which ran on NBC and ABC, was filmed in 1951-1952 and from 1955 through at least 1959, as sponsors changed. It ran thereafter in syndication, but the actors received no residuals.
During the show's run, she and star Grant performed as a song-and-dance team as headliners on the state fair circuit. Winters recalled a Texas State Fair in which the two signed autographs, and finding astronauts Gus Grissom, Pete Conrad, Alan Shepard and Wally Schirra on line with their children. As noted by the magazine publisher Airport Journals, the series Sky King inspired a number of youngsters to take up flying when they became older.
Winters married Dean Stevens Vernon (1926–2001), a sound engineer on Sky King, and gave up acting following a 1960 appearance on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
In the interim, Winters had guest roles in series including Death Valley Days, The Jack Benny Show, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective; Racket Squad; The Gene Autry Show, where 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, Frontier Doctor, Judge Roy Bean (in the episode "Four Ladies from Laredo"), The Roy Rogers Show, Sheriff of Cochise, and Stories of the Century.
During this time, she also appeared in movies including Hold That Line (1952), starring the Bowery Boys, and She Couldn't Say No.
Later lifeIn 1964, Winters wrote Penny's Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity (Prentice Hall), an etiquette book aimed at young girls, which inspired the alternative rock band Nada Surf's 1996 song and video "Popular." As well, Jimmy Buffett's song "Pencil Thin Mustache" contains a reminiscence of being about "bucktoothed and skinny ... writin' fan letters to Sky's niece Penny."
When her husband retired, the two moved to Vista, California. He died in 2001. Winters died of complications from pneumonia at her home on August 14, 2010. She was survived by her sister-in-law Phyllis DeCinces, and was buried alongside her husband at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.
AwardsIn 2002, she was awarded the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Golden Boot Award for her work in Western films and television programs.
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