Storm was born Josephine Owaissa Cottle in Bloomington in Victoria County, Texas. The youngest of five children, she had two brothers and two sisters. Her father, William Walter Cottle, died after a year-long illness when she was just seventeen months old, and her mother, Minnie Corina Cottle, struggled to raise the children alone. One of her sisters gave Josephine the middle name "Owaissa," a Norridgewock Amerindian word meaning "bluebird." Storm's mother Minnie took in sewing, then opened a millinery shop in McDade, Texas, which failed, and finally moved the family to Houston. Storm learned to be an accomplished dancer and became an excellent ice skater at Houston's Polar Palace. She performed in the drama club at both Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School and San Jacinto High School.
When she was 17 years old, two of her teachers urged her to enter a contest on Gateway to Hollywood, broadcast from the CBS Radiostudios in Hollywood, California. First prize was a one-year contract with a movie studio. She won and was immediately given the stage name Gale Storm. Her performing partner (and future husband), Lee Bonnell from South Bend, Indiana, became known asTerry Belmont.
After winning the contest in 1940, Storm made several films for the studio, RKO Radio Pictures. Her first was Tom Brown's School Days, playing opposite Jimmy Lydon and Freddie Bartholomew. She worked steadily in low-budget films released during this period. In 1941 she sang in several Soundies, three-minute musicals produced for "movie jukeboxes."
Storm acted and sang in Monogram Pictures' popular Frankie Darro series, and played ingénue roles in other Monogram features with the East Side Kids, Edgar Kennedy and The Three Stooges, most notably in the film Swing Parade of 1946. Monogram had always relied on established actors with reputations, but in Gale Storm the studio finally had a star of its own. She played the lead in the studio's most elaborate productions, both musical and dramatic. She shared top billing in Monogram's Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943), opposite Edgar Kennedy, Richard Cromwell, and Frank Graham in the role of Jones, a character derived from network radio.
American audiences warmed to Storm and her fan mail increased. She performed in more than three dozen motion pictures for Monogram, experience which made possible her success in other media. She became an American icon of the 1950s, starring in two highly successful television series. It was also in this decade that her singing career took shape. She appeared on such variety programs as ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.
Storm starred in My Little Margie from 1952 to 1955. The show, which co-starred former silent film actor Charles Farrell as her father, was originally a summer replacement for I Love Lucy on CBS, but ran for 126 episodes on NBC and CBS. The series was broadcast on CBS Radio from December 1952 to August 1955 with the same actors.
Storm's popularity was capitalized on when she served as hostess of the NBC Comedy Hour in the winter of 1956. That year she starred in another situation comedy, The Gale Storm Show (aka Oh! Susanna), featuring another silent movie star, ZaSu Pitts. The Gale Storm show ran for 143 episodes between 1956 and 1960. Storm appeared regularly on other television programs in the 1950s and 1960s. She was both a panelist and a "mystery guest" on What's My Line?
Storm was married and widowed twice. She married Lee Bonnell (1918–1986), then an actor and later a businessman, in 1941. They had four children: Peter, Phillip, Paul and Susanna. She married again in 1988 to Paul Masterson (1917–1996).
In her later years she struggled with alcoholism, in her own words:
During the 1970s I experienced a terribly low and painful time of dealing with alcoholism. I had Lee's unfailing support through the entire ordeal. My treatment and recovery were more than rugged. At that time, there was such a stigma attached to alcoholism, particularly for women, that it could be hazardous to your reputation and career. I thank God daily that I have been fully recovered for more than 20 years. During my struggle, I had no idea of the blessing my experience could turn out to be! I've had the opportunity to share with others suffering with alcoholism the knowledge that there is help, hope, and an alcohol free life awaiting them.
Storm was a great believer in the benevolence of God and was very much a Christian and later became an active member of the South Shores Church. She once said 'Life has been good and I thank God for His many blessings and the happy life He has given to me.'
Storm lived alone in Monarch Beach, California, near two of her sons and their families, until failing health forced her into a convalescent home, near San Francisco in Danville, California. She died there on June 27, 2009.
Storm has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to recording, radio, and television.