Soupy Sales: A pie in the sky

Soupy sends a pie to fellow funnyman Pat Cooper during Soup’s 75th birthday party at the Friar’s Club in New York.

Slapstick comedian Soupy Sales has died.

His former manager reported that Sales died of multiple health problems Thursday night in a New York City hospice. Sales was 83.

Another bit of my childhood has been chipped away. I had to revisit this 1997 piece I did with the Soupman when he came Merrillville, Ind. to open for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Star Plaza Theater.

Hope you chuckle at the cornball jokes. I apologize for my puns.

Life has been a bowl of cheeries for Soupy Sales.

Stop it.

The gags are going to fly like pies in the sky. I asked Soupy what people can expect when the 70-year-old pop culture icon opens for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

“Jokes,” he answered in a call from his Manhattan home. “A woman goes to the doctor, the doctor says, `What’s your problem? The woman says, `My water just broke, what should I do? The doctor says, `Get off my rug.’ ”

Ba-da-boom.

“What do you call a woman who knows where her husband is all the time? A widow.”

Let’s hang on. The soup’s on……..

Soupy Sales was born Milton Supman in rural Franklinton, N.C. His parents nicknamed him “Soupbone,” since they referred to his older brothers as “Chickenbone” and “Hambone.” His television career began in 1950 in Cincinnati when he hosted the teen dance show “Soupy’s Soda Shop,” which pre-dated “American Bandstand.” The station changed Soupy’s last name to Hines, because it sounded like Heinz, the canned-food company. Later the station canned Sales and a young science-fiction writer named Rod Serling.

Soupy set out to be a journalist. And that’s not a joke.

“I got a degree in journalism from Marshall University (in Huntington, W.Va.),” Sales said. “I wrote for my high school and college newspapers. It was my only creative outlet in those days.”

Soupy got his big break in 1955 when he was selected as the summer replacement for “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” a popular prime-time TV show out of Chicago. In 1957 he legally changed his name to Soupy Sales.

Soupy is known for many things. His wife, Trudy, is a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette and June Taylor dancer. Soupy met Trudy when he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” to promote his 1964 dance hit “Do the Mouse.” She was a dancer on the show.

Soupy’s sons Tony (bass) and Hunt (drums) Sales backed up David Bowie in the band Tin Machine and also played with Iggy Pop. They performed on the 1970 Todd Rundgren hit “We Gotta Get You a Woman.” Tony, 46, is now working in commercials in Los Angeles, and Hunt, 44, is producing rock bands in San Antonio.

But there’s no getting around the pies.

Soupy figures he has taken more than 20,000 pies in the face. The shtick was the hallmark of “The Soupy Sales Show,” the 1960s children’s television show that featured puppet pals such as White Fang, Black Tooth and Pookie. (Isn’t that package tour at the Aragon this weekend?) Sales’ old television shows are available on Rhino Home Video.

“A lot of people don’t realize the aerosol can didn’t come in until 1955,” Soupy said. “So up until that time you had to use whipping cream or egg whites. But with shaving cream, you had the cleanest tonsils in town.”

In his 2001 memoir “Soupy Sez!” (M. Evans), he elaborated that shaving cream was also better than whipped cream because it didn’t spoil. “And no tin plates,” Sales wrote. “The secret is you just can’t push it and shove it in somebody’s face. It has to be done with a pie that has a lot of crust so that it breaks up into a thousand pieces when it hits you.”

Are you thinking Halloween fun like I am?

There are just a few certainties in life: death, taxes and someone will always laugh at Soupy Sales getting smacked by a pie in the eye. “If a man falls down and gets up, it’s funny,” Soupy explained. “If he falls down and doesn’t get up it’s not funny. The pie thing takes someone’s dignity away. You look and you say, `I’m glad it isn’t me.’ ”

Frank Sinatra even took a pie in the face in 1961. “He told me he’d do the show on one condition – that he’d get hit by a pie,” Soupy said. “He sang `Foggy Day.’ He walks through the door and I go, `You’re the greatest entertainer of all time.’ There’s a knock on the door and I get hit with a pie. Frank goes, `Who was that?’ I say, `Dean Martin.’ And Frank goes, `Dean wouldn’t do a thing like that.’ Frank opens the door and he gets hit with a pie. Surprised, he takes a taste and says, `It’s rum! That’s Dean.’ ”

Soupy spends about two weeks of every month on the road. He’s currently hot in Hollywood. Soupy is featured in the Danny Aiello and Tony Randall film “Behind the Seams.” He just finished shooting “Everything’s George,” a movie set in heaven where God tells George Burns that before he can reunite with his wife and partner Gracie Allen, he has to rescue Cuban cigars from Fidel Castro. “I play a cigar store owner,” Soupy said. “Frank Gorshin plays George Burns. There’s a lot of cameos from people like Ed McMahon.

“Regardless of what people say, I think I was influential to a lot of kids and a lot of people. It doesn’t seem like it, but I would never do anything that wasn’t prepared or planned. You have to be the most disciplined performer to make it seem undisciplined.”

And Soupy Sales’ timing was impeccable.

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