Soupy Sales was–believe it or not–a bit before my time. Growing up in Toronto in the ’60s, I was all over local kiddie shows like Professor’s Hideaway, Schnitzel House, Uncle Bobby, Kiddo the Clown, Captain Kangaroo on CBS and especially Buffalo’s Commander Tom.
I should have been watching Sales, too, who was huge in Cincinnati and Detroit and already national when I was flipping between Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop and Canadian kiddie icons like The Friendly Giant and Chez Helene. I had certainly heard of him. In the Kennedy era, if you dropped the name “Soupy,” everybody young or old knew who you were talking about.
Sales, who passed away last Thursday at 83, had something extra, from what I gather and from what I can dimly recall–crossover appeal. He was his own kiddie show Rat Pack, a cool character who took a pie in the face (as captured so perfectly in the above photo from the late, great Gene Trindl) but also counted cats like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Burt Lancaster within his “Birdbath” fan club. Check out thos YouTube clip of Sales interviewed by big fan Bill O’Reilly, with scenes of Sinatra taking a pie in the kisser:
I met Sales a few times in recent years at those Hollywood Celebrity Shows in North Hollywood. Those conventions are fascinating but meeting your childhood TV idols in their dotage can sometimes be a sobering experience. Sales was not in good shape the last time I saw him at one of these shows and had reportedly been suffering from poor health for years. He kept putting himself out there, though, signing autographs for boomers, ever the trooper.
There’s a wonderful rumour out there already that somebody left a coconut cream pie on Sale’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nice touch and I hope it’s true. Here’s another rumour I recorded in my book, one of the greatest of all TV urban legends because as apocryphal as the story sounds, it actually happened:
RUMOR: Soupy Sales once asked kids to go into their parents’ wallets and send him “those funny green pieces of paper with all those nice pictures of guys with beards on them.”
TRUE: It was during a stint in New York at WNEW that Sales pulled his most fabled stunt. Ad-libbing while filling for time on the evening of January 1, 1965, he looked straight into the camera and said: “Last night was New Year’s Eve, and I bet Mommy and Daddy are real tired tonight, so tip toe into their bedroom and get Dad’s wallet or Mommy’s purse and take out the little green pieces of paper that have the guys with the beards on them and send them to me here at Channel 5 in New York and I’ll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico.”
Sounds harmless enough, except this was 1965, and, believe it or not, kids used to do what they were told back then. According to a story in a 1998 issue of TV Guide, $80,000 was sent in to the station. (Although other reports suggest only a few actual dollars, plus a lot of monopoly money, was sent in.)
Sales was suspended for two weeks on charges that he was encouraging kids to steal. Today he would be made a network vice president. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sales told TV Guide. “It made me a star.”
There are several other Soupy Sales rumors that aren’t true. He never went on the air and told a dirty joke which ends with the line “Every time I see ‘F’ you see ‘K.’” That would be wrong. He got blamed for plenty other dirty jokes, including the old chestnut about the couple at the ball park — he kissed her on the strikes and she kissed him on the balls. Hey, kids back then had to blame somebody and Soupy was a pretty popular target, as well as a noted ad-libber. As Sales points out, he would have been suspended for a lot longer than two weeks if he ever said half the things he was accused of saying. Some record of those jokes would exist on some blooper record somewhere.