Sparkle Moore: The Mysterious Rockabilly Pioneer You've Never Heard Of

In the mid-1950s, Sparkle Moore had a strong voice, killer songs, and a really cool look. She was sometimes called the “female Elvis,” but the Omaha rocker born Barbara Morgan wound up having a wildly different career than the King’s. That’s what makes her such a fascinating character.

Whereas Elvis made gobs of money and stuck around long enough to become a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of fame, Moore released just two 45 RPM singles before settling down to start a family. Neither of her records made the charts, but in a review of the first, 1956’s “Rock-A-Bop,” Billboard wrote, “Gal pulls a female Elvis Presley and belts out a catchy rock and roll ditty with style and drive."

The critic probably didn’t flip the platter to play “Skull and Crossbones,” the far more memorable B side. Addressed to a guy who Sparkle calls “a jinx to my soul,” the jaunty rockabilly jam was a precursor to “Killer” and “Tiger,” the A and B sides of Moore’s second and final single, released in May of 1957.

Written by Sparkle herself, the three songs form a kind of bad-boy trilogy that must have seemed pretty daring at the time. Compare “Skull and Crossbones” to "Will You Willyum,” the signature hit by Moore’s nationally acclaimed contemporary Janis Martin—the most famous “female Elvis”—and Sparkle is practically punk.

She certainly dressed the part. At a time when female singers only wore dresses, Sparkle sported men’s slacks and suit jackets. She was butch on the bottom and bombshell up top, with a platinum blonde pompadour that made her look like Sparkle Plenty, the Dick Tracy character for whom she was named. In a rare 1986 interview with the magazine Kicks, Sparkle remembered how she used to freak people out with her masculine stage wear.

“People would see me when I went to play somewhere, and they’d say, ‘Can’t you wear something more sexy, like a gown?’” Moore said. “And I never would. I always wore a playing suit, and I’d say, ‘This is as sexy as I get.’”

It was plenty sexy—just like her music.

On “Killer,” a showcase for her Elvis-style “hmmm” ad libs and hiccuping delivery, Moore sings, “I was a victim of the killer’s charms / I’m not a victim of the killer’s arms / I took my chance and ignored the alarms.” She tangled with this duck-tailed lothario, gave as good as she got, and lived to tell the tale.

Her performance on “Tiger,” all about a smooth operator who seduces with his record collection, is even stronger. This one ends on a tender note: Just as Moore starts crying about her crush packing up his 45s and going home, her mother reassures her, “Look his way / I think this daddy is a goin' to stay.”

That’s essentially where the story ends. The unreleased ballad “Flowers of My Heart” surfaced years later, but Moore’s discography is basically those four songs, all issued on the Cincinnati indie label Fraternity and subsequently repackaged on various rockabilly compilations.

Moore's career lasted less than two years—just long enough for her to tour with pill-popping rockabilly wildman Gene Vincent; hobnob with celebs like Sammy Davis Jr., who compared her to James Dean; and get booked at the Grand Ole Opry, a gig she had to cancel due to laryngitis. The bio on Sparkle’s official website also claims that she “takes credit for being the first hippie to hit California several years later with a guitar strapped on the side of a Harley,” but since she’s done virtually no press, it’s unknown what adventures she got into in Hollywood. (Interview requests sent through her site's “Contact” form yielded no replies.)

It’s also unclear to what extent Moore chose to walk away from show business to raise a child. For as sexist as the music industry is today, it was even worse in the ‘50s, when female rockers were very much a novelty and women in general were expected to stay home and keep house. It would be great if Moore was totally free to make the decision that was right for her, but the reality was probably more complicated.

Either way, her story didn’t quite end in 1957. In 2010, the same year she was inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Moore returned with Spark-A-Billy, a 22-song collection she wrote and self-recorded. With its hodgepodge of styles and homemade digital production aesthetic, the album is a detour from her old sound. Still, it’s nice to know that Sparkle continues to make music, and on her own terms.

8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

Get Cozy This Winter in a Harry Potter-Themed Tiny House on Airbnb

Airbnb
Airbnb

If you're in need of a magical getaway, look no further than this Harry Potter-themed listing on Airbnb. The tiny house packs all the magic of Hogwarts into a space slightly larger than Harry's cupboard under the stairs.

The "Harry Potter Fan’s Magical Tiny House of Wizarding" is located in Marlboro, New York, about 90 minutes away from New York City. Though the 300-square-foot space is tiny, there's no shortage of whimsical details for Muggles to discover. Memorabilia from the wizarding world—like wands, a Sorting Hat, and a Goblet of Fire—are hidden throughout the home. Available reading materials include issues of The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler, as well as all seven books in the Harry Potter series. And whether, you're a Slytherin, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff, you'll feel welcome: The crests of all four Hogwarts houses are hung on the walls.

The listing features plenty of perks guests can enjoy, regardless of their level of fandom. The tiny house sits on a 30-acre farm with a lavender field, a fire pit, and easy access to nearby vineyards and orchards. The Airbnb host writes that you should even expect to see some fantastic beasts during your stay. "Don't be surprised if you see coyotes, families of deer, and every type of bird you could imagine—not to mention more butterflies than you've ever seen, depending on the season," the listing reads. "This is a truly immersive experience into nature."

The Harry Potter tiny home is only available as a limited-run pop-up during the winter. You and up to three friends can book your stay for $159 per night today through Airbnb. And if you're looking for a slightly roomier experience that's just as magical, there are Harry Potter-themed rentals in Atlanta and the UK.

Harry Potter tiny house on Airbnb.
Airbnb

Wands in Harry Potter tiny home.
Airbnb

Harry Potter tiny house on Airbnb.
Airbnb

Harry Potter tiny house on Airbnb.
Airbnb

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