Soupy Sales, 83; offbeat comic entertained on TV for 50 years

Soupy Sales was embraced by Hanne Bork after his Broadway debut in 1967. He had one of TV’s most recognizable faces. Soupy Sales was embraced by Hanne Bork after his Broadway debut in 1967. He had one of TV’s most recognizable faces. (Associated Press)
By David N. Goodman
Associated Press / October 24, 2009

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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 television appearances across a half-century of laughs, died Thursday. He was 83.

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

At the peak of his fame in the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. 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.’’

At the same time, Mr. Sales retained an openness to fans that turned every restaurant meal into an autograph-signing session, Usher said. “He was just good to people.’’

Mr. Sales began his television career in Cincinnati and Cleveland and 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 shtick became his trademark, and celebrities lined up to take one on the chin alongside Mr. 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 show.

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

Mr. Sales was born Milton Supman in Franklinton, N.C., where his was the only Jewish family in town. The family later moved to Huntington, W.Va.

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

Mr. Sales, who was typically clad in a black sweater and oversized bow-tie, was 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 presidents.

His got his first pie to the face in 1951, when the newly named Soupy Sales was hosting a children’s show in Cleveland. In Detroit, his 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.’’ By the time his Big Apple run ended two years later, Mr. Sales had appeared on 5,370 live television programs, the most in the medium’s history, he boasted.

Mr. Sales remained a familiar face, first as a regular on the game show “What’s My Line?’’ and later appearing on everything from “The Mike Douglas Show’’ to “The Love Boat.’’

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