That describes Milton Supman. The world knows him better as Soupy Sales.
The best kid show hosts were the ones who were having fun on camera, not talking down to their audience, and doing ridiculous (and sometimes inside) stuff that appealed to smart youngsters, astute college students and adults who had a sense of humour. Most of those emcees appeared on local television. So did Soupy Sales, but he got a national audience in summer of 1955 with a 15-minute show on ABC-TV, then again starting in October 1959 with a half-hour Saturday show called Lunch With Soupy Sales. Both shows were beamed out of Detroit, where Soupy was pulling in $150,000 a year. He moved to Hollywood in December 1960 (still on ABC), guest hosted on the Tonight show in June 1962, signed a four-picture contract with MGM (which figured he’d be “the next Jerry Lewis” as AP columnist Bob Thomas put it at the time). Then he chucked it all and moved to New York City in 1964.
Let’s pick up Soupy there with a couple of newspaper stories from 1965. First up is a piece from the syndicated TV Keynotes column from the King Features Syndicate. It appeared in newspapers on June 11th, by which time Soupy was riding a gimmick called “The Mouse,” a dance he did on his show that he turned into a novelty album that was briefly on the Billboard chart about this time. The story also talks about his most famous stunt of his New York TV career.
Soupy Sales Latest Whiz On TVSoupy’s first wife contributed to this piece about him found in Family Weekly, a newspaper magazine supplement, on September 5, 1965. One of the more impressive revelations was likely unintentional—Soupy as a crack businessman. He did a really good job of marketing his persona.
By HARVEY PACK
NEW YORK — Fans either love Soupy Sales or they hate him. There's no in between and that's the way Soupy wants it.
"People who love you watch you." philosophizes Soupy, the current rage of local New York television and creator of that popular dance "The Mouse,'' 'And if they hate you they've got to watch you just to give their hate muscles some exercise."
But at the moment Soupy is riding a crest of love. Teenage girls converge daily around the entrances of New York TV station WNEW waiting to meet and greet the uninhibited host of a kiddy show which has become something of an "in" program among New Yorkers.
When Soupy arrives he graciously accepts their gifts (edible offerings are not consumed since one never knows whether the chef was one of those rare Soupy-haters); he chats with all of them, signs their autograph books and even scrawls his name on a few arms which will undoubtedly not see soap and water again until the fickle youngsters find another idol.
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From Detroit, where he was carried on the ABC network Saturday mornings, he went to Hollywood and became a pet of the Sinatra clan. His pie throwing became his trademark and his celebrity fans in the film capital considered being plastered with a Soupy pie a status symbol.
They gave him a nighttime network show which was a flop and, except for a week as host of the "Tonight" show, that was the last anyone heard of Soupy Sales. Then, last September he brought the same kiddy show which had been a sensation in Detroit and Los Angeles to New York. WNEQ-TV put him on at 4:30 p.m. and forgot about him. He was tops in his time slot, but nobody at the station really cared.
On Jan. 1, 1965, Soupy walked up to the camera and stuck his face right into the lens which is one of his favorite tricks. "Hey, kids," he began that New Years's day, "your folks are probably sound asleep so sneak into their rooms, open their wallets and send Old Soupy all the green paper with pictures of presidents."
The kids were hip and knew Soupy was having fun, but a few irate parents — who were not sleeping — wrote letters and suddenly WNEW knew they had a guy on named Soupy Sales.
"I had used that same gag for years in Detroit and Los Angeles," said Soupy one afternoon, while sitting in the windowless, humid, pop art decorated office where the station has imprisoned him. "Nothing ever happened. Even here it wasn't until two weeks later that the thing exploded."
When the station suspended Soupy it became something of a local issue and the resulting publicity definitely brought the Soup to a boil. A sensational in person show at a New York theater, his hit record of "The Mouse," and eventual switch by the station to an early evening time slot and appearance with Ed Sullivan and other major TV shows have all contributed to his phenomenal rise.
"I write the show myself," he explained, "I always have. Of course, I now find it harder to handle all the writing. I think the reason we're so successful is that I gear every gag and every situation for kids and adults on two different levels. The kids love to watch puppets or see me throw a pie . . . and their parents have their ears tuned for some inside gag.
"Where do I want to go now? I'd like to do the same kind of free wheeling comedy on a network at night. I know it would work. And movies. That's what I really want. They're great for a comedian . . . particularly one like me."
He handed me the script for that day's "Soupy Sales Show." I read one gag. Man: Whatever happened to your brother? Girl: Didn't you know he was caught in a cement mixer? Man: Where is he now? Girl: You know that sharp turn on Route 46 in New Jersey? That's him. Man: No kidding . . I'll wave to him next time I go by.
