Soupy Sales was born Milton Supman on January 8, 1926 in Franklinton, North Carolina. He grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, where his older brothers had nicknames like “Hambone” and “Chicken Bone.” Milton became known as “Soup Bone,” which was later shortened to “Soupy.”
He joined the Navy after graduating from high school in 1944. While sailing in the South Pacific, he started tell jokes and creating crazy characters to amuse the USS Randall’s crew over the ship’s public address system. He used some sounds from a record called “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” to create his famous White Fang character, a big dog who played practical jokes on his shipmates.
After the Navy, he went back home to Huntington and attended Marshall College where he earned a Master’s Degree in Journalism. During college, he’d perform in nightclubs doing comedy, singing and dancing.
He started doing radio shows on WHTN in Huntinton using the name Soupy Hines. But that name was too close for comfort to the Ketchup and soup company, so he decided to change it to Soupy Sales. In 1949 he went to Cincinnati to take a job as a morning jock on the radio, which led to some television shows on WKRC-TV called Soupy’s Soda Shop, a teen dance show, and Club Nothing! late at night. When he lost those jobs, Soupy moved on to my home town, Cleveland, Ohio. He worked on radio and television there, doing a show called Soupy’s On! It was on that show where he got his first “pie in the face.” Later he claimed he’d been hit by more than 25,000 pies during his career! Soupy liked to say he left Cleveland for “health reasons.” As he put it, “They got sick of me!”
He moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1953 where he started doing his thing on WXYZ-TV. By 1959, his popularity got him syndicated nationally on the ABC television network.
In 1960, he moved his home base to Los Angeles and continued his show. Within a year, it was dropped from the national network, but kept going as a local feature. The show went back on the network for a few months as a fill-in for Steve Allen’s late night variety show in 1962. While in Los Angeles, Soupy had Clyde Adler operating all the puppet characters he’d created for the show.
When the Beatles were exploding in America, Soupy moved operations to New York City and WNEW-TV. There he did 260 episodes which aired locally through September 1966. These were also syndicated by Screen Gems to local stations around the country. Soupy had hit the top at this point, with guests like Frank Sinatra and The Supremes appearing on his show, among many others.
Soupy loved to perform comedy musical numbers on his show, and he also tapped into his huge jazz record collection. You can still her his theme song, Mumbles by Oscar Peterson with Clark Terry, on MusicMaster Oldies from time to time, along with a regular favorite, Comin’ Home Baby by Herbie Mann, which Soupy used as the theme for his Gunninger the Mentalist character.
Soupy even starred in a 1966 movie called Birds Do It with co-star Tab Hunter. Soupy really didn’t like the film. It was about a NASA janitor who accidently gained the ability to fly and became the “most attractive man on Earth.” It’s not available for sale and it’s rarely seen on television.
Soupy was also a regular panelist on game shows like What’s My Line, To Tell The Truth, Match Game, Hollywood Squares, and others.
After New York, Soupy went back to Los Angeles to do The New Soupy Sales Show in 1978. That lasted one season with 65 episodes syndicated nationwide. Clyde Adler even returned to run Soupy’s many puppet characters. Frank Nastasi was Soupy’s straight man and puppeteer in New York. He had worked with Soupy in his earlier days in Detroit as a sales rep for WXYZ.
Soupy created so many characters it’s hard to keep track of them all! There’s White Fang, the biggest and meanest dog in the USA; Black Tooth, the biggest and sweetest dog in the USA, Pookie the Lion, Hippy the Hippo, Peaches, Philo Kvetch, The Mask, Onions Oregano, Hobart and Reba, and Willie the Worm.
We can’t let Soupy leave the stage without remembering his New Year’s Day show in 1965. Working on the holiday wasn’t a lot of fun. Soupy ended his live show with an infamous instruction to his little viewers. “Tip-toe into your parent’s bedroom and get those funny green pieces of paper with pictures of US Presidents from their pants and pocketbooks. Put them in an envelope and mail them to me, and I’ll mail you a postcard from Puerto Rico!” When he actually started getting money in the mail, management stopped laughing. He was suspended for a couple of weeks. He donated the money to charity. It’s been a classic “live television” story ever since!
Soupy Sales performed a novelty dance record called The Mouse on the Ed Sullivan Show in September 1965. He’d appeared on that show several times, and once even sharing that stage with The Beatles. He also signed with Motown Records where he did a song called Muck-Arty-Park, a parody of MacArthur Park by Richard Harris from 1968. Of course, you’ll hear all these songs on MusicMaster Oldies!
Howard Stern and Soupy Sales both graced the airwaves of WNBC-AM in New York City during the 1980’s. Soupy’s mid-day show immediately followed Imus In The Morning, and Don Imus was not a Soupy Sales fan! He’d frequently make fun of him on the air. Howard also made some nasty comments about Soupy, which he later regretted publically during an interview on Sirius Satellite Radio. Soupy was actually fired during a commercial break after he encouraged his listeners to complain to the station because his contract had not been renewed and his sidekick Ray D’Ariano was moving into his time slot. The program director took his place to finish out the show just playing music. Soupy left the building and never came back!
Soupy leaves behind his second wife, Trudy Carson, and his two sons from his first marriage to Barbara Fox, Hunt and Tony Sales. Both sons are accomplished musicians having worked with David Bowie’s band, Tin Machine, in the 1990’s, and with Iggy Pop on his Lust For Life album.
When he left us on October 22nd, Soupy Sales was 83 years old.
We’ve lost a few other folks this month, like British singer, Clinton Ford (October 21st), Vic Mizzy, the guy who wrote the Addams Family theme song (October 17th), Johnny Jones, of Johnny Jones and the King Casuals (October 14), Bass player and frontman for Blue Cheer, Dickie Peterson (October 12), and guitarist for NRBQ, Steve Ferguson (October 7). Last but not least, the curtain closes for one last time on the legendary Al Martino (October 13th). I considered writing a lot more about these folks, but someone recently told me that I write the longest blog posts in the world. So I’m trying my best to keep this one short!
I also want to say a quick farewell to a few other notable folks who also died this month, such as wrestler and actor Lou Albano (October 14), Rene Sommer (October 5) who was co-inventor of the computer mouse, Jim Nettleton of WFIL radio (October 4), John “Mr. Magic” Rivas (October 2) of WBLS-FM in New York City, and Shelby Singleton (October 7) who ran Sun Records in the later years.
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