Soupy Sales is dead at age 83

Southpaw

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I wonder if there is a collection of his old shows. Live TV at its bawdiest.


Detroit entertainer Soupy Sales is dead at age 83

By TIM KISKA
FREE PRESS SPECIAL WRITER




Soupy Sales, the rubber-faced comedian who made an art form out of taking a pie in the face and delighted a generation of Detroiters with his loopy TV show on Channel 7 in the 1950s, died Thursday night in New York.



Sales, who had been in ill health for several years, was 83. His former manager, Dave Usher, said Sales last week entered a Bronx hospice, where he died. He is survived by his wife, Trudy, and two sons, Hunt and Tony.

“He was the first person from Detroit television whose first name had instant recognition from coast to coast,” said former Channel 7 anchorman Bill Bonds. “If you said ‘Soupy' in New York, they knew who it was. If you said ‘Soupy' in Los Angeles, everybody knew who it was. I'd worked in both markets, and the first thing anybody said when I mentioned I was from Detroit was ‘Soupy.' ”

Born Milton Supman in Franklinton, N.C., and raised in West Virginia, Sales was best known to Detroiters as the goofy yet cerebral host of “Lunch with Soupy,” a half-hour show that featured Sales hamming it up in a variety of sometimes surreal situations.

The show, which began airing in Detroit in 1953, featured a cast of unforgettable characters: an incorrigible dog by the name of White Fang, “the meanest dog in all Deeeetroit,” who communicated via a series of guttural noises; Black Tooth, an overly affectionate dog whom Sales would constantly tell “don't kiss”; Hippy the Hippo, and Willy the Worm.

Of course, there were the pies. Sales once estimated that he took 9,000 pies in the face during the course of his career.

But the most famous of Sales' bits was “lunch.” A typical menu might include a hot dog as the main course. Before Sales would take a bite, viewers would hear the sound of squealing pigs. Or, viewers might hear the sound of mooing cows as Sales sipped milk.

The lunchtime show was also known for its unpredictability. Sales would leave the set, camera in tow, and harass other Channel 7 hosts.

He once left the set in mid-show and hunted down Channel 7's Edythe Fern Melrose, a woman of unyielding dignity who was known as “The Lady of Charm.” Sales blasted her with a pie.

“She didn't know it was coming,” once recalled former Detroit radio personality Mark Andrews, himself since deceased, who watched the program as a grade-school student at Fraser's Eisenhower Elementary. “It might be the funniest moment I've seen on television.”

The show was “must-see” TV, long before NBC came up with the phrase. Thousands of Detroit baby boomers would become “Birdbaths,” the designation given to members of his club.

Tom De Lisle, a Detroit writer and TV producer, once recalled to the Free Press growing up on Detroit's east side and watching the show. He and his brother, Skip, lived close enough to their grade school that they could go home for lunch to watch Sales.

“We calculated that we could catch the last joke on the show and make it back to our desks by the time the bell rang if we ran like hell. And that's what we did,” recalled De Lisle. “We stood in the doorway, hung right to the last second of Soupy's show, said ‘Go!' and ran. The show was creative, different and live every day.”

With the success of the noontime show, Channel 7 quickly developed a nighttime show, “Soupy's On,” for the 11 p.m. time period.

“Soupy's On” was a comedy-variety show, with Sales performing sketch comedy with a team of local actors and actresses. He also regularly featured the best jazz performers of the day, including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

Sales created a multitude of characters for his evening show: Charles Vichyssoise, a slippery French crooner who was forever sparring with unruly patrons at the Club Chi Chi; Wyatt Burp, and Ernest Hemingbone, who argued with his literary rivals.

Sales later admitted that the pace of doing a noon show and a 11 p.m. live comedy program — one hour of live television, five days a week — contributed to the breakup of his marriage, played havoc with his family life and left him exhausted.

But he made serious money for Channel 7 — so much money that Sales could be credited with saving the American Broadcasting Company, which owned the station, in addition to the ABC-TV network. At the time, ABC was struggling and relied heavily on its owned-and-operated stations in cities like Detroit, where Sales was raking it in.

Sales left Detroit in late 1959 and ended up at KABC-TV, the ABC-owned station in Los Angeles.

“I thought it was time to move on because I didn't want to be 60, 65 and be sitting around one night having a drink and wonder if I could have made it in another market,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Soupy Sez.”

After Detroit, Sales hosted children's shows in New York and Los Angeles. Frank Sinatra asked to appear on the Sales show in Los Angeles and take a pie in the face.

When Sinatra appeared on the set, a director offered the singer a tour of the set. “Don't bother,” Sinatra reportedly said, “I know the show better than you do.”

Sales' L.A. show ran between 1961 and 1963, but was canceled because local television was moving from live, locally produced TV to syndicated material.

But Sales had one more go-around with children's television, at New York's WNEW-TV between 1964 and 1967, where he get into trouble for jokingly asking his fans to send him money.

Sales was suspended for the stunt, but reinstated after massive demonstrations in front of WNEW-TV studios.

Sales left Channel 5 in New York in 1968 after years of fighting with station management.

His attitude about station managers, which remained unchanged until his death, was that TV executives ruined television. He said that most station managers would not “know a tap dancer from a trombone player,” and that their primary contribution was “getting drunk on their six-martini lunches.”