Crazy? Nutty? Of course it is, but that's Soupy Sales and you either love him or you hate him.
WHO IS THIS SOUPY SALES?Soupy was involved in a few interesting projects that didn’t get off the ground. One was a projected TV series with Gale Gordon called Where There’s Smokey, which had a spot on ABC’s Wednesday night schedule unveiled to affiliates in March 1959. For whatever reason, the network decided not to go with it. Then ABC announced the following March it was financing a live action/animation pilot produced by former Disney storyman Brice Mack with Sales interacting with a mouse, penguin and others animated by his Era Productions. Whether any of the artwork survives, I don’t know. But I’d like to think one of the gags involved a cartoon character who pointed to Soupy and said “I like him. He’s silly.” I’m sure the audience would have agreed.
By MRS. SOUPY SALES
as told to Jack Ryan
MY HUSBAND was a prisoner of teen-age mobs! They besieged him for 10 days last spring in New York's famed Paramount Theater while he was making an appearance there.
Some girls rented rooms in the Astor Hotel and demanded a "Soupy view." When Soupy leaned out his window and waved to the crowds, the police threatened to arrest him.
My wifely visiting rights consisted of sneaking through the mobs and seeing him backstage. Toward the end of his run, I found him haggard and 15 pounds lighter but still exclaiming: "This is it—what we took all the knocks for!"
But as his wife for 15 years, let me tell you who Soupy Sales really is: not the comic kids love and adults either hate or love, but the thirty-ish man with wiry black hair who never quite outgrew being the "school nut" in our home town of Huntington, W. Va.
His widowed mother ran the local dry-goods store, and he was known as Milton "Soupbone" Hines, and his buddies were nicknamed "Chickenbone" and "Hambone." Soupbone studied to be a newspaperman but was more interested in show time than deadline.
We were married in 1950, after his graduation from Marshall College, and he went to work for a radio station at $20 a month. "You just wait," he'd promise. "You'll see." I did see, too, but it truly was a wait. A good friend of ours managed the Huntington station, and one day we got terrible news—he'd been fired.
It was a sour moment but, as it so happens, the real beginning, too, because he landed a job in Cincinnati and called in Soupy as a disc jockey. So we took our first step to conquer the hip big cities—and, believe me, using the same downing that slayed them in Huntington.
Cincinnati? I remember my husband changing his name to Sales because Soupy Hines sounded "like a commercial." I also remember Soupy's discouragement He had enthusiastically presented an idea for a new type of show, a teen-age dance program with music and fun. "It'll never go," said the bosses. Six months later Dick Clark came on with a similar program, and "American Bandstand" made show-business history.
We next packed for Cleveland, where a newspaper named Soupy's show "best of the year"—but he was fired the following week. "They think I'm a nut just because I talk loud, make funny faces, and gag up a show," Soupy would say, talking loud, making faces, and tossing off gags. "Am I a nut?" Certainly not I told him. Doesn't every husband act that way after he's been fired?
We have good memories of Cleveland, though. Our oldest boy Tony, now 13, was born there and so was Soupy's trademark. He wrote an Indian skit which needed a totally unexpected climax, and what could be more unexpected than a pie flying in from nowhere?
Soupy wanted to work in Detroit but he couldn't get a job until a station executive there accidentally turned on Soupy's audition tape, which had been long-forgotten. We moved to Detroit with happy results.
So we packed up for Los Angeles, and lightning struck when Soupy was summoned to the phone for a "call from Frank Sinatra." Soupy thought it was a practical joke, but there came Frankie's voice saying: "Could I be on your show? Not just a walk-on. I want the works—pie in the face and all." So Sinatra, who rates $50,000 a guest appearance, came on free—and all Hollywood followed.
Soupy became a celebrity. We bought a big house, and Soupy had time for the boys and his hobby, painting. So one day, he said: "You know, New York is really big . . ." and I began to pack.
New York was big. It brought Soupy to the entire country through everything from the Ed Sullivan Show to county fairs to campus "concerts," where everybody shows up with a pie in hand.
Why do people love Soupy? Maybe because he reciprocates boundlessly and has retained a sense of absurdity about adult life, talking to such show characters as White Fang, the "meanest dog in the world," and tossing off nonsensical one-liners such as "Show me a dead Communist, and I'll show you a Red Skeleton."
Anyway the love affair became nationwide, and I had just settled down in New York when our oldest boy announced he had formed a rock & roll trio called Tony and His Tigers, had cut his first record, and "was going places!" Before I could get my breath, Soupy charged in and said:
"I just signed to do five pictures for Columbia! We're going to shoot them on location all over the country. Better pack . . ."
I felt as if I'd just been hit in the face with a pie.