Slapstick comedian Soupy Sales liked to boast that he created the single most outrageous minute of ad-lib in television history. On New Year’s Day 1965, with a minute of airtime left to fill on his popular kids’ show, Sales told his young viewers to find their parents’ wallets and pull out “those green pieces of paper” with pictures of presidents on them. “Send them to me,” Sales said, “and I’ll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico.” Although only a few dollars were actually mailed, many viewers complained that he was encouraging children to steal. ABC, his network, suspended him, though public protests quickly led to his reinstatement.
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Sales was born Milton Supman in the backwater town of Franklinton, N.C. The Supmans were the only Jews in town, and “the family name was often mispronounced as ‘Soupman,’” said the Los Angeles Times. His parents nicknamed him Soupbone. Inevitably, Milton became just Soupy. After the family moved to Huntington, W.Va., Sales acted in school plays, getting his first taste of the stage. During World War II, he joined the Navy and fought in the Pacific. He also entertained crew mates “with routines broadcast on the ship’s PA system.” After returning to West Virginia to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he worked as a scriptwriter for a local radio station, did stand-up comedy in nightclubs, and eventually became a disc jockey.
Taking the name Soupy Sales from old-time comic actor Chic Sale, in 1950 he “launched one of the country’s first teenage television dance shows,” in Cincinnati, said The Washington Post. Three years later in Detroit, he hosted Lunch With Soupy Sales, an afternoon show filled with “goofy skits, slapstick antics, and pie-tossing shenanigans” that outdrew the more staid Kukla, Fran and Ollie. The ABC network later brought his show, renamed The Soupy Sales Show, to New York. Sales chatted with guest stars and puppets, mangled the language, and made outrageous puns in a segment called “Words of Wisdom.” But the highlight of each show was his “getting smacked in the face with a cream pie or three.”
Sales claimed that some 20,000 pies had been hurled at him or his guests in the 1950s and ’60s. Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and Jerry
Lewis were among those who “turned up just for the honor of being creamed,” said The New York Times. When it came to the ingredient for the perfect throwable pie, Sales preferred shaving cream to whipped cream or egg whites because it didn’t spoil. He later appeared frequently as a panelist on What’s My Line? and other game shows.
“I used to look like Cary Grant,” Sales once joked, “but not after being hit with 19,000 pies.”
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