His mark on television remained well into the 1980s and beyond. New York Times critic John J. O'Connor noted in 1986 that Pee-wee Herman's act could be traced back to Sales.

Said Channel 7 anchorman Erik Smith: “He was our youth. He was my lunch every day. He was my Jell-O. He had that profound an impact as an individual as anybody in the history of Detroit television. I still find myself doing some of his mannerisms. And I'm still a proud Birdbath.”

DETROIT – Soupy Sales, the rubber-faced comedian whose anything-for-a-chuckle career was built on 20,000 pies to the face and 5,000 live TV appearances across a half-century of laughs, has died. He was 83.

Sales died at Thursday night at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx, New York, said his former manager and longtime friend, Dave Usher. Sales had many health problems and entered the hospice last week, Usher said.

At the peak of his fame in the 1950s and '60s, Sales was one of the best-known faces in the nation, Usher said.

"If President Eisenhower would have walked down the street, no one would have recognized him as much as Soupy," said Usher.

At the same time, Sales retained an openness to fans that turned every restaurant meal into an endless autograph-signing session, Usher said.

"He was just good to people," said Usher, a former jazz music producer who managed Sales in the 1950s and now owns Detroit-based Marine Pollution Control.

Sales began his TV career in Cincinnati and Cleveland, then moved to Detroit, where he drew a large audience on WXYZ-TV. He moved to Los Angeles in 1961.

The comic's pie-throwing schtick became his trademark, and celebrities lined up to take one on the chin alongside Sales. During the early 1960s, stars such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Shirley MacLaine received their just desserts side-by-side with the comedian on his television show.

"I'll probably be remembered for the pies, and that's all right," Sales said in a 1985 interview.

Sales was born Milton Supman on Jan. 8, 1926, in Franklinton, N.C., where his was the only Jewish family in town. His parents, owners of a dry-goods store, sold sheets to the Ku Klux Klan. The family later moved to Huntington, W.Va.

His greatest success came in New York with "The Soupy Sales Show" — an ostensible children's show that had little to do with Captain Kangaroo and other kiddie fare. Sales' manic, improvisational style also attracted an older audience that responded to his envelope-pushing antics.

Sales, who was typically clad in a black sweater and oversized bow-tie, was once suspended for a week after telling his legion of tiny listeners to empty their mothers' purse and mail him all the pieces of green paper bearing pictures of the presidents.

The cast of "Saturday Night Live" later paid homage by asking their audience to send in their joints. His influence was also obvious in the Pee-Wee Herman character created by Paul Reubens.

Sales returned from the Navy after World War II and became a $20-a-week reporter at a West Virginia radio station. He jumped to a DJ gig, changed his name to Soupy Heinz and headed for Ohio.

His first pie to the face came in 1951, when the newly christened Soupy Sales was hosting a children's show in Cleveland. In Detroit, Sales' show garnered a national reputation as he honed his act — a barrage of sketches, gags and bad puns that played in the Motor City for seven years.

After moving to Los Angeles, he eventually became a fill-in host on "The Tonight Show."

He moved to New York in 1964 and debuted "The Soupy Sales Show," with co-star puppets White Fang (the meanest dog in the United States) and Black Tooth (the nicest dog in the United States). By the time his Big Apple run ended two years later, Sales had appeared on 5,370 live television programs — the most in the medium's history, he boasted. He had a pair of albums that hit the Billboard Top 10 in 1965; "Do the Mouse" sold 250,000 copies in New York alone.

Sales remained a familiar television face, first as a regular from 1968-75 on the game show "What's My Line?" and later appearing on everything from "The Mike Douglas Show" to "The Love Boat." He played himself in the 1998 movie "Holy Man," which starred Eddie Murphy.

He joined WNBC-AM as a disc jockey in 1985, a stint best remembered because Sales filled the hours between shock jocks Don Imus and Howard Stern.

Sales is survived by his wife, Trudy, and two sons, Hunt and Tony, a pair of musicians who backed David Bowie in the band Tin Machine
 

DemsMyBoys

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This news is beyond sad. When I was a little kid in Southern California we watched this show religiously. I mean nothing was allowed to interrupt the Soupy Sales Show. And that included my parents who whouldn't think of missing a show. They got the "adult" jokes we just loved the pies-in-the-face and the puppets and all the great gags. My particular favorite was Pookie. Though I did a mean White Fang impersonation.

Soupy was absolutely beloved in the Los Angeles community. So you saw Sinatra at Ciero's? Big Deal! We saw Soupy and his kids at the Market Basket.

I still have an L.P. my folks gave me for a birthday present. It was bits from the show. Including the memorable hit "Pookie the Toreador."

In Soupy's memory I shall now perform, once again, "The Soupy Shuffle".

Bless his soul.
 

O

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Live television at it's finest, none of that tape delay crap.



 

UncleChris

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Be True To Your Teeth
Or They'll Be False To You....
............Soupy Sales

Like DemsMyBoys, we never, EVER missed a show, parents and kids alike.

As for videos, there's a few but they are very expensive. Wait a few months and I suspect they'll be available at a more reasonable cost.

RIP, Milton
 

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