Saturday, October 24, 2009

Soupy Sales

Sales spent his childhood in North Carolina and West Virginia, and joined the Navy at the tail end of WWII. His nickname was given by his family, who called one brother Hambone and another Chicken Bone. Soup Bone was shortened to Soupy, and a one-of-a-kind moniker was born. He spent much of his career in local television, beginning in Detroit with Lunch with Soupy Sales, which was a long-running hit filled with improvisations, slapstick, skits, puns, and a pie in the face, which became Soupy's trademark (he claimed to have been hit over 9000 times during his career). He later hosted similar programs in LA and NY, both being syndicated nationally for a while.

He fell into a bit of hot water on January 1, 1965, when he was peeved over having to work on the holiday. He encouraged his young viewers to tiptoe into their parents' bedrooms and remove those "funny green pieces of paper with pictures of U.S. Presidents" from their pants and pocketbooks. "Put them in an envelope and mail them to me," Soupy instructed the children. "And I'll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico!" He was then hit with a pie. Several days later, the money started rolling in, and amidst an uproar over his inappropriate actions, he was suspended.
In his later career, Sales was a frequent guest on variety and talk shows, including one memorable performance sharing Ed Sullivan's stage with The Beatles (he himself had a novelty dance hit called "The Mouse''.) He became a permanent fixture on the game show circuit, regularly visiting Match Game, Hollywood Squares, and I've Got a Secret. From 1968-1975, he was a regular panelist on the syndicated version of What's My Line?, where he often displayed his extensive knowledge of jazz recordings and performers.

In the 80s, he hosted his own radio program in New York, where he often clashed with Howard Stern and Don Imus, who hosted their own programs at the station. During a contract dispute, he was removed in the middle of his show when he urged listeners to contact station management and complain about his treatment.

I confess I was never a member of Soupy Sales's Birdbath, the nickname given to his huge fan base. His brand of slapstick comedy wears thin for me pretty quickly, but he will be well-remembered for providing clean, family-friendly fare to several generations of fans.